Years ago, I’d be at a gathering, and a colleague would ask what I had going on. This was code for: what songs had I written that were coming out. I had to use both hands and all my fingers to count my upcoming releases. I couldn’t keep track. It wasn’t just me. Nobody else could keep track of theirs either.
This exchange was more or less a friendly pissing contest. Cuz everyone had a list. We were just catching up on who had “a cut” with Whitney and who had one with Celine.
It was a time when album sales were abundant and outside songs (those written by writers other than the artist), were solicited by the label. They wanted outside songs. Every album contained 13 tracks...plenty of real estate to go around. Room for all of us. We were happy for each other.
Of course, if your song happened to be chosen for a Single, that was gravy. But album cuts were just fine. That's because it wasn’t unusual for albums to sell “Platinum” (1 million), or “Diamond” in many instances—that’s 10 million, folks (not a typo), so we were all making a nice living from the 8 cents per track.
More recently, when the question what have ya got going on? is posited, there’s often an awkward silence as the honest answer could be, “slim to nothing” at the moment.
It’s a Singles market. Most of the filler is written or co-written by artists themselves. So, the inquiry often sends the questionee to the dark side…or home to scroll their Facebook feed and convince themselves they’re losers. (Suggested reading: The Untethered Soul.)
I’m sensitive about this reality so I’ve adapted an alternative version of the question which leaves the questionee’s dignity in tact should their answer be “slim to nothing right now.” And that version goes like this: “What’s been keeping you busy lately?” This way he or she can talk about their vacation, their new baby, their cat, a secondary endeavor. (It would behoove all songwriters to have a secondary endeavor. A hobby. A love or passion on the side to distract them while they “wait.”)
Of course, once in a while, if the stars collide and we get lucky, we land ourselves a Single. And when that happens:
Our self esteem rises over night. Obviously, we tell ourselves, it was just a matter of time and all the recent rejection was absolutely leading up to this very moment. We’re sure of it. (Even though the week prior, we were wishing we had chosen another profession. Something easier. Olympic figure skating perhaps.)
We’re more glass-half-full about everything and we’re the one encouraging our pessimistic buddies to cheer up! Be patient! Their time or their Prince will come.
Trump lovers or haters (take your pick) don’t get under our skin as much. Some day soon, they will see the light.
We don’t need as much retail therapy.
Then…right before said Single drops, we realize we’ve been floating around in a bubble of euphoric anticipation. There’s no guarantee that the “smash-in-our-minds” is going to be a chart topper—a Single doesn’t automatically mean “hit.” Lifetime copyright. #Annuity.
That said, if our song does fly…
We don't care as much if our hair is dirty. In fact it might even look better. It’s edgy. It’s wild. It’s Rock Star.
We’ve earned the right to loosen up. Pigtails and High Tops. Even if we’re over 40. Because, let’s face it…we’re taste makers now.
At sessions our co-writers think all our ideas are insane. (Good insane). And they’re right!
Our publisher calls us back immediately.
It seems as if we can drive for miles and not hit a red light. We find parking effortlessly. We beat the meter maid to our car by seconds. No traffic going home.
It’s “all uphill from here.”
On the other hand…if our Single bombs…
We go through a period of deep grief.
If we’re Jewish we might sit song-shiva…put sheets over the mirrors. We can’t face ourselves.
We take down our pig tails and head for the Drybar.
All our ideas are shit.
Our girlfriend, who just last week, we assured would find her Prince, found him and now she’s telling us to cheer up—that everything will be oK. Fuck Her.
We wonder how long it's gonna take to get out of bed, to get up at bat again or if we’ll ever get up at bat again. If the sun will ever shine.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a Single. I’ve been concentrating on my other endeavor…a book release, a book tour, a book everything and I took myself out of the game for a while. But I’ve been inching my way back and guess what! I have a brand new Single! Having said that, I’m happy to be leaving town so I won’t be as inclined to track it’s progress. Watch the kettle, as it were.
It either will or it won’t.
Either way, I’ll survive. I’ve been doing this for so long I’m not as likely to be sucked into that pre/post-Single bi-polar emotional vortex.
Besides, at least I will have enjoyed the hope…that window of anticipation…where anything is possible.
When I return from my travels I plan on continuing my non-dignity-draining words— “What’s keeping you busy lately?” And quite frankly, I wouldn’t if you put it to me the same way. :)