Several SongTownian’s have recently asked the question, “what’s the best way to build a better song catalog?” Here are some key things I’ve learned over the years after writing for several major publishing companies and building a new catalog at each.
Write, write, write!
There is no substitute for this. A catalog is a collection of songs. You need to write every day if possible. At least as often as you can! This not only helps you become a better writer but also gives you more variety of material which increases the odds that you’ll have the right song for a particular project.
Don’t write just one type or style of song.
A great catalog has an array of subject matter, tempos, emotions, and styles. The goal is to have a song you or your publisher can pitch in every situation. If an artist is looking for an uptempo party song- you got it covered. If an artist is looking for a message song with a deeper lyric about the state of the world- you got it covered. You see where I’m going with this. It doesn’t happen overnight obviously, it takes time, but this is something you do by design.
Write outside yourself for a better song catalog.
Write a little more about the world around you and a little less about your own small world. You will build a catalog faster by writing about life around you. For example- you may be struggling with a divorce for two years; if you spend two years writing only about your struggles then you ONLY have songs to pitch to an artist going through a divorce or wanting to sing about it. If you write about life around you, perhaps something you see on the news, something your waitress says at dinner, or something a friend is going through, then you can pitch your songs to all kinds of projects. You can still write about what you are going through but why limit yourself? Therefore, write variety and you will build a better song catalog.
This is extremely helpful in building a catalog and increasing your chances of success from that catalog. If you make regular appointments to co-write, you are more likely to write that day. Someone else is expecting you to show up and do your part, so you are less likely to get distracted by other things that are demanding your attention. An extra benefit to co-writing is there are two or three people when the song is completed who are working to get that song recorded and not just you alone.
Mix it up.
Write a mix of contemporary and classic. I always focus the majority of my time writing on the cutting edge. It’s where the new exciting stuff happens. It’s where I learn the most and explore new directions. And most importantly, it’s what most artists are looking to record. But my publisher will also come to me and say from time to time that so-n-so artist is looking for an old school song or retro feel. I need those too. The simple rule I use is this- if it’s a great idea that needs to be written in a classic style I will do it. If it’s just an “okay idea” that wants to be written in a retro style I don’t bother.
Keep Great Records!
These days more songs are being released to streaming platforms than ever before. And many songs are being licensed for sync placements. These require good record keeping. Are your split sheets signed by you and your co-writers on all your songs? Are you gathering their PRO and Publishing info? If you have 200 song catalogue and you get signed by a publisher, they need all that info before your contract can be signed. Do you really want to be chasing down someone you wrote with and haven’t seen in 5 years to get their info?
If you are thinking a song has real sync possibilities; do you have an agreement in place among the writers so the song can be shopped as one-stop? This is vitally important in the sync world because of quick turnaround times. If you are not familiar with one-stop shopping in sync, I will be writing a new article on that soon.
So here are a my key points to keep in mind when wanting to building a better song catalog. I’m about 6,000 plus songs into it with over 200 major artist cuts and 1,500 sync placements- and it’s worked well for me and many of my co-writers!
Write on! ~CM
Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.