Good songs can go completely unnoticed if you’re missing your target audience.
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There’s a common expression that finds its way into virtually every walk of life: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. In songwriting, it has a very real and practical application. It’s not so much the melody, lyrics and chords that matter, it’s how those elements are packaged and offered to the audience. A case in point is “Hey Jude”, which was an anthem of the youth in the hands of The Beatles, but as presented by Bing Crosby… sorry, no.
But on the other hand, Bing’s version did what The Beatles’ version probably couldn’t do, which was to present the younger generation’s biggest hit to an “adult” audience, one that was aware of, but not listening to, The Beatles. I can barely stand to listen to Bing Crosby crooning, “pum pum pum pum pum pum pum… hey Jude.” But he wasn’t targeting me.
For today’s songwriters, successfully targeting the youth is the holy grail of the arts, because they represent the largest demographic, and therefore the largest potential money-maker. But targeting any one particular age group is more a function of production, and not so much of songwriting.
And in fact, if The Beatles had never recorded “Hey Jude”, and we had only ever heard of Bing Crosby’s version, we wouldn’t be quite as amused by it. Almost any song can be repackaged to appeal to any age group.
But if you are an age 40-plus songwriter, and you are aiming for that youth market, here are 5 tips to keep in mind.
- Partner with a young songwriter. You’ve got to say the things that young people want to hear, and you need to say them in a way that they’ll listen. If you’re older than your audience, you’ll benefit from the input of a young writer.
- Find a young singer. Successful songs are ones where the audience identifies not just with the message, but often with the one who’s presenting the message — the singer. A young singer makes it more likely your target audience will listen.
- Listen to today’s hit songs. Every generation has a style, a “template” that works. Hit songs from a generation ago sound dated. And if that’s the last time you seriously listened to pop music, your songs will sound stale. So listen to today’s hits, and make note of melodic shape, the kinds of chords being used, the words and rhythms, and overall production.
- When recording, be sure that young musicians are part of the production process. If you’re trying to appeal to an age group that isn’t your own, you may need to make compromises to package your music in a way that appeals to the younger generation. Take advice, and be flexible.
- Tone down strong emotions if you’re the one singing. All this means is that if you’re trying to appeal to a younger demographic, it’s going to sound creepy if you’re singing about the same issues that you had when you were 16. So if you’re the singer, the audience is going to automatically expect a level of maturity from you. Singing about being jilted at the high school dance is just going to sound weird.
And it should go without saying that your songs need to be structurally sound. They need to work well as musical compositions, even before you think about how to package them for your target audience. So study the art of songwriting, and get your songs working well before starting the recording process.
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