The search for a great song covers a wide range of possibilities. The hook line from one of Larry Gatlin’s biggest hits was, “All the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name.” Well, that lyric often flashes through my mind when a student asks me where they can go to find songs.
Great songs are like gold bullion; they’re not simply lying around waiting to be picked up by just anybody. They are valuable commodities, carefully guarded, and parsed out only to the bidder who promises the fattest return. And, actually, this is as it should be, the songwriter deserves to be well compensated for creating something original. Naturally, they are going to serve up their best work to the most prominent artists. The income from writing a hit song is quite substantial, so a writer will be very choosey about who gets to record it first.
That doesn't offer much hope to the young singer looking for original song material. The paradox is that you need good songs to get the attention of a record label, but the only way you’ll get the really good songs is if you’re already signed to a label.
So what’s a singer to do? I mean, after praying for a miracle. After all, you can’t keep on using your cover version of “On Broken Wing” or "Folsom Prison" as your demo forever.
This list of places of where a singer can find a song covers only a few ideas; you need to think outside-the-box for yourself as well. Here are a few of my suggestions of where to go to troll for the right songs.
Make a list of artists whose music you can relate to. Everyone, even the superstars, has had album cuts that received little or no airplay. Search through their early albums for these songs -- songs that might not have been blockbusters, but were carefully chosen out of hundreds of contenders and approved by many people before they ever made it onto the album. They are called "deep cuts" -- songs that were never released as singles. These songs might as well be original; they haven’t really been heard.
Once a song has been recorded and made available to the public, you do not need permission from the writer or publisher to record your own version. If you are contemplating recording songs for sale, contact rights organizations BMI, ASCAP or SEASAC, or go to the publisher directly, to determine the terms.
If a female singer looking for a good song covers one previously recorded by a male singer, or vice versa, it adds a whole new element and is not likely to be considered a cover. Just think what different results you would get if Toby Keith and, let’s say, Alicia Keyes sang the same material. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that would be pretty interesting.
Re-do a Classic
Classic songs are a part of our collective heritage. Take a classic song, make it truly and uniquely yours, and you create your own legacy. Once again, you do not need the writer's or publisher's permission, unless you are planning on sales.
Songs From Other Genres
There’s a century of good songs to choose from, all styles, sizes and shapes. Search for songs that resonate with you, but have been recorded in a completely different style and format from the kind of music you sing. Then make it yours. Michael Bolton made a whole career out of recording song covers. Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, is an excellent example.
If you search Google for one-hit wonders, you will find the top 100 for each decade since the 1950's. These artists produced songs powerful enough to become modern classics. Who knows why they had only one hit? It could be that they exhausted all their creative collateral on that one song and never wrote a brilliant follow-up. But it could also mean that the band broke up during their first tour when the bass player's wife ran off with the drummer. There may still be good songs to be found by searching through the album cuts.
As you can see, if you are looking for fresh material and a good song, covers from unexpected resources can supply a treasure trove of possibilities. Be sure to sing them with your personal imprint.
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