This blog is for John and anyone else who is interested in me finishing the "Everything you EVER wanted to know" series about the ins and outs of the music industry as I have experienced it. As always- feel free to shoot me your questions and I will try to answer as many as possible. Also, please remember that I do not speak on behalf of my record label, Fair Trade Services, or my booking agency, Elite Talent, nor do I have the ability to sum up a very vast, complex multi-billion dollar industry. I am only speaking from my first hand experiences and observations.
How do you get a song on radio? So you want to know HOW a song gets on the radio? Here is the journey of my new radio single, Heaven Waits for Me, and its long, long, loooong road to *hopefully* playing on your local radio station, September 21st!
If you are in the industry, this song is now available on PlayMPE. Please take a listen.
The Abridged Version I wrote and recorded a demo of Heaven Waits for Me in August 2011 with my friend Steve Miller in Los Angeles. I performed it for the first time on stage in November 2011 in East Texas. I recorded the song in February 2012 with my friend and producer, Paul Moak, in Nashville. My friend Steve, re-recorded the song in May in Los Angeles. My friend Seth re-re-recorded the song in June in Nashville. The last recording, Seth Mosley's, is the one that made the album. The song was mixed in June by Reid Shippen. Mastered in July. And now, it has been delivered to a secure downloading site for radio stations and other industry insiders to listen to and decide if they will play it on their stations. And that's the shortest version possible.
Now for the real story, in reverse order...
The Wait I have put poop, sweat and tears (I'll tell you Annie's poop story from the studio at a later time!) into this album and into this new song. And now- it's out of my hands and in the hands of radio first, fans second. First up- will radio stations play it?
Will it be one of the mere, industry standard 6-10 NEW songs PER YEAR, that their station adds to the mix? Do their listeners like it? Does it test well in their market? Will they take a chance on it? Does it say something meaningful?
I will spend the next two months playing the song for radio stations, telling them the story behind the song, meeting with their program directors, placing phone calls, writing cards, creating private videos for the stations- all in attempts to persuade them to give my song a shot. Next week I will even play at an event in front of the program directors and DJ's of almost every major station in the country in hopes that they will like what they hear.
Then I will cross my fingers and wait-
Will they partner with me to tell the stories I've written?
The important thing to know about what songs end up on the radio is this: There are thousands of beautiful, thought-provoking, artistic, soulful, life-changing songs out there. But most radio stations can only play about 10 new songs a year. And it's not because radio stations are capitalistic-hearltess-politically motivated- cheesy- ______ fill-n-the-blank for other assumptions you may have made... machines.
Radio stations are working their butts off to stay on the air, pay the bills and stay relevant in a world driven by satellite radio, Spotify and Pandora. And Christian radio stations? Many of them are trying to run a business and carry the added pressure of using their medium of communication to impact the world with the hope-filled, grace-filled message of Jesus Christ.
On the whole, I have been blown away with the thoughtful, spiritually-minded, business-savy men and women who balance business and ministry on Christian radio stations across the country.
How's all that for complicated? It's business. It's spiritual. It's personal. It's a competition. Getting a song on radio is like most things in life...
It's never as easy as, "This is the best song ever written and will change the world!"
It's big labels verses little labels, release dates and radio tours. Marketing budgets and station preferences. Content and meaning in conjunction with who pays the bills and what they are willing to pay for.
And honestly, at the end of the day- radio marketing departments, label execs, radio station program directors, station managers, dj's and the artists themselves...
we are all just people working out marriages, raising kids, caring for our parents, carving out time for friends and families and we all go home at the end of the day and live outside the walls of these complicated music structures...
People who deduce "Christian radio" and "labels" and "the industry" to more than just normal people trying to do a good job at work and going home to the bigger aspect of their lives are often over-simplifying (and villanizing) the world. Yes, every system is flawed and broken- but that is not the sum of every system.
Behind every system there are simply people.
And for those of you who want to know more...
The Song I will tell you about the meaning of the song later. For now, the important thing to know is that I wrote this song with my insanely talented friend, Steve Miller, in Los Angeles an entire year ago.
Monday, August 1st, 2011.
I wish you could hear the demo that we recorded in his living room that day. I will forever be in love with it. I got off the plane at LAX, made my way to his apartment, sat down on his couch, listened to him tinker around on his guitar, told him that I wasn't much of a song-writer but I had some things going on in my heart that I wanted to get out and less than an hour later-
the song was written in its entirety.
He later joked, "And you said you weren't really a song-writer. Please." In that moment, he gave me wings to write the rest of my new album, The Becoming. For the first time ever (even though I had written songs like What Do I know of Holy and My Story) I felt like I could call myself a song-writer.
Getting the Song Right Every artist works with a different team of people to get their music out to their fans via radio. Whether they are independent or signed to a record label, there are any number of methods and months between writing a song and hopefully getting it onto the airwaves. This is what the path of one song looks like. Not all songs. Not all record labels. Not all radio teams. Not all artists. Just mine.
First up? Getting the song right!
