We’ve all written one. At least we think we have. You know…that song that’s just so good, you can’t figure out for the life of you why nobody has recorded it.
I have dozens. And I assure you I’m not biased toward my own work. I’ve written tons of turds. I know exactly which ones they are too. Trust me, I feel I can be discerning.
But this blog isn’t about one of my songs … rather one written by my friend Oliver Leiber. It’s called ”Time Machine.” He wrote it during a heart-to-heart with himself after his marriage ended — about what he wished he’d have done differently.
Here’s the Demo. (Hired singer.) Have a listen and then please continue reading…
He played it for me recently because he wanted some perspective. He thought he was right on the money with this song. And quite frankly, I did to. I found it to be honest, simple, universal and heartbreaking. Not one line wasted. No fancy production gimmicks. No vocal plays-on-words. Just good old fashioned regret.
But when he presented it to his publisher, he got a tepid reaction: it’s “not-what-they’re-looking-for.” He wondered what that meant.
First of all in all my years in this business no one has ever known what they were looking for until they heard it. A&Rs are famous for giving briefs as to what they imagine is the next smash but then end up cutting something that’s not even close to what they thought they were looking for. So I reject that notion entirely.
That said, Oliver and I discussed the publisher’s reply and I suspected it could be code for a number of things, such as…
1- “I don’t really like your song but it’s too awkward to actually say that.”
2- “Country artists want to cut songs written by country writers. It’s hard to sell you as a country writer if you don’t live in Nashville.”
3- “We already have so many writers. How can we reconcile the high supply of songs with the low demand for outside works? Our time is better spent signing more writers. And that’s why….”
4- “You really have to get your songs cut yourself.”
5- “If a recording artist wrote “Time Machine” themselves or with you Oliver, it would be exactly what they’re looking for. But alas…”
Personally, if it were me (and it often is) I’d rather be told any of the above rather than not-what-they’re-looking-for. Painful as these explanations are, at least they’re honest. The business of pitching songs has CHANGED! It’s not actually all your publisher’s fault.
Oh and also…when we’re told not-what-they’re-looking-for, we’re challenged to go out and try to write what they are looking for but we’re never gonna find it if that wasn’t the problem in the first place. Sigh.
Set me straight. What am I missing here? Does one have to be seasoned in a specific genre in order to write a worthy song in that genre?
Admittedly I’m not a country music aficionado. So maybe I’m not seeing things clearly. Maybe this isn’t even a country song. Then again…we’ve all heard covers that transformed pop into country. A twang and a hat can change so much. A song is a song is a song. Right?
Is “Time Machine” the best song in the world? Could the demo be 3 BPMs slower? Maybe. Harmonies? Perhaps. An extra minor chord? Violins? Cello? Whatever. At least it’s real. Un-calculated sentiment. What we want is to be is moved, right? And to be told the truth.
In my opinion, Ollie, keep doing what you’re doing. Tell your truth. Play out. People will feel you. Someone will leave the Bluebird thinking, “I wish I wrote that.” If no one ever cuts it, that’ll suck. But at least you’ll have put it out there and made a valuable contribution…the universe notices that shit. You never know. Maybe Keith Urban will walk into a bar one night, hear you singing it and say Geez…that song is mine. That’s exactly what I’m looking for.
Here’s Ollie singing his own song: