If You’re Not Watching Songland, You Need to Be
Songland is a new show this season on NBC and in my opinion it's a completely original concept for a television show. Whereas other music-themed "reality competition shows" like American Idol and The Voice celebrate vocal ability, physical appearance, star-power and popularity, Songland rewards the truly thankless yet remarkably difficult job of the SONGWRITER. To me, it requires much more talent to WRITE a great song than to sing one, and this concept is what separates Songland from other shows in the genre and what is also likely responsible for its middle-of-the-road ratings and popularity.
While other shows are anchored by people with big-time name recognition, like Katy Perry, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton just to name a few, Songland is "hosted" by three names that are sadly probably not recognizable to the mainstream audience... But their music sure is! Like Ester Dean who has written songs like "Rude Boy" for Rihanna and "Super Bass" for Nikky Minaj (Click for more on Ester Dean); Ryan Tedder who's written songs like "Halo" for Beyonce and "Bleeding Love" for Leona Lewis (Click for more on Ryan Tedder); and Shane McAnally who writes songs for the biggest country music stars in the world!
The fourth chair is always a rotating current music star. So far this season we've seen the likes of The Jonas Brothers, John Legend, Will. I. Am, Meghan Trainor, and Aloe Blacc. Still to come after a mid-season break is Leona Lewis, OneRepublic, Macklemore, and more!
Each episode has only four "contestants" to keep track of, which keeps it simple. Each one is an unknown songwriter, who come prepared with a song to pitch to that week's featured artist. One thing that's nice about this portion of the show is that the songs already come mostly-complete and are often times instantly likeable! It's rare that a song gets pitched that I dislike, I'd say maybe 25%. The songwriters perform their song for the four-person panel and they provide the writer with feedback. The judges will convene and discuss which three of the four songs have potential to be hits for the artist. Essentially, they dismiss one contestant.
So now we're down to just three songs, and usually they're pretty good. The artist will assign one of the three remaining songs and songwriters to one of the three "judges." Ester Dean seems to specialize in urban music, Ryan Tedder's wheelhouse is pop/rock, and obviously Shane McAnally is at home writing country tunes. KISS 106 listeners know I have a strong dislike for country music, but strangely, I find McAnally to be my favorite of all of the judges and find his contributions to be the smartest and most effective, but they're all very good in this regard. Once the established and unknown songwriters get partnered up, this is where the fun begins!
I can't explain how much I love observing the songwriting process and watching a song's growth and evolution. Any true appreciator of music, I think, will love watching this portion of the show. You're already familiar with the "demo" of the song, and then the pros go through and add their ideas and make their tweaks, and often times the song turns into something COMPLETELY different. Sometimes it's just a little facelift to what was already there.
So now after what I assume is several days of working on the tracks, the contestants perform and pitch the updated version of their song to that week's featured artist and the fellow judges. They again provide feedback, and then the artist gets to pick one of the songs to record for their album! By the time the show is over, you'll get to see the legit musician's official music video for that song which appears on their album... And you feel so emotionally connected to it because you watched so much of the writing process!
If you don't like but LOVE music, Songland is for you. It's traditionally been on Tuesday nights on NBC, but my understanding is they are taking a few weeks back and returning in August on Wednesday nights. You can also likely find the episodes on your on demand menus. I've included some of my favorite music videos produced by Songland below!