Oct 29 2005 - What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

October 29th, 2005
Charlottesville, VABeautiful day here. The colors are just statring in VA, and I have to think that they already are on their way out of Maine where I have lived the last few years. Charlottesville is on the edge of the blue Ridge Mountains and though New England is leaf peeping territory, this part of the world is incredible this time of the year. And warmer..But I miss the ocean... I may ask the audience tonight to impersonate wave sounds, like a crashing surf in Maine...All in all, without the water, Charlottesville is one of the best places to live in the whole country... Keep that quiet though, people are coming here in droves.. New contruction is happening everywhere...I thought I might take a moment to discuss radoio hits and how they happen. Many people come up to me and tell me they wish they heard me on radio, because radio is so generic sounding to them. There is some truth to that. The exciting thing is the XM and Sirius will be in almost every new car in the next few years, so the radio monopolies like Clear Channel won't control what you are hearing. You can plug into the Cafe station on Sirius, or the folk show, or the blues show, or the comedy, sports, heavy metal.. whatever you want...For someone new artist on a big label, a lot of money, a lot of luck, and some good people power help makes a hit song. Producing it can cost a fortune, then you have to have big money to market the album, and then youi have to have some strong willed people championing it. Most folks say it costs about a million dollars to push a song to the top of the charts through the label system.... there are ways around this, but luck plays a larger role.I will never see that kind of budget for one of my songs from one of my albums...maybe if John Mayer covered me, however, or Sugarland or Courtney Love or Click Five. Getting covered by a commercial artist would work and isn't out of the realm of possibility...The other way is to have a song in a movie or on a tv show that breaks you nationally to a broader audience. The Rembrandts were completely off the public radar screens when they wrote the theme song to the tv show "Friends". When the show became a hit, the added a second verse, recorded a video with the cast playing as a band members, and voila, they had an instant hit. It helped that the song was catchy and someone at the show, a producer maybe, was a fan and asked them to write the song for the show. That's the champion every song needs.When I had "The World Ain't Slowing Down" in Me, Myself, and Irene the Farrely Brothers did everything they could to make the song pop out of the movie. They put it in the song four times. They wanted to give it that kind of exposure. And it really did help bring in a new audeince, a wider audience, and I am still getting e-mails world wide because of it. Lisa Loeb had a hit called "stay" in Reality Bites that jumped from the movies to the radio to a big label deal to the top of the pop charts... Her champion was the guy that lived a cross the hall from in NY, Ethan Hawke, who got her song in the soundtrack.
The Farrely Brothers were my champions, Ethan Hawke was hers...The song has to find a champion, and so it must really hit people that hear it in such a way that they react strongly, and spread it around. Every song has it's own path, it jumps out of my car and someone scoots ahead and creates work for me, rather than me doing all the work for it. Conversation with a Ghost was this way. It helped to break me in Boston. I've had a few others, Sweet Mistakes got in a sound track, If You Break Down got into the tv show Ed in a beautiful way. Angel in Manhatten got a lot of attention because it seemed to somehow to be related to the healing process after 9-11. Stations played it all over the country. These kind of things are unplanned, I never write a song to be a hit, I just try to capture the moment the song is framing. But I am statring to recognize that some songs have ideas of their own.. legs of their own, paths of their own.I believe the new album has some f these songs as well, maybe more ever before. Jukebox on my Grave, Home,
Take All the Sky You Need, and She Was seem like they have some legs... but we'll see. They have their own timing too...I just found out that someone at NBC discovered Beautiful World from the album Sweet Mistakes and they are considering for an ad for a mini-series in January. We'll see.
I love that these things happen for my songs without a big label, or big money... It's like watching your kids go off to college or careers to make something of themselves...looking forward to the next months shows in the midwest, Chicago, DC, Colorado...Thanks for everything, y'all..
Ellis

updated: 2 years ago