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.

1. There are lots of talented people

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.

2. Talent is something that you’re given, it’s up to you to develop it

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.

3. You’re running a business

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.

4. The work ethic is everything

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.

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12 responses to “Four Reasons Songwriting Talent Isn’t Enough”

  1. Mary Welch Francis says:

    Cliff, you are exactly right. In my book available on my website http://www.heartacheshitsandotherstories.com I talk about the need for determination, research and sheer grit that it takes to “get there.” I had long intervals of practically no activity on the charts to a major hit and then more “grunt” work and another major hit. One hit does assure you of another one. It takes determination and endurance.

  2. Pamela Bilodeau says:

    Cliff–thanks for making it real. This could seem discouraging overall, but you make it encouraging, especially noting: work ethic is everything. Time to roll up the proverbial sleeves!

  3. James Gregory says:

    Having moved to Nashville a year and a half ago…I’m experiencing all that now!

  4. Lance Gehl says:


    As always..Spot on advice !

  5. Robb Smith says:

    Thank you Cliff!

  6. Ken Teel says:

    Excellent points! You spoke the truth. Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ Country Music and saw all the things that artist had to do to get success, can see that everything that you just posted is true. Thanks Cliff!

  7. Neil Patrick says:

    Cliff, was it Edison who said genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? I guess that means we DO need to sweat the small stuff : )

  8. Isaak Goldman says:

    You are so right, Cliff. I wish, that I had all these quality, but I definitely miss patience and perseverance. I presented many of my songs to major Publishers in Manhattan and Los Angeles, out of 3 presented songs, they always took one or sometimes two, promising to find an Artist to publish a song. I used to call a week or two later, and if nothing happen, I stopped presenting my songs. Just kept writing and producing reasonably good Demos. I am learning a lot from reading your wonderful, very informative Articles.
    Thank you.

  9. Fortune McLemore says:

    I’m a beginning songwriter, and I knew this wouldn’t be easy. But I’ve had so many people assume it is, and wonder why I don’t just snap my fingers and a song appears instantly. It’s like anything else: you have to work at it.

    The Muse might appear whenever she wants, but after that…she sits on her butt and expects you to do all the work. If she were an employee at your company, you’d can her!!!

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