Q: I want to learn more about what kind of music is current. Where do you find new music and artists to listen to? Also I want to pitch my songs to film & TV. Where can I hear artists that are being used in that market?
A: If you’re writing songs for today’s radio or film & TV markets, it’s essential to keep your ears “tuned up”! You’ve got to know which artists and songs listeners like, and you need to have a good idea of what the music industry is looking for. Here are five places where you can hear what’s hot right now.
1. On the music charts
Personally, I don’t listen to the radio. I hate yakkety DJ’s, endless contests and commercials, and having to listen to songs I don’t like to get tot he ones I do like.
So I go straight to the music charts instead. I look up the style I’m interested in, make a list of the top ten or fifteen songs, then go listen to them. You can find music charts at: www.Billboard.com (click on “charts”) or www.BDSradio.com (click on “Select a chart”).
If this is the first time you’ve checked out the charts, explore the various genres to hear what they sound like. Billboard often has links to the top songs so you can listen right there. Or use one of a streaming website like Rhapsody, Rdio, Spotify, etc. Or buy the songs you want to study after previewing them at iTunes.
2. On TV
TV series and commercials use both songs and instrumental cues. The trick is to stay aware of what you’re listening for! Instead of getting caught up in the drama of shows like “Reign,” “Nashville,” or “Bones” you’ve got to keep part of your mind on alert for songs and cues. It’s not always easy!
Commercials are using more songs than ever. And if there’s no song, there’s sure to be instrumental music. Don’t mute those ads! Keep one ear open for music you think you could create. Acoustic rhythm guitar and singer-songwriter-style songs are very popular right now. Here’s a trend I’ve been hearing lately. Don’t mute those commercials. Listen for songs then look up the ad on YouTube. It will usually turn up.
For lists of artists and songs being used in today’s TV series, visit TuneFind.com. You’ll find a list of TV series currently using songs. Click on a show title, choose a season, then go through the individual shows along with the songs in each. You can often play a sample of the song right on the TuneFind site. Listen for songs in a style you think you can do then study, analyze, and immerse yourself in the style.
3. Industry Listings
In my opinion, one of the best places to find out what’s currently hot in the industry is the TAXI listings. You don’t have to be a TAXI member to see the listings. Check in every two weeks or so and look through the genres that come closest to you: Singer-songwriter, Indie Folk, Alt Rock, Country, Jazz, Hip Hop – there are usually opportunities in all of these genres.
Make a list of the referenced artists (and specific songs if any are included). This is what TAXI is being asked for by the industry. You’ll be familiar with some artists and not with others. I keep my own lists of the referenced artists in genres I’m interested in and refer to it often. I discover a lot of new artists this way.
4. In music libraries
For ideas on the kinds of instrumental cues that Production Music Libraries look for, visit any online library like Crucial Music or 5 Alarm Music. Use their Search function to find out how they identify and sort tracks. This is a great exercise in itself. Where would your tracks fit? Listen to tracks in a style you think you write in or something you’d like to aim for.
These libraries generally accept online submissions. Just be sure you do your research first and you have the style and quality of music they use before you contact them.
5. Music Blogs
There are a lot of music blogs out there. A quick check of the Internet will turn up plenty to choose from. Check them out to see which ones are useful for you. Here’s a good list of music blogs. Find a blog that regularly suggests songs and artists you like and then check back often.
6. Steaming playlists
There are many streaming digital websites, like Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora that offer playlists of the best of the new releases (in their opinion). These can drastically cut the time you spend looking for and listening to current artists.
7. On the radio
I put this one last because so many people hate listening to radio (including me). The DJ’s, the contests, and the ads are all time wasting distractions. But if you can wade through all that, you’ll hear the songs that listeners can’t get enough of and the breakthrough singles of today’s newest artists.
Break out of old habits
Spend at least an hour every few days listening to current music. Immerse yourself in it before you write. You’ll find that your own music is influenced in subtle ways. You’ll discover new ideas and ways to solve problems. You’ll make choices as you write that will tend to pull your songs toward a current sound. The heart of your songs will always be YOU, but sometimes a small change in the way the chorus wraps up or the melody in the verse can make a big difference in whether the song finds a home in today’s music market.
by Robin Frederick
This post is based on my songwriting books: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.