I’d like to begin this article by saying that I’m not a cynic. On the contrary, I’m a big believer that if your dream is to have success with your music, then, in time, you will find that success. However, I am a realist. There are rarely shortcuts in our line of work and being a talented songwriter, in my experience, simply isn’t enough to guarantee success. It takes a combination of factors including patience, perseverance and – most importantly – an undeniable work ethic to rise above the masses of songwriters all hoping to get their songs out in the world.
If I’ve learned anything after living in Nashville and New York City over the past twenty years, it’s that, at a certain point, songwriting talent is the least common denominator. In the big music cities, the pool of gifted songwriters is deeper and wider than we can possibly imagine. This is a good thing. It gives us ample opportunities to learn from each other and improve but the flip side of this is that talent is only a starting point. It’s all of the other things you do that separate you from the pack.
There’s a reason talent is also referred to as a “gift.” The spark that makes us creatives and intuitively wired is something that we don’t choose, we just get it. But just because you’ve got a gift doesn’t mean that you don’t need to develop it or spend time understanding it. That part is actually work but what happens when you do this work is that you will develop the ability to turn something that was unpredictable into something you can do consistently in order to make a living.
Being a talented songwriter without taking the time to understand the music business is the equivalent of a company that makes a great product that no one will ever hear about because they have no marketing department. In other words, writing the songs is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to remember that like any business, you’ve got to know the landscape, who the major players are and set specific goals along the way in order to get to the next level. I’m not saying this is easy but I am saying it’s essential.
The dangerous myth about the music business is that it’s an exciting, creative world where people make beautiful music, go to parties, and one day they wake up and their song is on the radio. The gritty, unglamorous truth is that just like any business, there are mundane, yet necessary, things you have to do day in and day out in order to get your music out in the world. Having a solid work ethic and a willingness to get up every day and work towards your goal will eventually get you there. It’s not always clear along the way how these little things help but believe me when I tell you that they do add up and, in the end, make all the difference. There is some glamor and excitement in the music world but there’s a lot of uninspired work that needs to happen as well. Make sure you’re prepared to do that stuff, too.
Songwriting talent is a wonderful thing and should never be taken for granted. I’m here to remind you to enjoy your gift for the amazing thing that it is. However, I’m also suggesting that this talent is only one part of a bigger set of conditions that need to be met in order for you to successfully get your songs out in the world and make a living doing it.