Looking back on twenty-five plus years of writing songs, it’s a lot easier for me to connect the dots now and see that the things I was doing years ago would eventually bear fruit. I can safely say that nothing ever moved as quickly as I thought it would and, yet, I’m constantly surprised at the ways that my long-forgotten efforts have come around to generate royalty income. All that to say, it would have saved me a lot of frustration knowing that getting up every day and working on my craft would end up paying off…on its own schedule, not mine. Here are a few specific reasons to stay patient in the pursuit of a songwriting career.
There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for something to happen when it’s beyond your control. For example, you’ve read a listing on a pitch sheet looking for songs for a “last-minute” opportunity and they have to have them right away. The reality is that nothing actually happens “right away” and everything is “last minute.” So after submitting your song, instead of constantly scanning your emails and sleeping with your phone, simply put a note in your calendar to follow up with an email in a week or two (not before) and forget about it. I know this is easier said than done but it will keep you sane. By the way, the easiest way to forget about one thing is to be working on something else.
In other words, you should have as many irons in the fire as possible so that you’re not waiting on any one thing to happen. By “irons in the fire,” I mean looking for other pitch opportunities, new co-writers and any one of a million things that you can be doing to have success in the music business. If you’re patient, your day to day will be a series of small steps and tasks that will keep you focused and productive without allowing you to linger on any one thing for too long. Also, that way when something does come through you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Given that there is absolutely no such thing as a “quick buck” in the music industry, your best bet is to think about why you’re writing songs in the first place. If it’s only for the money, you’re in for a rough road. Even the most successful songwriters have put in years of unpaid work before the money began to flow. If, on the other hand, you write because you can’t help it and you love the feeling of putting something uniquely your own into the world AND you also hope to be financially successful, then your day to day will be the pursuit of something meaningful to you that also has the potential to generate income. If you’re patient, you have a much better chance of keeping that perspective while you’re pursuing your dream of success.
We all know that relationships with industry insiders (publishers, managers, record label execs, etc.) are highly prized for the connections and potential opportunities they bring. However, just like any relationship, it’s extremely difficult to build something of substance quickly. If you’re patient and don’t try to force feed your music to every person in the industry at every opportunity, you stand a much better chance of developing the kinds of contacts that move you ahead in your career. These relationships take years to develop (not five minutes at the bar of the hotel at an industry conference). What if instead of launching into a ten-minute, spoken-word bio the next time you meet someone in the music industry, you tried asking them what they’re working on? Learn a little more about them and, in time, if you’re doing great work, they’ll get to know about you, too.
By not treating every interaction with someone in the industry as a do or die situation, you’ll feel less pressure to make something happen immediately and enjoy getting to know them. Then, in time, you’ll have someone receptive to your music when there’s an opportunity. Here’s a small tip. It’s the administrative assistants and receptionists of today that will be the heads of film/TV departments tomorrow. Don’t ignore these folks in your search for someone more powerful who can help you. Take your time, build your industry relationships slowly and organically and watch what happens.
While there is a lot you can (and should) do on your own behalf every day, the music business goes at its own speed no matter what you do. Songs, even “undeniable” hits, routinely take years to find a home after they’ve been written. The journey from the creation of a song to a royalty generating copyright is as mysterious to me now as it was when I wrote my first song. So, given that it’s out of your hands once you’ve written, demoed and pitched your song, why not be patient and keep filling the pipeline with new songs and pitches. Develop your craft, write as much as you can and one day you’ll look back to see you’ve got a catalog of great songs where some of the older ones are actually generating income.
I once heard a songwriter say that he wrote one of his hits in “three hours and twenty-five years.” In other words, while the song took three hours to write, it was his twenty-five years of patiently refining his craft and developing his career that made it happen.
As long as you’re not planning on being a songwriter for this week only, take a deep breath, work on your songs and your career a little every day and enjoy the ride. You’ll be amazed in a few years when you look back and see how far you’ve come.