Songwriters: Where Is The Bar?

by Marty Dodson
Mar 1, 2024

How High Is The Bar For Songwriters?

When you mention the word “bar” to songwriters, most of them start craving a beer.  But that’s not the bar I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the “How good does my song have to be to get it recorded by an artist?” bar.  Not every songwriter wants commercial success. But if that’s your goal, learning where that bar is may be the most important thing an aspiring commercial songwriter has to do.

The SongTown Edge groups came in to being for just that reason.  We want people to know how high that bar is so they can get closer to it and one day start writing songs that LEAP over the bar.  Until you get real, honest feedback about the bar, it’s hard to know where your writing stands.

The biggest hurdle…

The problem with many songwriters, when confronted with the height of the real bar, is that instead of taking steps to learn how to get over the bar, they start trying to find a lower bar that helps them feel better about their music.  It’s the equivalent of an aspiring NBA basketball player trying out for the Celtics and not making the team on his first try.  So, instead of getting more coaching and improving his game, he goes to the Y and signs up for a pick-up basketball league.  He feels better.  He finally “made the team”.  But, the team he is on is not going to get him any closer to his goal of playing in the NBA.

There is no shame in not making a team.

Or in having your song(s) rejected.  But, what I hate to see, is people that get feedback saying that their music isn’t good enough yet who just start shopping around for someone who will tell them something different.  Those people are plentiful.  For $25, they will tell you that your song is amazing and that they are going to pitch it to Kelsea Ballerini for you.  They don’t mention that Kelsea rarely takes outside songs.  And they don’t tell you where your song REALLY gets pitched (the trash can).  But, because they tricked you into thinking the bar is low, you’ll pay them $25 again to repeat the cycle.  You feel like you are getting somewhere, but you are playing pickup ball at the Y with a con artist.

Your best friend in the music business is the person who will tell you “These songs aren’t good enough yet.”

The only way you will succeed is to listen to those people and to spend your time learning WHY your songs aren’t good enough so that the next song you write will be better instead of shopping around for a lower bar.

Here’s the REAL truth.  Top publishers like Daniel Lee and Livia Piomelli have a bar that songs have to get over before they stake their reputation on pitching them.  We picked them to run our Edge Groups for that reason. They are only interested in pitching songs that are going to WOW artists.  And guess what?  That bar is even LOWER than the bar Tim McGraw, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood or any other major artist use when choosing the songs for their records.  Daniel and Livia will pitch songs that are in the ballpark.  The artists are only going to cut outside songs that are home runs.

So, if you want to play in the big leagues, don’t worry if you haven’t “made the team” yet.  Nobody does on their first (or tenth) try.  But, don’t lose sight of the fact that the REAL bar isn’t going to change just because you shop around and find someone who tells you your song is amazing.  If you’ve gotten feedback from several reliable people in the industry that your songs are not at “bar level” yet, don’t be discouraged.  That’s part of the journey.  But, don’t settle for a pickup game at the “Y” and pretend that’s going to get you to pro level.  Dig in and do the hard work.  Just like the pros who have gone before you.

It takes many hours and lots of rejection before anyone succeeds in the music business.

The ones who make it are the ones who take rejection as a sign they need to improve and prove somebody wrong.  And they never give up learning or working toward their goal.  There isn’t a way to lower the bar.  It is where it is.  And, with enough hard work, you can get over it.

Write on! ~MD

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing


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