The Art vs The Business

art vs business

I thought it was time to tackle a question that plagues every professional songwriter at some time or another. It’s a question that completely and utterly affects the heartbeat of your song writing process and can make or break your songwriting career…..


– Should I be trying to write hit songs, or should I just be writing from the heart?


Over the years, in various instances I’ve written songs from every point along this ‘heart-to-hit’ scale and have found it very frustrating to know how much or how little of each to use. However, in this blog, I am going to outline a simple methodology that will solve this eternal dilemma for you for good, one that has made me a much more profitable songwriter than I ever thought possible.


First, let me outline the reasons behind where this confusion comes from:


  • Frustrated songwriters, who are sick of not being recognized for their songs, choose to go for the hit as opposed to work harder on their craft.
  • A lot of “hit” songs seem to be mediocre.
  • Any artist who has unsuccessfully submitted their songs to radio stations get a rejection letter that states that your song “does not fit the station format.”
  • Hit songs are more popular and therefore more profitable, so surely this is the way to go.

(I’ve felt all of these things in the past, by the way)


The problem with this list is that it leads to a flawed way of thinking for the Songwriter, and traps them in a series of untruths that will lead to unsuccessful songwriting.


Everyone wants a hit song on their hands, this much is true. Hits are more profitable and the point is to become a profitable songsmith, right?


But look again at the list above and look a little deeper.


Don’t you ever find it weird that your song may not “fit the station format” but another song with the exact same format gets playlisted? Doesn’t it make you angry that even the song you’ve written that exactly fits the station format still doesn’t get playlisted?


The reason is that every radio station playlist committee in the world is looking for great songs to play on the air. Of course there is a format – this is to regulate the sound of the station. This format specification is just a guide to regulate the millions of song options being sent and to keep the general sound of the particular station, but at the end of the day, despite what anyone tells you, it comes down to the song long before the format.


A great song in the wrong format will get on the radio 95% of the time. A substandard song in the right format will get on 5% of the time.

So. Let’s get away from the big question and get to the big answer. How do we know when to be writing for the hit and when to be writing from the heart?


Here is a simple guide that should keep you safe on your musical journey, and find you the best balance going forward keeping your songwriting integrity in tact but also get you on the road to a better chance at a hit song.


Ready? Just follow these two steps and you’ll be fine.


STEP 1 : The actual songwriting process itself is sacred.


In order to write unique songs that will stand out from the massive piles of generic sounding music, you have to continually hone your craft in order to find your voice.


In other words, when you physically/emotionally create the song, you have to be writing from the heart, 100%. This is imperative. The creative process must be real; you should be experimenting and delving deep to create something unique and from within.


At this stage, you should not be thinking about hit songs – if this thought even enters your head at this stage, your creative process will be disturbed. Just write the song you want to write.


STEP 2 : Producing the Song


The second stage is the hit-making stage. Once you have completed the creative process and you are proud of what you have created, your song is pure and real and should have expressed something you truly believe in.


Now you can pull that song apart, turn it upside down and manipulate it in to a hit format that suits you. If you are not sure about how to do this, any good pop producer can help you – in fact this is mostly their job.


But ideally, take the ideas from the song that you have written and do to it whatever you think it needs, in order to make it in to a more palatable format for radio stations.


Follow the above two steps and you will find that your songwriting is unique and of a high quality AND radio-friendly!


The problem with including a “hit” mentality during the actual creative process at the beginning is that it corrupts your creativity and – unless you just get lucky –  you will be writing mostly generic drivel that will actually come across as generic drivel.


Feel free to agree or disagree. My comments box is down below, so colour it in with some scribblings of your own opinions, if you like.


Until next time, Happy “heart/hit” Songwriting.



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2 Responses to “The Art vs The Business”

  1. Mel Stevens says:

    Hi Jon.

    So where am I going to find this GOOD POP PRODUCER in DURBAN, to help me, when all the action is in JHB or Cape Town bro and if I do, what is he going to charge me for the help ?? Much love to you and ur family. Keep up the great work boet.

    Very best regards.

  2. Rene C says:

    Great advice, it comes to my mind the fact that there’s a lack of deep study available on how to write songs, this does not happen on other fields. It seems that great songwriters do have to find their own methods, hope many people can be enlightened with your advice.

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