NBC’s Songland is the first competition show created purely for songwriters. Creator and musician David A. Stewart developed its premise based on the idea that much of the success of well-made songs is credited to singers, when in reality, songwriters put in the hard work to build the tunes from the ground up.
In order to bring more recognition to songwriters, Songland was brought to life to give up-and-coming writers the chance to showcase their journeys and work with some of the greats. The hope was that viewers would see how hard these contestants work at creating their songs, and as a result, the role of songwriters in the music industry as a whole would come out of the shadows.
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The show was able to achieve just that. From writing the lyrics to mastering the right beat, it is easy to see just how much soul and energy these artists put into their pieces. Those behind the competition certainly achieved their mission of documenting their vital role in music.
Below are seven moments that prove that Songland was successful in highlighting the hard work of songwriters.
Right out of the gate in the first episode, the superstar songwriters get to work at helping the contestants who move forward with their auditions improve their songs. Shane McAnally works with Madeline Merlo on her country song “I’ll Drink to That.” Although her song blew away the judges, there was still more work to be done. Shane got his hands dirty by restructuring the frame of the song to be more reggae instead of country. He identified the sounds in her demo that were too commonly used and engineered the track to make it more unique.
Here, audiences are able to see that songwriting isn’t just writing the words. Songwriters decide what the whole song sounds like and oftentimes creating the beat can take even more work than writing the lyrics. Together, they changed the name of the song to “Champagne Night,” and Madeline was crowned the winner of the episode.
Songwriting as an Outlet
Axel Mansoor grew up all around the world, moving from country to country. When he was young, he was bullied a lot for being different. He started songwriting to share his experience and let people know they are not alone. He wants to use his songs as a catalyst for change, so he puts a lot of thought into the messages he conveys.
Here, viewers are able to see that the lyrics they write genuinely mean something to the songwriters, and their words are used to tell stories and send messages. While Axel was not the winner of the episode, he successfully shared his passion and made others recognize the beauty of lyrics.
A Long Road
Similarly to Axel, Jocelyn Alice uses songwriting as a method of surviving difficulties in her life. Much of her music is inspired by heartache. Her journey to even get to Songland was a long one as well. She had pitched a countless number of songs to many different artists prior to her appearance and never made the cut.
Her story demonstrates the rigor of writing a song so well-made that it can hit the charts. No songwriter ever composes one set of lyrics and then is able to take off with their career. Just like singing, it takes years and years of practice and perfection to write a song with real potential.
Setting the Mood
When writing a song, the lyrics set the tone for the pace and beat behind them. If the words are sad, the music would often match. When Dan Burke wrote his song “Numb,” the backbeat did not match the feeling that he was singing about: numbness. Ester Dean recognized this and helped him match up the vibe of the message and the beat.
Songwriters must put in time and effort to ensure that the mood of the song is right; this involves playing with pace and beat and sometimes tweaking some lyrics.
While it may mean a lot for singers to perform their songs, it often means even more to the songwriters to see their words coming to life. The same goes for the opportunity that Songland gives them to perform in front of musical geniuses. Plus, the winning song will be recorded by the superstars they are performing in front of. As contestant Shawn Austin said before performing in front of Florida Georgia Line, “it’s nerve-wracking, exciting, and an opportunity like no other.”
So many songs have been written that it is seemingly impossible to come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before. However, contestant Zak Waters proved this isn’t true. He explained the meaning behind his song, “Bad Things,” to the judges: It summarizes the point after a long relationship when you start to miss an ex-partner, but then urge yourself to remember the bad parts of the relationship. The judges were very impressed by his idea. Shane McAnally commented, “It’s one of those ideas that you think, ‘How have I not heard that?’”
Evans Vestal Ward/NBC
Fitting the Mold
Since the songwriter usually isn’t the one performing the song themselves, they have to ensure their words can resonate with the artist and overall, the song matches with the singer’s performance style. As a part of the show, the competing songwriters have to alter their tunes to best fit whichever celebrity guest is appearing on that episode.
For instance, when Bebe Rexha was on the show, she was seeking a song to perform at the Tokyo Olympics. As a pop artist, what she chose had to fit her reputation. Contestant Greg Scott won her over with his original, “Miracle.” He believed that “the heart and soul of [it] says everything about the Olympics.”