One of the toughest aspects of making an album is deciding what songs to put on it.
Your choice of songs will be a huge factor in deciding whether your is praised or trashed. All things being equal, an album of great songs is a great album.
So how do you know which of your songs are great and which ones are best not recorded?
The answer is to look beyond the world of music. If you want to know which are your best songs, the world of startup entrepreneurship will provide you with the answer.
Some startup businesses flop, and some are super successful. Just like your songs. Business experts now know a lot about why that is. There’s a science to it. I want to show you how to apply that science to your music.
The Three Principles
The science of successful startups has 3 key principles:
1. We know nothing.
2. All the knowledge is in the marketplace.
3. Our aim is to learn that knowledge as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
So, imagine you want to open a restaurant selling vegan food.
You could lease a premises, kit it out with all the expensive gear a restaurant needs, then open up.
You might learn that vegan food is a smash hit. Congrats! Or you might learn that nobody wants vegan food. Disaster!
Either way, it’s a costly way to get that learning. You might get away with it and have a successful business. But if nobody wants your restaurant, you’ve just lost a fortune finding out.
It would make more sense to have a less costly way to learn. Like a pop up shop, or a market stall to first validate your idea. Once you’ve got the thumbs up, now you can kit out your restaurant.
Are You A Failed Restaurant?
It’s much the same with songs. Let’s say you put 10 songs together. You go into the studio with them. You spend a fortune putting an album together. Then everyone says they don’t much like the songs.
You’re suddenly the musical equivalent of the failed restaurant. Your album sucks, because you picked the wrong songs.
So let’s get back to the 3 principles and apply it to your songs instead.
1. The songwriter knows nothing
You may think you know which of your songs are great and which are losers. But you don’t. Blondie didn’t think Heart of Glass was any good. Such stories are common.
The songwriter’s skill is that of a creator, not a curator. You may be great at creating music. But what if you’re less good at picking the winners.
Accepting that we know nothing has always been a liberating feeling for me, both in music and in business. It frees me from the responsibility of being right. It invites me to find the answers elsewhere.
2. All the knowledge is with your fans
Here’s a quick definition of a hit song: lots of people buy it.
Why am I saying something so obvious? Because I want to remind you that music fans decide what a great song is, not critics and not songwriters.
If you want an album that people love, then it makes sense to start asking your people about what songs are strong enough to be recorded.
Every act has their superfans. You can define that how you like at this stage. You may be deep into a career and so be able to check who buys your stuff. Or you may not have anything to sell yet, but you know who gives you good feedback on your blog, and turns up to your shows.
These superfans are your best place to learn about which of your songs are hits and misses.
3. Find out quick and cheap
It makes no sense to throw money at songs that your fans don’t think are that good. Especially when they’re willing to tell you which of your songs are winners.
So rather than dash into the studio and waste money, here are two quick and inexpensive ways to find out.
Idea number 1: The Focus Group Gig
Invite your best fans to an exclusive private gig.
I’ve done this before. The room was actually a boardroom and there was only about 10 people present.
I played them my list of songs that were contenders for the album. My fans filled in a feedback sheet. At the end of the gig, I knew which songs my superfans liked best.
No surprise that my album got such good reviews when it was released. I knew from the outset what my best songs were. My fans had told me.
How much did that knowledge cost me financially? Nothing at all.
How much did it cost me in time? One evening. And a fun evening it was too.
Idea number 2: The Review Team
Put a review team together. This should be a small group of your best fans.
Every time you write a song, do a rough recording (on your phone is fine), and share it with them.
Have them fill in a basic feedback form. Even just getting them to rate the song Hit Miss or Maybe would do the trick. Although I prefer asking them what they liked or disliked about the song. You may as well maximise your learning after all.
If you write 2 songs a month, by the end of the year you’ll know your best 10 songs of the 24.
Now you can record them, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be recording great songs, as defined by your biggest fans.
This is how a startup would make an album. Startup entrepreneurs are like scientists. They conduct experiments to prove the way forward as they go. They don’t splash the cash until their ideas are proven.
Follow the same science, and you’re guaranteed a great record in advance.