My Best Friend in the Music Business

I had a conversation this week with one of my song pluggers. I have worked with this guy for more than 20 years. I consider him my best friend in the music business. Why?

He tells me the truth. Always.

At one time, I turned in a song I wrote with a young artist. His only comment was “I don’t dig this at all. Not my thing.” That song went on to be a single and its video went viral to some extent. It got a lot of attention for the artist and for me as a writer.

Recently, I sent him a link to the video just to tease him and remind him of it. His response?

“I still hate it!”

He went on to say “I’m happy for you and for the company that it did well, but I still don’t like the song. Telling you otherwise would be a lie.”

I need more people like this in my life! Straight shooters. Clay and I often joke that SongTown’s business model is the worst idea in the history of business. Conventional wisdom is that you tell the customer what they want to hear.

In SongTown, we tell the truth, even when it’s the LAST thing people want to hear. We lose people that way, but we are committed to it.

We have members tell us all the time that they went to an event and a publisher “flipped out” over every song they played and wanted a copy. All I can say is that this has never happened to me or Clay in a pitch meeting. And, if all 5 or 8 or 10 of your songs are so amazing, then why haven’t they been cut?

I would rather have someone say “This one song has potential, but those other 4 don’t do anything for me.” That’s how things work in the REAL music business.

The bar is REALLY high if you want to get songs recorded by major artists. You need people around you telling you the truth if you want to improve. So, if we tell you, “Maybe these songs are not quite ready yet.”, consider that a compliment. We care about you and we want to help you get better. We might make more money if we told you that every song was awesome, but you would come back to us one day and say “You told me these songs were amazing, but nothing ever came of them.”

We sleep better at night just telling you the truth every time.

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson - pro songwriter/instructor - SongTown

SongTown Co-Founder/Chief Fun Officer

20 thoughts on “My Best Friend in the Music Business

  1. I love this! We have to be willing to hear the truth and be objective about our work. I always want the brutal truth because that is how I grow as a writer and the feedback from Songtown is very constructive and helpful. I am really grateful for all critiques good and bad.

  2. Marty you are so right. Truth is always better, even though it hurts. You can’t improve or get the real picture if people are yessing you and paying you lip service. Your example does go to show the song selling process is very subjective.

    One person hates it, another loves it. But when you say the bar is set very high to get songs cut by major artists I would say the bar is darn near in outer space. I have heard demo songs recorded by song writers that I think are major #1 hits routinely passed over by publishers. [Conversely, and to drive home your example, I also hear songs on the radio that I believe have no artistic merit whatsoever!]

    All we can do is try to have fun and improve our craft and leave the results to the Universe.

  3. We as songwriters will never get better unless we are told the truth about our work. It is what it is…good. .bad…or ugly.

  4. Marty, while this note isn’t about songwriting, it’s relevant to how the best of teachers say the hardest of things. My first assignment in a journalism course was to write a one-page article. My professor handed it back with two-thirds of it crossed out. He wrote on the top, “Good piece, but you need to lose the flowery words.” It was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given. I wrote more pieces getting better evaluations of my writing as I went along. Songwriters don’t need teachers and mentors who give them praise all the time. That’s not helpful. Teaching is quite a balancing act with encouraging the student and offering a critical evaluation of their work.

  5. That sounds great. Why don’t I see more of that in the forums? Why aren’t the critiques a little more . . . critical? “Great song” is nice to read but not a whole lot of use when you’re trying to improve.

  6. When people tell you the truth it takes courage and they care about your progress.
    This is great advice. Thank you, Marty

  7. There are really good songs-and there are REALLY good songs. You need productive critiques for REALLY good songs. I’ve written hundreds of songs. Out of them all, i knew immediately what i had written was great, about three times. I am overly critical of my own writing and then ask for a knowledgeable, impartial ear. Lock your ego in a closet. Learn.

  8. I once heard Pat Pattison say ” 90% of your work is not your best 10%”. I was amazed by how many people took that statement as saying to them that 90% of their work was no good. The way I took it was that no matter what you do the 90/10 ratio will exist and it says nothing negative what so ever about the quality of the bottom 90% just that it’s not the top 10%. The solution to getting more songs in the top 10%, simply write more songs. It’s simple math. I tell this story because I fear that the problem with people hearing what they want to hear “That’s the best song ever” as opposed to what they don’t want to hear “needs work”. causes them to toss some of that top 10% out based on the feed back of some one who may not have had their morning coffee or had a fight with his or her significant other on their way out the door.

    The ability to be open to honest feed back is one of the song writer’s most important skills. Being able to use that feed back and see if it works or not, is simply a step in the process of writing. I think that over time one learns who’s feed back is usefull and who’s is better off being spread over the vegetable garden. One has to be honest to write a good song and one has to be honest to critique a song otherwise we’re gonna head back to the days of Bubble gum and novelty songs. God Forbid!

  9. The truth is like a sword, you can hack away and leave the writer in a bloody heap. Or you can use the tip to prod them in the right direction. Marty’s friend used non-specific feedback: not quite ready – didn’t do anything for me – this one has potential. Perhaps that’s a good place to start.

  10. Thank you for all of the kind words, everyone! This is something Clay and I believe in passionately. We continually work with our feedback pros to get the best, most specific feedback possible from them on your behalf. Having said that, at the end of the day, no one can write your song for you (or me). And we are still working to get everyone in SongTown up to the “I can take the brutal truth” level of being able to accept feedback. The publisher I mention here usually tells me things like “I think you dropped the ball in the second verse”, but he’s not going to tell me how to fix it. That’s my job.

  11. Thanks Marty, There is something to be said for integrity and it starts with the truth. I appreciate honest constructive criticism. I would much rather have that, and know where I need to place my attention for improvement than to have someone tell me what they think I want to hear, only to be embarrassed later because it was not my best effort. Thank you and Clay both for having the integrity to speak the truth we are all better because of it.

  12. I absolutely agree with this. Nobody can grow in anything if they aren’t told the truth. That said, I still think the “clarity of what is being said” can still be worked on in this industry. I sent out 3 songs almost a year ago to a manager with major label clients. My response was “not what we are looking for but fun stuff”.
    I still to this day don’t know exactly what that means 😂

  13. AMEN! Lies might make you a few bucks for a little while, if you’re selling excitement. If you are selling education, and opportunity, the truth will set you free and lots of work will be involved and your friends base will keep growing rather than shrink.

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