We had AJ Lehrman in the lab with us last night, sidenote: watch out for him, and the process kinda inspired this post.
As a songwriter/producer you’ll create hundreds of songs over the course of a few years and realistically only about 1-5% of them actually get used. The right song has to come at the right time for the right person and you’ll find yourself with so much music that goes unused and potentially wasted.
What typically happens for us is record label X will tell us artist Y needs certain types of songs. We’ll then get to work on 3-5 different options that meet the criteria in various ways and send them back over. Sometimes what the label wants changes or they don’t feel the stuff we’ve sent over is a good match- not that they don’t like the song but as we’ve said above, it has to be the right song at the right time for the right artist. Go through this process a few times and all of a sudden you have 20-25 songs just sitting there waiting to be heard (repeat that over a few years and you’ll have quite the back catalog). This is why it’s so important not to try and follow trends and just make good music.
When AJ and his team told us the direction they were thinking of going in we started on a few new songs and went back to the music we’d made a number of years ago that fit the description. We narrowed our choices down to 7-8 tracks and let AJ decide which ones he liked. Some of the more appropriate music was the stuff we’d made back in 2010, it of course needed some updating and refreshing but because all the melodic elements were solid it was easy to bring them to 2015 with a few tweaks to the mix etc. This was only possible because we actively try not to date our songs, using certain sounds to match what is happening on radio is fine- that’s an easy fix later on- but if you’re using certain melodies or cadences from a particular time period you’ll find yourself starting from scratch all too often and potentially adding to a growing catalog of unused and unheard music.
As songwriters/producers we decided at the outset to be smart with our work and not follow everyone else as it’s all too easy to get left behind, it happens to way too many people. Right now DJ Mustard has a signature sound that A&R’s are most likely inundated with copycats of from other producers. When the new sound comes along those songs will be unusable because they’ll be too 2015.
Take home message- just make good music and don’t stop. Don’t try to be anyone else, just do you and you’ll be in the right place at the right time and have the right song for the right artist.