In my experience there are two kinds of songwriters. One writes completely from the heart as an expression of art, while the second does it more as a business, writing whatever the situation calls for. Neither is more noble than the other, they’re just different, and both require a tremendous amount of skill and passion. That said, the balance between the “artist” versus the “professional” songwriter might have changed recently. Today there are more artists and bands that will do anything to have their songs exposed, even if it means making fundamental changes that might have been ignored a decade ago. That’s all thanks to the new role of the television and film music supervisor.
With more and more chances for exposure thanks to our new 500 channel universe, the music supervisor has in some ways become the new A&R man, discovering music that many record labels or publishers wouldn’t otherwise touch. If a song gets placed in a show or film, there may be a better chance of getting that label or publishing deal as a result, so many artists and songwriters are now going against their instincts in order to give the music supervisor a tailored version of their songs, which may be completely at odds with their own artistic integrity.
A great example of some of the comments given to an artist from a music supervisor can be seen in the following quotes from a great article by Patrick Duniven in the LA Weekly.
“Your song is really beautiful but it will never get placed because it’s too personal and limits where we can put it.”
“You shouldn’t use the word love in your songs because it will be difficult to place it.”
“Your songs stand out too much; try and write some stuff that blends into the background better.”
Now to be fair, music publishers who push songs to music sups, and the music supervisors themselves are just trying to do their jobs, but there was a time in the not too distant past where a comment like found above would more than likely draw a “F**k Off!” response rather than a mad dash to the studio to try to configure the song to notes, which is like trying to catch your tail while running in a circle anyway. Many artists play the same game with labels by following the latest trend, but they’re always behind as a result.
The sad part about all of this is that trying to catch a placement is so much less lucrative than it was even 5 years ago, with so many artists and bands now trying to get into the game for exactly the same reason. That’s driven the advances way down, as well as the placement’s worth, to a little better than nothing.
So artists, bands and songwriters, do your best to keep the integrity of your art. The next time a publisher or supervisor asks you to make a change, write another song instead. Keep the comments in mind, but don’t force yourself to go where it doesn’t feel right. You’re going to be a lot happier in the end, and your music will be better too.