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It’s a quandary for “older” songwriters: you spend years, even decades, trying to improve your writing skills. It’s not easy… it takes time. But by the time you’ve finally become the kind of writer you really want to be, you wonder if what you’re writing about — even how you’re writing — has any relevance to people today.
It also worries you when you hear the already-expert Lorde making hits at age 16, and that here you are, looking at 40, or 50, or… and thinking that whatever it is you’re doing is only going to appeal to people with grey hair and retirement plans.
You might find that fear to be misplaced. Take a quick look at the writers of today. Not the best ones, necessarily; we may not know that for years. But just look at who’s out there, writing hits: John Legend (age 35), Pharrell Williams (age 42), Luke Bryan (age 37), Adam Levine (from Maroon 5, age 35), David Guetta (age 46), Chris Martin (from Coldplay, age 37).
And that’s not counting the classic songwriters with enormous past careers who are still producing great albums: Paul Simon (age 72), Bruce Springsteen (age 64), Elvis Costello (age 59).
Many of those, especially in the first list, are people writing hits that are sitting atop the Billboard charts today. Not just a “respectful nod to the old guy.” We tend to think of pop music as something that the 14-24-year-old demographic is obsessed with, and that if we aren’t impressing them, we’ve missed the mark. And that if 14-year-olds are the target, it takes a 14-year-old to write relevant stuff.
Most of that is wrong. First of all, RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has determined that these days, the largest group of purchasers of music is the 36-and-older age bracket. There may be lots of teenagers listening, and they make their contribution to the industry mostly by clicking on sponsored links. You aged, decrepit 36-and-older folks are influencing the industry with your wallets.
But even that misses the point: the music that the songwriters listed above are writing is then put through the production process by knowledgable producers, individuals who know what today’s sound is, and if that’s what they want, they know how to get it.
But in order to start that process, they need good music that’s well-structured and crafted. Do that, and worry less about your songwriting style. Any song can be modified to sound like music from today, and it’s often scary how easily that can happen.
Making it as a pro songwriter today is a large, 2-step process.
- Write great songs consistently.
- Market your music properly.
Your biggest contribution to that second step is to build your fan base. Get out there, perform your music, make it available to others both live and online. Industry pros don’t like taking chances on one-song flash-in-the-pan writers. They need to know that that great song they just heard is just one of many good ones you’ve got, and that you can write another one this week.
And then… don’t worry so much that your song might sound dated to the 14-year-olds out there. There are people who work in the industry who know exactly how to get that great song to sound relevant to any audience and any age demographic they want.
Just remember that first step: write great songs consistently.
Written by Gary Ewer (Follow on Twitter)