The market has undoubtedly changed. Most hits come from radio now, and not from show tunes or musicals. Popular music is a constantly moving target, just as much as fashion is. But the job remains the same: you are given a job to do, a target to hit, and you must write a song the world will fall in love with; one that will hopefully stand the test of time, and write it all in a very short amount of time. After all it is art -- but it is also a job, and like all jobs there are deadlines.
I have had people ask me if the challenges on the show are realistic. I can assure you they are. Most co-writing sessions last three hours -- period. A whole song is written in that time. If the hook doesn't come in the first 20 or so minutes, then you have to abandon ship and try a new direction or face the fact that you and your co-writer are going to be very disappointed, and you won't be able to submit a song for whoever you were writing for.
This is a highly competitive field. Here is how it works: an A&R person, like our co-judge Keith Naftaly, will be doing a record for -- let's hypothetically say Ke$ha. He will put the word out that she needs material for a new album or a first single, and he needs it by a specific date. Writers from all over the world will begin to write what they hope is the first single, or at least an album cut, or a second or third single. The big money is at radio. One hit can yield millions of dollars, so everyone wants to write the radio hit.
It's the writer's job to listen to Ke$ha's sound, and be true to it to a degree, but look forward at where she might be going in the future. They must listen to where pop and club hits currently are, but keep in mind that the song won't hit the radio for at least nine months from when you write it. The song has to look forward to where you think music is going, so it sounds fresh and not dated. Sometimes there are guidelines to work within -- like an A&R will say the artist doesn't want to talk about relationships, or to stay away from anything that mirrors their personal life, or they want it to be about their life, or they want the song to be socially conscious...