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Now Playing in China

When I write a song, that song may be inspired by any number of things, from the personal to the global. However, the song gets conceived, though, when it’s finished, I have one basic goal. You may be guessing that is to see the song at the top of the charts, but that’s not what I had in mind. Sure, I would never mind that sort of thing, and might even have hopes that some of my songs could get to those lofty heights. I realize, though, that not every song is going to be hit single material, and expecting that of every song would be somewhat akin to expecting every child to grow up to be President of the United States. It just doesn’t happen all that frequently, and, just like not every child is presidential material, not every song is commercial radio fare. Of course, I hope the ones that I think are hit material will one day get up there near the top of the charts. However, there is a more basic goal I have for every single song I write.

That basic goal is for people to hear, and be touched in some way, by the song. Now, hit singles can be a good measure that a song has been heard by many people, and probably touched some number of them. After all, people don’t tend to call into their radio stations to request songs they don’t care to hear again. But a song doesn’t have to even get to the bottom of the charts to be heard by people, and it only has to be heard by people to at least get the opportunity to move them.

The traditional ways to let people hear your songs have tended to boil down to two basic approaches. When songwriters think about the music business, we tend to think primarily of making demo recordings, which we then try to get publishers to listen to, in the hopes they will like them and try to get them to big name artists, who will hopefully record them and put them out on their CDs, and maybe make them into hit singles, so lots of people will hear our songs on the radio. A small number of songs get to go that route each year, but many more songs are written than get this opportunity. At the other end of the spectrum, we can go out and perform our songs for anyone who will listen, be it at a party, on a street corner, on a stage, or whatever. For most of us, that doesn’t have the kind of potential for reaching a large number of people that a radio hit has — e.g. the show I played last night had an audience of about 50 people, probably about a dozen of whom were performing. Nevertheless, it is a way of reaching out directly, be it to one person or many, and we don’t need to sell a whole bunch of middlemen on the proposition of letting our song be heard in the most basic cases of going this route.

When I first put some of my songs on the internet a little over ten years ago, I suppose it was with the long term goal of trying to go down that first route. While I didn’t necessarily expect big name artists or publishers would be visiting my web site to look for their next hit singles, my hope was that I might hook up with some future big name artists who needed songs to help them move up, and maybe we could help each other get to the point of having some hits. While I have had some brushes with artists who did achieve significant success much later on, thus far none of my songs have gone along for the ride.

What I didn’t count on back then, though, was how far my songs would reach without achieving that big hit single status. In the past ten years, I’ve had my songs recorded by American artists from Oregon to North Carolina, and international artists from Norway to Mongolia. I even had a top five radio and video hit in Mongolia via a young pop singer over there. The thing is, while it is gratifying to know my songs are getting out there, farther than I’ve traveled myself (most of my travels thus far have been within North America, but I have also been to England and Hong Kong, and will be going to France and Spain later this month), those uses haven’t been anything I could actually observe myself. It’s not like I’ve ever been watching TV or listening to radio over in Mongolia, for example. Okay, I know that kind of thing is really a bit of a cheap thrill. Still, there is something cool about being able to observe your creation in a context that you never might have imagined.

I’m happy to report that today I got one of those cheap thrills. A few weeks back I was approached about the possibility of promoting one of my songs in China. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t being asked for any money — the guy who was doing that was himself a songwriter and a fan of songwriting, and felt there was a growing interest in English in China ahead of the 2008 Olympics, and he was interested in promoting some English language songs there — so I figured, “why not?” I picked a song that I felt could transcend language barriers, and it’s now been available on a popular Chinese multimedia site for a couple of weeks. Until today, though, I had no clue on how to actually find my song on the site, since I don’t read Chinese (and the limit of my handle on speaking the Chinese language is knowing the names of a few dim sum dishes and a very very basic pleasantries such as how to say, “thank you”).

In the e-mail update I got today, I learned that my song had been played 664 times during the last couple of weeks. For perspective, I’ve been on MySpace for over two months now, and my most played song has only been played 370 times as of this writing. In fact, if you add up all my song plays on MySpace for the last two months plus, you only get a bit over double the number of plays that one song has gotten in China in these last two weeks. Okay, so that was kind of cool, and unexpected, but the real cheap thrill for me was learning the URL for the song on that Chinese multimedia site, and seeing it in context. If you’d like to share in my cheap thrill, here is the URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u2LjkRhrc4*

I think this may be one of those times where a picture is much more powerful than words. Thus, I’m going to stop here. (For those of you who did check out the URL, wasn’t that a trip!)

* NOTE: Unfortunately, the original URL posted in this blog entry back in 2006 is no longer available.  Rather than leave the outdated link here, a new link to a music video of the song produced in China has been substituted. It’s not quite the same thing, but it will at least provide a similarly “trippy” experience.