At any given time, there are several genres that are “hot.” In 1982, new wave, reggae, traditional country, and heavy metal all had a good year. In 1992, rap, alt, hip-hop, and line-dance country scored big. In 2002, the nu-soul, bluegrass, alt country, jam, and singer-songwriter genres did well. Knowing what's hot or, even better, what's going to be hot, can boost your earning potential.Current Market Styles
When a new genre becomes successful, opportunities exist for those who can write radio-friendly songs or co-write with artists in that genre. A perfect example of this is the collaboration of producer-songwriter Glen Ballard with alternative singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette on her “Jagged Little Pill” CD.
Instead of waiting for a new sub-genre to become huge, then scrambling to catch up, keep an eye on emerging styles; study what makes them different, and write a few songs in those styles. You'll have a head start if it becomes the next big thing.
While it helps to be able to write in any musical style, don't write a song that goes against your moral style. In other words, don't write a “cheating” or “gangsta” song unless you wish to make a public endorsement of those things. Remember, if it's a hit, you have to live with it for a very long time.
Tracking the work of influential artists is one way of keeping up. Some recording artists either stay ahead of the market or help determine what the next big thing will be. Garth Brooks, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Prince, Nirvana, and Madonna have all enjoyed periods when it seemed that they could do no wrong. During those times, when one of these acts put out an album, others raced to put out similar material. These following acts need the right kind of songs in a hurry, and that's where you come in. Keep track of what innovative mega-stars are doing to see what kinds of songs are likely to be in demand.
An option taken by some songwriters is to write songs that will sell in nearly any market. The “timeless” style is difficult to learn, or even define but, for some, it has proven to be worth the effort. To get an idea of this kind of writing, study the songs of Marvin Hamlisch, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Many Beatles songs, like “Yesterday” and “The Long and Winding Road,” fit the timeless category as well. Timeless songs are harder to pitch than songs that capitalize on current trends, but they keep longer without spoiling.