So I joined Nashville Songwriters' Association International, NSAI, last year. They provide services like song evaluations, more about that in a minute, and they have local chapters. So I have a local monthly meeting to go to where I can play my songs for others, meet other writers, hear their stuff, learn how to receive and give feedback, and learn about the industry.
NSAI has an evaluation "system," in which I can send my songs in, someone will evaluate them based on the usual criteria - structure, lyric, music, commercial viability, etc. I can ask them to go easy or "lay it on me - I can take it!" I always choose the "lay it on me." One one hand, what does one person's opinion really mean, even an industry person? I should just listen to my heart and write, right? But on the other hand, having a song on the radio is one of my goals, so what the industry thinks of my work is crucial.
Part of the challenge for me is learning the game. You want zippy hooks and relatable stories and catchy music and you want me to get it done in about 3 minutes? That's hard, but I am good at it, I think, and I like the challenge. But I crave industry feedback because there are so many people in this world who think they are amazing at things like writing and singing, but you and I both know they're not good at those things at all. They live in a bubble and opinions don't penetrate unless they're positive.
The Bubble. I'm obsessed by it, because sometimes I'm terrified I'm in one - out of touch with reality, being laughed at, overestimating my gifts in a laughable way. On the other hand, a little bit of bubble might be helpful since I doubt myself so much.
The top of the evaluation system is being "recommended" for a quarterly liuncheon that NSAI holds. They play the top 9 songs out of probably several thousand for publishers and Industry People. Because I was an awful mix of arrogance and naivete this time last year, I hoped I'd get recommended oh, on my first try maybe. Seriously I hoped that, and that's kind of good and kind of awful of me. Obviously that didn't happen, and along the way I have had about 12 songs evaluated, some several times. Sometimes the evaluations hurt, even though they were right. Once the evaluator was dead wrong and not very nice about it ("For unto us a child is born?" he asked. "Is that really from Scripture?" I kid you not). There were a few times where unjust wrinkles in the evaluation system robbed me of my chance to be "recommended", or maybe my song just didn't knock socks off in that perfect way.
But I have learned so much, and after all those evaluations I can look at a new song and just imagine what they will say about it, and fix it as I'm writing instead of later, and so my songs are getting whipped into shape more quickly. The challenge is getting the great idea, and I get my share of them which is to say not that many. But I decided to get behind a couple of my songs, and this one came back with the magic words: "Congratulations! This song has been recommended for consideration at our next "Pitch to Publisher" luncheon!"
This, like the contest certificates on my wall, is anti-bubble insurance. It tells me that if someone in the industry agrees with me about my song, about what's likable and well-crafted about it, then I can give myself permission to trust myself a bit more and know that I'm on the right track. And yes I hope that song goes all the way, wherever that might be. It also tells a story that is familiar, and puts a happy ending on an interpersonal situation that has happened to most of us at one time or other. So it's a story that needed to be told, I think.
So, yay. I hope for more, but I'm not drinking that much champagne next time.