HOW TO CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
“Imagine yourself lost in the jungle, with only your trusty jungle knife to hack through the vines and branches and clear a path to safety. In the tangled web of our modern media culture, the song is the sword that cuts through the clutter”
“It’s not hard to figure out what the clutter is. Go to a record store and take a look around. Buy a music magazine and look at the new releases. Spend an evening looking at the new bands on myspace. We have met the clutter, and it is us.”
- Eric Beall, Pop hit songwriter, Producer, and Industry Executive
So, you love writing songs and expressing yourself, and you listen to songs on the radio and say, “Wow, I can do that. In fact, I have songs that are better than that!” Why is it that you can’t get discovered and get your song played on the radio? In this article, I’ll discuss some of the ways you can increase your chances of being heard and some of the guidelines of how to cut through the clutter in the music industry.
Quality of Music
First and foremost, you need the quality of your music to be the best you can make it. This means improving your skills as a songwriter and selecting the right production style for your songs. As far as production goes, a hit song is usually one that fits into the popular styles of the time yet also offers some new element or intrigue that makes it stand out a bit from the thousands of other songs that are being shopped to industry professionals. As industry veteran Eric Beall puts it, you want your track to be “different, but not too different”.
On the lyrical side, a good hook is paramount to creating a successful hit song. When radio programmers listen to potential hits they only listen to the song for about ten seconds. In addition when radio stations do testing to get votes from listeners on which songs they want to hear on the radio, they will often play a 10 second snippet of the hook. So making your hook stand out is crucial to having success.
Passive vs. Reactive
A good hook is one that listeners can relate to, but in order to stand out you want something that is edgy. The key is to get a strong reaction from the audience. Often times, if it is edgy this will attract attention from A&Rs who are searching for that next hit. A song that is edgy and generates strong reactions, positive or negative, will grab attention and will give you a better chance at cutting through the clutter. In Eric Beall’s study of hit songs, he classifies two different categories of songs: passive and reactive.
“Passive implies pleasant, unobjectionable, and generally agreeable. If you want to cut through the clutter, you don’t want to be passive. The key to music marketing is to find a product that is reactive. Reactive means surprising and controversial-possibly offensive or annoying- but sure to garner a response. Strong hate for something can be as powerful as strong love for it”
So that is step one, do your homework and compose a song that gives you the best chance for success from a musical standpoint. This means having a strong musical track that is well crafted, fits into the popular sounds of the time but differs slightly, and having a song that is reactive. You have the internet and books as your resources to gaining knowledge on how to improve your craft as a songwriter, so use them. Think about what reactive means, try to work some edginess into your lyrics, especially the hook. However, the music itself is not all that matters when you are trying to cut through the clutter and achieve success in the music industry.
In order to give yourself the best chances of success, you must understand the marketing and business side of the music industry.
“To a songwriter a song is a blend of melody and lyric and harmony and rhythm, meant to communicate some kind of emotion or message. To the record label executive, a song is, first and foremost, a marketing tool”. (Beal, 78)
You may be an excellent songwriter, but if you do not know how the system works then your chances of success are slim. You have to put yourself in the minds of those who are in positions to pass your song on and make it a hit.
Having A Home
The next step in cutting through the clutter is to target your specific audience, those who you want to primarily reach out to with your music. In order to eventually branch out and crossover to other genre markets, you must have a foundation to build from first.
“The definition of your target market is a precise description of the people to whom your music will appeal. Once you’ve narrowed that down, your lyrics, music production, and imaging must aim directly at the center of the target, if you want to hit the bull’s eye” (Beal, 72)
If you have a vague identity when your first starting out, A&Rs will not bother giving you a chance because you are not easily understood as an artist, you do not “have a home” as Beall puts it. That is a vital step before you embark on your efforts to cut through the clutter. Sit down and clearly identify your target market and make sure your music speaks to them and fits properly into that genre. You may like several genres and envision yourself making music that crosses several genres but in order to compete, you must first have a clearly defined home.
“All success starts with a passionate core audience in one specific market… Without a home, it is impossible to create a direction for a marketing campaign.”
“Better to appeal strongly to a small group than a little to a large group. A small passionate audience creates momentum, which can spread into other markets.” (Beall, 68)
To summarize the information that has been provided in this article, let’s take a look at the factors needed to cut through the clutter in the music industry:
We all want to make our own unique music but the fact is you probably will not grab the attention of industry executives if your song does not sound like it could be a hit. Try crafting a song in which you follow the guidelines of what makes a song a hit. Find the right production, write something catchy but edgy, and work on your marketing strategies. You have to cut through the clutter first before you can establish yourself as an artist and focus more on your originality.
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