When I was a new writer, penning songs like "All that Matters" "Sticking with You" and "What Do I Know of Holy" I would toss out lines, ideas and melodies and expect them to stick. If I liked them and they initially felt good- what was the problem? Writing the songs for the first Addison Road album kicked my artistic butt. Turns out- you have to wrestle with a song. And, if you have a record label that is paying for those songs to be created... they get to wrestle with that song too. And so does the music publisher. And so does the guy producing the album. Not to mention as the artist, you can quite often get on stage to perform this new, un-recorded song and all of a sudden realize that it is missing something or that it needs to lose something or that it needs to be played an entirely different way. Or that you just plain hate it.
These are a few snippets of email conversations from early 2012 that I had with "undisclosed industry people" on my team regarding the song Heaven Waits for Me in the months leading up to recording the song in February of 2012.
From one teammate: "Heaven Waits For Me...HMMM...I have listened to this song a lot and I love it. A couple concerns for me are in the chorus: -I’ve spent SOME time with Jesus.” I understand what you are saying here, but could you make that line a little less casual? -The other line that concerns me is: “I know I’m ready” Could we change the tense to, “I will be ready” “I know I will be ready” (whenever that day comes)??? I know that’s a minor change, but I think it pays off the hook more..."
From another teammate: "Heaven waits for me - WHAT A CHORUS!!!!!!!!!! I am laughing at how great this lyric and melody are. I also kinda like the vibe of the demo...Okay, this is just me, please let me know your thoughts, but I have listened a ton and the bridge still kinda creeps me out. To me the idea of "take my final breath" is very cool and has a sweet sentiment. But "maybe its ... maybe it's ...." is it a little morbid or am i reading too much into it?"
From Me in Response to those 2 teammates: -Ok, the chorus lyric can be changed to eliminate the word "some." It sings just fine without it. I'll just add in "yeah" and make it "yeah- I've spent time with Jesus." -I'm not sure about the change in tense though. I feel like "I know I'm ready" conveys a sense of peace and contentedness. Whereas "I will be ready" makes me feel like the person is perpetually working and hoping to be ready for something vs resting in the fact that when the day comes, the day comes, they are already ready. Does that make sense? -As far as the bridge being morbid- it totally is. And I am totally ok with that! I am a morbid person. I've thought about death since I was a little girl- and as an artist I have met more people than I ever cared to meet who have dealt with the sting of death in so many different, expected and unexpected ways- and so this bridge captures that for me. That death is hovering over us and can come in many different ways and that's precisely the point of the song- that I've lived in such a way that no matter what way death comes to my door- it's ok- I've lived fully and I will live ever more fully in God's presence. If it totally bothers you guys and isn't essential to the song, I can come up with some other ideas. But I think it is exactly right for what I want to say. But let me know what you think about that thought."
And that is how the final version of the song that you hear was "worked out."
Song Production After a while- you work out the kinks in the song and it's time to record. I loved the first recording with my producer, Paul Moak. I still love it. But the collective team- you know, the one that pays for the album- didn't feel like it was right yet. The more I listened to their thoughts and ideas, I was able to see where there was room to wrestle with the song and to try pulling it in different directions musically to make it sound a "little less country" and "a little more pop". To marry the two a little better. Paul and I wrestled with it- but couldn't get it there. It's hard to change something you love.
The ultimate decision was to bring the song to another producer and see what it might sound like if we re-created it from the ground up. This decision was hard on my soul. Really hard. When you work with someone as brilliant as Paul Moak- going back and re-working anything with anyone else sort of feels like cheating. But at the end of the day- I knew I at least owed it to the team to try to meet in the middle. Subsequently, we "re-built" the song sonically with two more producers. And the final cut that is now going to radio was produced by the sweetest of guys- Seth Mosley. The biggest differences? Most people would never even notice! They are subtle- still, they are different takes on the song, seen through different eyes. And sometimes it takes several sets of eyes, or ears in this case, to bring something fully to life. Some "ohs" at the beginning of the song and some crazy fun background vocals. Also- some changes to the approach of kick patterns with the drums and a broken down section of hand-claps taken out and replaced with a little more pure form of pop-rock-happiness! Little things.
I now have 4 versions of this song. Maybe one day I can release all four- because I love them equally!
Finally, Radio. There is not much more to say about the radio process that I did not say above. Radio is complicated for all parties involved.
I can tell you that the original release date for this song was September 14th. But now it is September 21st. Why? On September 14th, Third Day has a new song "going for adds" (this is when the record label suggests the radio stations start playing the new song that they are pitching on behalf of their artist). If the choice is me or Third Day- well...
it's better to respect your elders :)
And no Mac Powell- I'm not calling you old! So we moved the date. Third Day will go first and then I will take my shot the next week!
Until then? I sit and wait. And hope. And give you secrets I probably shouldn't give :). Only 21 more days- between now and then I will give you, my blog readers/twitter followers/ and Facebook followers a chance to stream the song as much as you'd like for free. I'll also post the lyrics here on the blog. A story about what the song means to me. And of course- tell you the story about Annie and poop and what it's like to be in a studio recording with a 2- year-old in my arms.
Heaven Waits for Me, the single from my new album, The Becoming, hits radio on September 21st!