We’ve talked a little bit about writers rounds in the past (see my piece from early last year, “Essential Tips for Cowriting Songs”), but for anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they are, allow me to explain fully: a writers round is a showcase that features multiple songwriters on stage at once (generally three or four live musicians at a time) who are essentially performing their original music before the crowd, each other, and anyone of interest who could help them in their career. There are normally two or three separate groups of singers/performers that run one after the other.
It’s basically an in-person musician social network where you can meet local musicians and forge professional relationships. They’re definitely more popular in cities like Nashville and Austin where music is embedded in the culture, but nobody’s saying you can’t organize something like this in your own town.
In any case, I’m here to present you with a few tips on how to compose yourself once you’ve landed a spot on stage at one of these popular and useful functions. I actually used to host/book rounds like these here in Nashville, so I’ve been able to absorb some useful writers round etiquette tips over the years.
1. Keep the songs relatively short
Ideally, you’ll want to keep the song between 3 and 3 1/2 minutes long. The most marketable songs are the ones that remain within this allowed timespan, and you don’t want to hog the set from the rest of the performers either.
2. Bring a microphone
Don’t just take for granted that the venue will have an extra mic on hand. Most of them do, but it always looks better if you show up prepared regardless, so bring your own mic (ideally an SM58 or some other proper model). Plus, you avoid any unnecessary delays in the process.
3. Bring a guitar with a direct input
If I had a dime – no, a penny – for every time someone showed up to one of my writers rounds with a guitar that had no direct plug in, I’d have enough money to retire three times over. Seriously, don’t make this mistake. If you don’t have a guitar with a proper input, there’s no way to run it through the PA. It’s little details like these that separate the amateurs from the competent ones.
4. Watch your alcohol intake
Most times, the venues that host writers rounds offer an ample selection of alcoholic beverages. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a beer on stage or accepting a drink from someone in the crowd, but it’s really uncouth to watch someone get blasted during their set and start shooting their mouth off/hogging the spotlight. Don’t be that person, especially if you’re trying to meet fellow musicians and form lasting relationships with them.
5. Don’t over-explain your song
If it’s a good song, it will explain itself. It’s fine to give a little intro or provide a fun story of how it came to be, but I’ve found that the more someone has to explain their song before they play it, the more likely it’s going to be a bad song.