In any music genre, especially country music, you hear a lot about successful songwriters who’ve penned hit tunes. One thing you might not know, however, is that very rarely does a songwriter just fly solo. The days of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark creating their own music start to finish, in some dark room, are over. And, yes, Guy Clark literally nailed himself shut inside a room and wrote songs start to finish, including one of his biggest hits, Let Him Roll. That’s just how music used to work. These days, co-writing is the name of the game. Despite how successful an individual may be in the genre of country music songwriting, odds are good that other songwriters are credited on any song you’ll listen to.
Working with co-writers is how the genre has evolved. In country music, it’s usually just a couple of people. In other genres, it’s insane. An average of seven songwriters are credited on Beyonce’s music. So working with another songwriter seems tame compared to that.
Stick to the Formula
Like it or not, today’s modern pop-country music is extremely formulaic. AAB/AAB/Hook/Repeat. While you might call in to request something from David Allan Coe’s Family Album on your local country radio station, the fact is that this is the exception. The rule is short, sweet, catchy, formulaic writing. And, to be clear, no one is insulting that. If you’re a songwriter, you simply have to face how reality works, as this is the industry into which you’re trying to break. And that’s where guys like Brent Baxter come in – hit country music songwriters who work with other co-writers.
Mr. Baxter has penned hits such as Alan Jackson’s Monday Morning Church and has also written songs sung by Joe Nichols, Randy Travis, and over half a dozen other big stars. Brent operates a website–an entire songwriting network, in fact–on which he helps songwriters “go pro,” as he puts it.
According to Baxter, one of the main focuses in writing a song to pitch is to really think about the artist to whom the song will be pitched; after which, you need to think of it from a hook-first perspective. Remember: Catchy, short and sweet. Yes, you know exactly what this means, as you get country music tunes stuck in your head just like the rest of us. You might be more of a pure classic country person, but after you listen to something like Morgan Wallen’s Sand in My Boots, that song is stuck in your head. That’s the formulaic aspect of the genre today.
As a songwriter, you have two main choices:
- You can fuss and gripe about how awful it is that money-hungry executives have truly committed “murder on Music Row” and have transformed the industry to the point you need your song to fit a template to even be considered.
- You can evolve and adapt and hone your talent by working with great songwriters like Brent Baxter in order to break into the industry.
It Really Is What It Is
If you’re five-foot-five and can’t jump, are you truly upset that you’re not going to play in the NBA alongside men who are nearly seven-foot tall? No matter how mad you got, it wouldn’t help. Luckily for you, the country music industry is nowhere near that demanding. As long as you have the talent to write, there are no other limitations. What you have to do, however, is follow the sort of formula that writers like Baxter have followed. There aren’t many exceptions to this rule at all for unknown country music songwriters trying to break into the mainstream.
If you’re just trying to go gonzo and become popular on social media or in some fashion outside of the mainstream, that’s a different story. If you want to be a charting songwriter whose name is mentioned alongside the likes of Baxter, then following their template and heeding their advice is the way to go.
Baxter teaches a lot of courses and offers a ton of helpful information for country music songwriters trying to break into the industry; and if you really have what it takes, you can hire Brent to work with you to co-write a song that hopefully will become a smash hit.
We’re all aiming for that. We just keep plugging away and trying to improve at our craft.