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May I Have Your Attention Please? -- Branding Your Songs
By Bill Pere - 05/10/2011 - 11:53 AM EDT

In today's very crowded music marketplace, you are competing at any given time with tens of thousands of artists and hundreds of thousands of songs – and you're competing for two specific things:  Awareness, and Attention.   Awareness is getting a listener to notice that you (or your song) exist, and Attention is sparking enough interest in that listener so that they willingly hold you in their awareness (and ideally, make others aware of you as well).  

You cannot achieve Attention without first achieving Awareness. Thus, many artists spend considerable time and resource in "marketing and promotion", learning what they can and applying a variety of approaches to capture listener Awareness.   However, they often overlook one fundamental piece of the whole picture – once you've achieved Awareness, what does it take to turn it into Attention?

The answer is simple and basic – quality.   Great songs.   The songs are like cars to GM, computers to Apple, food to McDonald's, or flavor to Coke.  These companies have great brand awareness, but at times have faltered when there was a perception that their quality was compromised or did not measure up to competitors. The ultimate success of a company (i.e. you), is bring a  quality product into a wide awareness. 

I meet many young artists who want me to tell them all I know about marketing, but who never ask for analysis or critique of their songs.   They've spend large amounts of time and money recording songs that have never been critiqued by objective professionals, or developing graphics that have never gone before a test audience, and then they wonder why all their best efforts at marketing and promoting yield little results – OR – they get some degree of results from their marketing efforts and never think to ask how much MORE they would have gotten if they had a better product.  (See the Songcrafters' Coloring Book discussion of ullage)

There was an amazing online poll conducted by Derek Sivers in early 2009.  He asked how folks get input on their songs  during the development stage.  A huge number of aspiring Independent Artists wrote (sometimes emphatically!) that they never seek out nor ever need critique. Could you imagine any company today investing all the time and money it takes to launch a new product or service without including focus groups and market testing as part of the product development?  We all remember - or not - the Ford Edsel , "New Coke", and McDonald's pizza.

If your competition is not spending time and effort maximizing the quality of their songs,  it is good news for you – it means that if you take the time to work on the crafting of your songs, then your subsequent efforts at promotion and marketing will be that much more effective.

A typical response to avoiding critique is that "I want to be different!  My music doesn’t fit any type of category" .  Let's  take a moment to look at when 'different' works for or against you. 

At my workshops, I usually ask 100 people in a room what song they think about when I say the word "love", and I usually get 100 different answers.  Then I ask what song they think of when I say "centrifugal" – and there are only two kinds of responses – either nothing,  or "This Kiss", as recorded by Faith Hill, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, Robin Lerner and Annie Roboff (yes, it sometimes takes a village to raise a great song).

There is no question that this song "works", across different styles, tastes, demographics, and cultures.  Besides being a #1 international Country hit  and a Top-10 crossover hit on multiple-genre charts on three continents,  "This Kiss" became the signature song for the 1998 movie Practical Magic.  It  won the Video Of The Year awards at the 1998 Country Music Association awards. This was the first time in her career that Faith Hill had international success with a hit – success due to the song, not the artist.  (She had had four previous #1 hits, but nothing of this magnitude).

Why does this song "work" so well, as opposed to the vast number of other songs that are also about love and kisses? Clearly it's not just what the song is "about".  There is more at work.  

Song lyrics have three main sets of components:  Semantic (having to do with meaning), Phonetic (having to do with the sound of the words), and Prosodic (having to do with the rhythm of the words).   (These are all discussed at great length in "Songcrafters' Coloring Book")

When you look at the chorus of "This Kiss" :

(Chapman, Lerner , Roboff  © Almo Music, HFA T14952 )

It's the way you love me

It's a feeling like this

It's centrifugal motion

It's perpetual bliss

It's that pivotal moment

It's, ah, impossible

This kiss, this kiss, unstoppable

This kiss, this kiss

you can see it's not what is being said that is so memorable  -- a million songs say the same thing.  It's not any unique use of metaphor or any memorable story.   It  is  the sound of the words, their cadence,  and the unusual choice of words.   The incredible international success of this song is shaped primarily by five words:  centrifugal, perpetual, (that)pivotal, impossible, unstoppable".  These five words show tremendous interaction between semantic, phonetic, and prosodic elements.  The sonic activity (use of phonetics) here is extremely high: a  five-fold alliteration on "p"; all the words end in the "ul' sound; assonant syllables  in "cen" "per" and "pet";  a sonic reversal in "pos/"stop";  and a rhyme in "tual"/"fugal". 

 Prosodically,  all the words have the exact same cadence (accent pattern) of 4 syllables with the accent on the second:  soft-LOUD-soft-soft, and the same rhythmic timing (  The five lines of this rhythmic pattern set up a real perception of motion --  and then  -- the spondee pattern of the words "this kiss" (LOUD LOUD) moved to musical off-beats totally changes the sense of motion and makes the title really stand out, far more so than if the words just continued the fast-moving pace of the previous lines.     It is quality craftsmanship on all levels.

Finally, the semantic choice of the particularly unusual word (for a song) "centrifugal" put the icing on this lyric, using the Von Restorff Effect to uniquely brand the song.  The Von Restorff Effect is the cognitive principle that makes things stand out and be more easily remembered by being different .  This same principle is at work with the music in songs as well.   Ask 100 people what well known band they think of when you say "guitar", and you'll get 100 answers.  Same for  "keyboard".    But ask  what band they think of when you say "French Horn"  and you'll get one – The Who.   Ask about "flute" and you'll get Jethro Tull, and perhaps some Moody Blues.   Ask about "cello" and it's the Harry Chapin Band.  The Von Restorff Effect is clearly at work musically as well as lyrically.    ( Further discussion of the Von Restorff Effect  is  at my blog )

The bottom line of all of this is simple:  it's not enough to just be different, nor to be technically proficient.  You have to have a well-crafted,  above-average song in order for uniqueness and technical artistry to have optimum effect.  And if you're going to be "different" it has to be in a way that is in a space of its own, without other competing songs or artists or styles.  You can only determine this with some market testing.  Don’t just assume it good because your best friend, your mother-in-law, and your pet like it.  Always strive for maximum Awareness, but be sure you have a well crafted,  quality song to hold Attention. 

Bill Pere was named one of the "Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry"  by Music Connection Magazine and is the author  of the internationally acclaimed book "Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting".  With more than 30 years in the music business as a recording artist, award winning songwriter, performer, and educator  Bill is well known  for his superbly crafted  lyrics, with lasting impact.   Bill has released 16 CD's , and is President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association.  Bill is an Official Connecticut State Troubadour, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble .  Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year,  Bill  is a qualified MBTI practitioner,  a member of CMEA and MENC,  and as Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy he helps develop young talent in songwriting,  performing, and learning about the music business.   Bill's song analysis and critiques are considered among the best in the industry.

© Copyright 2011  Bill Pere.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may not be reproduced in any way with out permission of the author, except for academic use, with proper attribution.

For  workshops,  consultation, performances,  or other songwriter services,  contact Bill via his web sites, at http://www.billpere.com, http://www.ctsongwriting.com, and http://www.lunchensemble.com




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