Shelf Help: ‘You And The Music Business’ by Tara Shannon

Tara Shannon
Tara Shannon

Tara Shannon: “With music, connecting emotionally is the primary driver.”

Want your songs to connect? According to this book extract, it’s time you started thinking about lips, hips and skips

Tara Shannon is a singer-songwriter with over 30 years’ experience in the music industry. Splitting her time between her hometown of Ottawa, Canada, and Nashville, TN, Shannon is also a successful entrepreneur and the founder of Willow Sound Records and The (Gro)ve – life-coaching, retreats and education resources aimed at helping musicians better understand themselves. Her latest venture is the release of You And The Music Business, a practical self-care guide tailored for independent artists that will help them reclaim power over their art and careers. Available in paperback and ebook formats, it’s the kind of book that all songwriters should keep close by.

In this extract, Shannon looks at how and why to make your music connect…

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You And The Music Business book by Tara Shannon

Title: You And The Music Business: Empowering Independent Artists
Author: Tara Shannon
Publisher: Lucky Book Publishing
Publication Date: ‎1 August 2023


Although we have much in common in the collective experience of being human and the motivation to meet our needs, how we go about meeting those needs is personal preference. We each have our own personal preferences. And this is so true in music. Not everyone is going to like your music. And that’s okay. You will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you want to make a living with your music, it needs to connect with someone. Preferably a lot of someones.

Knowing whether your music connects with an audience is important. Sometimes we are so consumed by the feel good experience of creating, that we don’t stop to check in and make sure our music connects.

This is not about whether your music is “good” or “bad” – that’s way too subjective. In order for your music to be commercially viable – meaning it will elicit commerce aka sell to a lot of someones – it has to connect on some level. And with music, connecting emotionally is the primary driver.

Music can connect intellectually too, but how it makes us feel is what we remember. So how do you know if your music is connecting? Remember this: it’s all about lips, hips and skips.

LIPS: Does your music make people want to sing along? Do they remember the words?

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HIPS: Does your music make people want to dance? Does it get them up and moving? Make them want to sway along?

SKIPS: Does your music make their heart skip a beat? Feel something so deeply it stops them, grabs hold of them?

Everything you create is worthy and matters. But knowing whether your music connects with an audience is where you’ll start making money to earn a living. The audience is everything. How they connect with your music is everything. We create so that we can share what we think and feel with others – it’s the whole reason we do what we do.

Some writers might say they create for themselves, for the process of it. But they still do it because they want to be heard and feel seen. If you aren’t so concerned with the business of your music, creating for the process of it is just fine. But when you want to earn a living, your music needs to connect with others. It needs to make them feel something. And then they will buy it to feel that way again.

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Tara Shannon

Tara Shannon: “The mastery of the craft is in the rewriting. In the digging deep.”


I think this is the area where I get the most resistance from developing artists and writers. When artists/writers are starting out, they often believe that what they write on the first draft is ready for the world. That the inspiration flowing through them should not be tampered with…that they have channeled precious art into the world. And they have. To a degree. But the mastery of the craft is not in the first draft, the original point of inspiration. The mastery of the craft is in the rewriting. In the digging deep. Stretching and compressing, holding your work up to the light and looking at it from all angles.

There are very few, if any, successful writers who record and release music they wrote in one draft. There are exceptions of course. Dolly Parton is an exception. Word is she wrote I Will Always Love You and Jolene on the same night up in her back bedroom. But there is only one Dolly. And she wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs before that. Could you be a Dolly? Sure. Is it the norm? No.

Learning the craft of songwriting and the process of rewriting is such an important tool. And there are so many amazing songwriting books and coaches out there. I’ve listed some of my favorites at the back of the book. There is so much to the craft of songwriting that I won’t go into all the details here but I can give some helpful tips.

Something I see often with developing artists/writers is confusing lack of connection with lack of preference. If they are not seeing consistent connection with their music or consistent audience growth, they’ll end up thinking, “Oh, they just don’t get me and my art,” that kind of thing. And yes, some people may not prefer your type of music. But if they can’t understand it, if it’s confusing and doesn’t make them feel anything, that’s a different issue. Say you write a song about a yellow bird and play it for someone. If their response is, “Nice song about a black cat,” there’s a disconnect. Something in your lyric caused confusion. This is not lack of preference – this is lack of connection.

No matter what your approach to songwriting is or how you get there, your songs need to connect. And not just because you think they do in your mind. Look for tangible evidence that your songs make someone feel something. And slow down. Don’t be in a rush to record your songs. Try them out on a live audience first to see how they land.

That being said, you do need to form a small group of trusted people to give you honest and objective feedback on your songs.

The most valuable feedback you can get from someone you are testing your songs on is how they are experiencing the song. Before you play them the song, ask them to make note of these things when they listen:

SEEING: Does the song start a movie in their mind? Do they see clear pictures in their head as the story moves along?

FEELING: Does the song make them feel anything? If yes, what emotions come up for them?

CONNECTING: Did they stay connected to the song all the way through? Was there any disconnect? Did they notice their mind wandering? And if so, at which point? Was there anything confusing about the lyric?

Your most important product in the business of your music is the songs. Hands down. It should always be music first. Everything else is secondary. Make sure your songs connect – they make people move their lips and want to sing along, move their hips to dance or feel their heart skip a beat with the feeling of the story. Now you have something you can build a business on.

You And The Music Business: Empowering Independent Artists by Tara Shannon is out now, published by Lucky Book Publishing. Find out more here

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