I recently signed a new song of mine called “I Will Fly” to several different libraries and publishers. In the process of shopping the track around I got a wide range of responses, some of them positive and some of them negative. One of the great things about running my website and working with so many different people in the music business, is that I have a network of people I can turn to who will, at the very least, listen to my music and give me their honest, uncensored feedback. This is extremely valuable, because often times when people pass on your music you don’t even know why. Is it the song? The production? The vocals? If there’s no feedback, it’s hard to know for sure.
When you don’t get feedback when someone passes on your music, all you can do is speculate as to why they passed. When you get honest feedback, you can use that to improve your music going forward. It’s important to point out that not everyone hears music the same way. You can submit the same song to ten different places and get ten different responses. However, if you make enough submissions, and gather enough feedback, you start to get a pretty clear idea of how your music stacks up against the competition and how people in the industry perceive what it is you do.
Not everyone is going to like everything you do. However, if you’re trying to license your music, your job as a songwriter is to write music that will move and inspire the people you pitch it to. Your job, in a sense, is to know the industry well enough to know the kinds of songs that will interest those that you’re pitching to and then write those. To put it another way, if the majority of people you pitch your music to are passing on your material, you’re off track. At least with regards to your goal of getting your music licensed. Maybe you’ve written a great song but it just doesn’t work for licensing. Great, you have a great song you can do something else with. But if you’re trying to license your material, you need to figure out why certain songs work and why others don’t. This is your job. It’s not the job of other people in the industry to teach you. For better or worse, this is up to you to figure out.
One of the hardest things to do as songwriters and musicians is to be truly objective about our own material. When you write and record a song, there’s a certain sense of excitement about the process that can cloud your judgement. It’s exciting to see your songs come to life. So exciting in fact, that it’s all too easy to rush to judgement prematurely about how great or on target your material truly is. It’s a good idea to wait a few days after you finish a song and go back to it with fresh ears. Listen to it again and compare it to a few other tracks that have done well, licensing wise, in a similar genre. Does it truly stand up? Does your track have the same punch, clarity, catchiness and so on? These are all important questions to ask when you’re writing and producing material. Don’t get lost in the excitement of the creative process so much that you lose sight of whether or not what you’re creating is ultimately commercially viable.
There’s a subjective quality to music that is unavoidable. Some people like songs that others don’t. But when it comes to licensing, there are a lot of elements that aren’t subjective at all. They’re actually quite easy to quantify and evaluate. Things like production quality, vocal performance, lyrics and so on, are all very easy to measure and gather a consensus on. If you compare a really well produced song to a not so well produced song, it’s very easy to hear. The same can be said for a great vocal performance vs a subpar vocal performance. There’s nothing subjective about these things at all. If you submit the same song to enough places, there usually will be a consensus among the people you’re pitching to that you are either on track, or off.
Here are some of the responses I got about one of my newest tracks, “I Will Fly” that my prodicer and I have been shopping around. The interesting thing about this track is that I decided to take a crack at singing the lead vocals on this one. I’ve licensed some of my music that I sing lead on, but most of the tracks I’ve licensed over the years I’ve used other vocalists on or has been instrumental music. Although I was reluctant to sing lead on this track because I felt the melody was out of my range, after some prodding by my producer and friends I decided to sing lead and pitch the track with my vocals.
Notice how some of the responses seem to contradict each other, but in the end about half of the responses point to the fact that the song needs some changes.
Here was the first response from a publisher I pitched to, who has a long track record of placing music in tv and films:
“Intro is ok, but from the start of the 1st verse, I’m having trouble digesting the vocals. The doubled up vocal production needs work. The doubling up is not a good sound. It’s not harmonized well. It sounds harsh, electronic and not pleasing like a real harmony would be and it’s overused. I think you should ease so the vocals don’t have that continuous doubled up effect. That’s just my initial feeling.”
Ouch. Ok, I can take constructive criticism…
Here’s the second response we got from another publisher:
"I don’t think it sounds like something I can hear in a film or tv show…
I don’t find the singer’s voice pleasant
the song isn’t bad but …
the instrumentation sounds / feels a bit dated - 90’s ish…
just my opinion.
I’m not always right."
Damn! At this point, I’m feeling a bit defeated to be honest.
Then, this was the third response I got from the next person I sent the track to who does a lot of ad work. I sent several unsigned tracks that I sing on to this particular contact, including my newest track, I Will Fly:
Aaron I really like your music . I Will Fly is very licensable for advertising . The others as well perhaps more for film and TV . You have an indie sound with a interesting vocal presentation that works well and is consistent with the arrangements and instrumentation . I would be happy to try to help get these licensed . M
Ok, cool! I’m starting to feel a little better. I have an “interesting” vocal sound and the song is “very licensable for advertising. Nice! I actually wrote this track with advertising in mind, so this response was encouraging and more in line with what I expected to hear.
Here’s the fourth response we got:
Sorry, I don’t think I can use this guys. It sounds a little dated to me.
Ok, again with the “dated” comment. Duly noted.
Here's another positive response we got from a different publisher in LA that I sent "I Will Fly" and a few other tracks that I sing on:
First, thanks for sending your tracks. I listened to them today and loved what I heard. You capture a very authentic feel in your music. Great stuff! Tell me more about what your currently doing with your music. Are you working with any libraries for higher exposure / placements or just managing
your music on your own?
Here’s the final response I got of the six initial places we sent the song to:
Great stuff man!! Sure we can get it up and feature it!
This one was positive, but didn’t really have a lot specific to say. But still another positive response from a major library that wants to feature my music, so in the end I'm feeling pretty positive, but still concerned about some of the critiques we received.
Of the six places we sent the song to, three declined for very specific reasons. Of the three places that accepted the track, only one indicated specifically why they liked the track and what they thought it would be good for.
In the end, Gary (my producer) and I decided to re-work the track using a different vocalist and trying a different approach to the production and instrumentation. Although getting accepted into three out of six places isn’t bad at all, we still decided to make some changes to the track based on the feedback we received, before we pitch the track any further. The final result is a more modern sounding track with a more solid vocal performance that I anticipate will generate even more interest.
I don’t expect everyone to love everything I do, but if the majority of people I send my tracks to, or even half, feel like something is off or needs changed, I take their advice seriously. Although everyone hears music differently and there is a subjective quality to music, I also believe there is a sort of collective wisdom that people in the industry with a lot of experience have. I want my music to impress more people than not.
At this point, I don’t take rejection personally. Sure, I want people to like my tracks, but I’m always open to criticism and ways of improving the work that I do. Rejection is simply feedback.
[Note: I plan to do a follow up post in the next couple weeks and share both versions of the track, the one with my vocals and our original production, and then the one with a different vocalist we selected and a different production strategy. We’re still putting the finishing touches on the final version]
How do you deal with rejection? Do you just keep going and move on? Do you take it with a grain of salt or do you try to adapt to the feedback you receive? Let me know in the comments below.