Is Your Songwriting Dated?

When your song is pitched, there are many things that can knock it out of contention.

One of those things is your presentation sounding, or even looking, dated. That can be in the writing itself, or in the subject matter, or the demo recording.

It’s often the kiss of death if an A&R person is thinking, “This could have been a hit back in the 80’s, not now”. But that happens… a lot.

If it’s friends and family you’re writing for, no problem, write what you like, nothing here applies to you. But if you’re hoping for a cut with a major label artist you likely have little choice but to “run the A&R gauntlet”. They are the gatekeepers, so to speak, between you and the final decision maker, either the artist, , their manager, their produce, the record label or all of the above.

Many writers get mentally entrenched in what was popular in their formative years, not realizing how much radio hits have changed over time. Or maybe its not recognizing how much influence their formative years still have on their writing, even when intentionally attempting to craft something more modern.

The instruments change. The way records are mixed changes. Listen to 3 or 4 hits, country, pop or whatever genre you prefer, from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s 80’s etc. on up to current hits. you’ll hear dramatic differences every 10 to 20 years.

Lyrics change. The culture changes. The population ages.

One thing to be very careful about is when you attempt to reference something familiar and/or universal in your song. If you reference a famous movie star, will the younger people who buy most of the records even know who you are talking about? Stadiums and teams get re-named. Products go out of production, stores go out of business. Slang and cliches fall out of favor and new terms take their place. In the 70’s most Americans knew who The Duke was- John Wayne- not so much now.

Even a dated approach can lessen your chances. Mailing in a cassette tape for example. Cassettes have not been popular or used much in the music industry in over twenty years. Even CDs have largely given way to mp3 files, although some A&R still request pitches on CD. Most communication these days occurs via e-mail, not the postal service,. Mailing in a cassette or an inquiry letter will impart the impression that you are old, out of touch and clueless.

Musically things have changed greatly too. Today’s country radio is a far cry from the music of Johnny Cash or Tammy Wynette. Twangy guitars and minimal, basic drums have been replaced with mostly rock and pop sounds.

Review your catalog or have it reviewed by someone who won’t pull punches. Be sure your songs are similar in terms of lyric content and overall sound to what’s getting played on radio right now. If not, updating or writing new songs is in order.

The best way to stop living and working in the past is simply to listen to more modern music regularly. In your early years you probably listened to a steady diet of what are now oldies. Can you honestly say you’ve embraced the modern music you are hoping to get a break with in that same way? If not, that may part, or all, of your problem.