When asked about the secret of TV’s “60 Minutes” success, creator Don Hewitt said that all the reporters and producers on the show followed his main concept – “Tell Me a Story.” The late Harry Chapin was a genius at crafting songs that told a complete story. While most of his tunes were longer than the 3 minute limit for pop songs on the radio, he managed to have several major hits before his life was cut short by a tragic auto accident.
While I feel like my grandparents when I complain about today’s music, it is a fact that most of today’s popular songs have little to say. Unlike most hit songs today, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” at least expresses a complete thought, but doesn’t really tell a story. Storytelling has become almost the sole province of country music along with the occasional tune from a Disney animation.
I have written songs for decades. As music major in college, I was the odd man out in a primarily classically trained student body. Whenever we had a free composition project, I always wrote a pop song that usually told a story. My professors took great pleasure dissecting my work and belittling the genre I had adopted. I did write some modern “classical music” and even had a piece performed by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. But popular music was always my main passion. I really enjoy telling stories through song.
After college, I quickly learned that my musical education did little to prepare me for earning a living. I became an audio producer for a local ad agency and rose through the ranks to become the Creative Director of their Atlanta office. While there I was afforded the opportunity to write and produce jingles and other music for AT&T, Coke, IBM and even the city song for Reno, Nevada (Reno Dares You). It felt great to have my music heard by a lot of people, even if it was selling phone services, computers and soft drinks.
I continued to write pop songs and continued to submit them to publishers throughout my career in advertising. When I worked at QVC, I jumped at the chance to host the music shows. My eidetic memory made it easy to interview the classic rock and pop artists I listened to in my youth. We even sold musical instruments, most notably guitars. I was really in my element. I was still sending songs to publishers and artist and kept getting enough rejection slips to paper a banquet hall.
When QVC did a Christmas CD in 1999, I wrote an original song for it. “No More Than Christmas” was on the double CD set that sold almost 100,000 copies the first month it was released. The song told the story of what most people think of as a perfect Christmas. It still gets airplay during the Christmas season, especially on those radio stations that play Christmas Music 24/7, sometimes starting in October.
After the success of this CD, I kept sending songs to publishers and artists and continued to receive rejection slips. You know what really pissed me off? A lot of the form rejection slips had major typos. Hey, if you’re going to shoot down someone’s lifelong dreams, at least be grammatically correct when you do it.
I suspect that most of the rejection slips I get are from publishers who haven’t even listened to my demos. A few have obviously listened as they take the time to tell me that my “musical storytelling” is passé.
With today’s Internet video sites like YouTube, there is a much better chance of getting your music heard by someone of note. However, considering the millions of other songwriters and musicians on YouTube and similar sites, I have no illusions that it is my “big chance.” I’ve had what I consider to be some of my best songs on YouTube for years and have received some great comments from people but no publishing deal – so far.
My latest song, “Booty Call,” is definitely a country tune. The YouTube link is below. The song tells a whole story and still has a pretty strong hook. And it would make an incredible video for some country artist. I hope you like it.
As a 63-year-old singer/songwriter, I don’t have too much hope that this song will be the one to open the doors of pop music success. Just what Nashville needs, an old fart jingle writer with delusions of grandeur. Hell, at my age I’ll be happy if it makes some people smile and maybe sing along (it is very catchy). But, as I often say about almost anything I’ve done in my life, “You never know!”
Thanks for reading and listening! I wish you great health, happiness and success!