- Band Management
- Home Recording
- Live Sound
- Best Instruments
- New Music & Video
That’s okay; you’re in good company. Even artists who’ve won industry awards for their songs don’t always write all their own material. The myth of the visionary songwriter sitting alone and distilling human emotions into melodies and lines is just that. Don’t let your repertoire woes stop you from being the best performer, producer, or musical force you can be.
These are just a few of the many, but here are some reasons you may need to find a song you didn’t write:
Sometimes covers are just the right thing for your career. Sometimes they feel cheesy, lame, or just wrong for that moment. You may want more control or to explore new musical territory, something that won’t always work with a cover.▼ Article continues below ▼
In the new breakneck cycle of recording releases, it can be hard to keep up the pace you may feel you need to reach the fans you know are out there. Not everyone is a prolific-enough songwriter to get a single a month out or to fill a strong, regularly varying setlist.
You may see your strengths and know you’re an amazing singer, a charismatic performer–but you’re not as strong a lyricist or composer. Perhaps you’re a great arranger, but not as great when it comes to composing. Especially when you’re first starting out, you simply may not have had enough time or practice to achieve what you want as a songwriter. Or you may realize that there are other, highly gifted people out there writing the kind of songs you’d love to perform.
…perhaps for a specific occasion, you just need to find it. You may have an audition, say, or a session with a promising singer. Someone else may have already nailed it for you.
So that leads us to the big question: What should you look for in a song? The first part of the answer is one that’s written by an ace songwriter. But that only begs the next question: how do you find one?
The answer used to be to ask a music publisher. Traditionally, they were the arbiters of song and songwriter access, and getting through the wall of silence as an independent artist often proved daunting (if not impossible).
However, just as DAWs and digital distribution changed the game for artists, technology and the internet have begun to transform how songs go to market. Songwriters and independent publishers are opening up to new ways of doing things, including making direct connections with artists and offering high-quality songs for direct license. It’s easier to find and license professionally crafted songs than it’s ever been before.
That’s all well and good but finding the right song for you and your needs now can still feel challenging. Here are a few tips to inspire you as you begin your search.
We know, it’s sappy advice. But it’s true, and it’s something we’ve seen in our decades of writing songs and working with songwriters. There’s a moment when an artist hears a song and knows it’s The One. Find that moment. Pick a song that moves you.
Songs aren’t memes, and artists who want to have a career, not 15 seconds of fame, should choose their songs accordingly. It’s not about what’s trending on the flavor-of-the-month app right now, or what some big name is doing. Select songs that will define who you are as an artist, that give you room to breathe and grow. A song should be a mile marker on your long-term journey.
Most great professional songwriters will have credits scattered over a bunch of genres during their career. You can think the same way. Don’t just seek out songs that fit what you think your style is. Listen to a variety of options for a song that tells a story or speaks to a feeling or issue you connect with.
Just because a songwriter envisioned a song in a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t play around with things. Make whatever song you choose your own via arrangements, interpretation, or even translation.
You need to ensure you can do that, however, by making sure you’ve got the appropriate license for the song you’re hoping to record. Depending on your license, you may have the freedom to adjust wording or language as well as musical elements. (Licenses via Rocket Songs, for example, allow for translation.) You may discover that that country song works beautifully in Tagalog, or that that party anthem slowed down feels like the perfect ballad. Just because you didn’t write it doesn’t mean you can’t get super creative and express something new.
The goal is to make good music, forge your own path as a producer or performer, and say something meaningful. Finding a strong, professionally written song can help you do that, all while helping a fellow musical creative at the same time. Choose wisely, choose what really moves you, and you’ll find the song that works.
main photo by Marco Verch
John Cesario has written for artists like Eddie Money and Fleetwood Mac.
J Stone has spent decades supporting songwriters as a publisher. Together, they founded Rocket Songs, the first marketplace where anyone can find and license high-quality original songs by professional songwriters. See more at rocketsongs.com.