When I work with songwriters who are just beginning to pursue a career, one of the questions they ask most often is, “What are publishers looking for?” A truthful answer to that question is, “They are looking for writers who aren’t asking them what they are looking for.” I have often heard publishers say that they love to find writers with their own style, their own personality, their own point of view – writers who bring them songs that don’t sound like something they could get from anyone else.
That may seem hard to believe when you turn on the radio and so many songs sound alike. It’s true that when Music Row finds something that works – something that radio wants to play and fans will buy – they stick with it until it gets done to death. But by the time you notice a trend, the pro writers in Nashville are already all over it – writers who have publishing deals and co-write with the artists. If a new writer comes to town with a bunch of good songs that sound like all the other songs, publishers already have plenty of those from writers who are in the hole to them for draws and demo costs.
However, a writer who can find a fresh way to say the same the same thing is always a welcome find for publishers. For example it can be hard to impress anyone these days with a song about riding in your truck with your girlfriend to party in the country, but if you can come up with lines like, “Girl you make my speakers go boom boom” or “We were shining like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show,” you will definitely get noticed.
I have also seen publishers get excited about talented writers whose songs are way out in left field because they can always pair them with veteran writers who can help them fit into the commercial formula. There is a widely held belief that it is easier to rein in a wildly creative writer than it is to push a bland writer to be more inventive.
But whether your strength is writing off-beat, quirky songs, middle-of-the-road ballads or typical ditties, there is one quality that, more than anything, will make your songs most appealing, and that quality is authenticity. Don’t write what you think they want. Write what is real to you. If you draw on your own emotions, life experience and point of view, that will give you the best chance of writing songs that connect with listeners and get you connected with a publisher who believes in you.