NBC’s Songland is a Breath of Fresh Air

August 20, 2019

 

Amongst the plethora of music competition shows currently on TV, NBC’s Songland takes a different approach to finding new talent and introducing them into the music industry. Here are some reasons why Songland manages to set itself apart from the other shows.

 

Behind-the-Scenes Stardom

Unlike the majority of reality competition shows saturating the TV landscape, Songland isn’t about the people who revel in the spotlight and aspire to careers in front of the camera. The main characteristic that distinguishes Songland is the fact that it shifts the focus from those on center stage to the hard-working people behind the scenes. The premise of the show is simple. Four aspiring songwriters each pitch a song for that episode’s guest musical artist and receive feedback from the artist and three music producers/songwriters on how to improve the track. The artist then chooses three of those songs, and the chosen songwriters are each assigned to one of the music producers. The songwriters and producers collaborate on the songs, incorporating the artist’s suggestions and changing various elements of the songs to better suit the style of the intended artist. The songwriters present the revised version of their song, and the guest artist chooses one of the songs (usually to be added to the album on which they are currently working).

 

A Twist on the Mundane TV Show

Songland not only highlights all the hard work that goes into composing a hit song, but distinctly sheds a light on the often under- (or un-) appreciated job of songwriting.This is a welcome twist on the well-known formula of reality competition shows. Songland simply focuses on the talent of the songwriters and the possibility of success with their songs. When viewers are introduced to each songwriter, we learn some basic facts about him or her, and the producers sometimes ask what inspired the song. However, these stories don’t factor into the decisions about the songwriters, beyond the fact that the artist might relate more to a certain song’s lyrics.

 

Providing Credit Where It's Due

Songwriters are often overlooked at awards shows, in the media, and by artists’ fans. When a singer or band releases a new song, fans scour the lyrics for subtle references or hints and speculate about who or what is the main subject of the lyrics. However, since a lot of popular singers and bands don’t write their own lyrics, this reaction ignores the songwriters and incorrectly gives full credit to the singer. Songwriters do not seem to receive the recognition or accolades for their work, and remain in the background, despite the fact that they wrote the words to the popular songs that people sing along to in their cars, or shout in the audience at concerts.

 

This is why Songland is a breath of fresh air. It finally gives a platform for people who are too often relegated to the background of an industry that is already extremely difficult to enter. With this show, songwriters are finally appreciated, and viewers get to see their creativity and innovation. Songland takes viewers behind the scenes and shows all of the work and energy that goes into creating a song. We get to see the collaborative process of writing lyrics and music, as well as the production of songs. Through this process, the songwriters learn more about the industry, as they work with the producers to transform their songs into the next potential hit record for a successful artist. The songwriters accept suggestions and constructive criticism from the artist and producers and are willing to alter various aspects of their songs. Sometimes these are minor modifications just to better fit the artist, and other times they completely change the song’s composition.

 

This effort is worthwhile—not only in helping them gain experience in the industry, but also because one of the songs is chosen and recorded by a popular artist. In each episode, we observe the whole process of what it takes to make a hit song. We are invested in the outcome because we are there for each stage of the writing process (which benefits the artists, since we are interested in the song before it is even promoted or released). In just one episode, we watch the songwriters pitch their songs, improve them, and get the artist’s approval of the winning song. To capitalize on the viewers’ engagement and provide a fitting conclusion to the writing process, the songs are released the same night the episode premieres.

 

So far, Songland and the featured guest artists have been able to achieve success with the winning songs. Even the songwriters whose songs are not chosen get exposure from the show, and perhaps made enough of an impact or connection to further their careers in the music industry. They also gain invaluable experience and advice by working with major figures in the industry.

 

Who are the songwriters/producers?

The producers on the show are not merely judges like on most reality competition shows. Rather, they fulfill more of a collaborative and mentoring role, and they are all in-demand and successful at their craft. The three songwriters/producers are Shane McAnally, Ester Dean, and Ryan Tedder. McAnally started his career as a country singer before becoming a successful songwriter and record producer. He has worked with artists such as Sam Hunt, Reba McEntire, Luke Bryan, and Thomas Rhett. He has won numerous awards; in 2014 he was named Songwriter of the Year by the Academy of Country Music, and also won Best Country Album and Best Country Song at the Grammy Awards that same year for his work on Kacey Musgraves’s album Same Trailer Different Park. 

 

Dean has written and produced Top 40 hits for numerous artists (including Beyonce, Selena Gomez, and Drake), has written No. 1 songs for Rihanna and Katy Perry, and played the role of Cynthia-Rose Adams in the Pitch Perfect movies. 

Tedder is perhaps the most well-known, as he is the frontman for OneRepublic. He has also written and produced for a multitude of artists. Three songs he’s written are on the list of the best-selling singles of all time (OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” and Beyonce’s “Halo”), and he has won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year three times as a producer (for Adele’s albums 21 and 25, and for Taylor Swift’s 1989).

 

Have the winning songs been successful?

The songs that the guest artists chose to record have done well on the charts. TheWrap reports that the Jonas Brothers’s song “Greenlight” was No. 1 on the iTunes songs chart, Kelsea Ballerini’s song “Better Luck Next Time” went to No. 2 on the iTunes chart, John Legend’s song “We Need Love” was No. 1 on the iTunes R&B chart, and the Black Eyed Peas’s song “Be Nice” was No. 1 on the iTunes Rock Chart.

 

Who are the guest artists?

In addition to the artists already mentioned, this season will also feature artists like Charlie Puth and Aloe Blacc.


Songland is a compelling show that has carved out its own space amidst the cluttered field of reality TV competition shows. Hopefully it can maintain its uniqueness and help aspiring songwriters gain more recognition and begin successful careers in the music industry.

 

Erin Azzopardi is a twenty-two-year-old senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is majoring in English and minoring in French Studies. When she isn't studying, you can find her listening to music, reading, or watching her favorite shows. Her future goals include traveling and becoming a published author.

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