While the life of a successful songwriter can appear glamorous, building that career step by grueling step is not for the faint of heart. Creating art is equal parts passion, inspiration and discipline and figuring out how to monetize that art requires a special kind of courage. Bravery as a songwriter takes many forms, I’ve listed a few below.

1. Using song critiques

Early on, songwriters are generally long on emotion and inspiration and short on craft and commercial skill. Consulting with a professional songwriter can be an excellent shortcut to gaining familiarity with tried and true techniques to improve your craft. The problem is that it takes real guts to show your fledgling songs to someone whom you’re actually paying to look for flaws. I will warn you that not all song critiques are created equal. While some are constructive and truly helpful, others can be almost mean-spirited and off the mark. That being said, in the interest of improving your songs’ commercial potential, professional critiques are worth your while. If you’d like a few tips on how to handle a negative song critique, take a look at my article on that subject.

2. Co-writing

Most of us don’t begin writing songs with other people. Songwriting is a deeply personal process that we, most likely, don’t fully understand. Inviting another writer in to share in this mystical process can be nerve wracking. However, I would highly recommend being brave and making the effort. Co-writing – at its best – results in songs that are better than any of the co-writers could have created alone. By the way, don’t be discouraged if your first couple of co-writes aren’t particularly inspiring. It can take time to find the writer or writers you connect with on a creative level.

3. Performing at writer’s nights 

It’s one thing to write a song, it’s an entirely different thing to get up on stage and perform it. That being said, it’s a great idea for even the least confident performing songwriters to make this effort. First of all, there’s no better way to see how a song works on an audience than to perform it for them live. Secondly, this kind of intense focus on your songs will help bring out additional tweaks and fixes you might not have noticed if your only experience is playing or singing them in the writing room. I know it’s scary. That’s a good thing. It makes you pay attention.

4. Pitching your songs

Look. Having great songs – and even great-sounding demos – is a wonderful thing. But if no one ever hears them, how can you expect your songs to get out in the world and generate income? Pitching your songs opens you up to the thoughtless comments of others and, more likely, to being ignored. This is no fun at all but it is a key ingredient in getting your songs cut by artists or placed in films or TV shows. The reality is that pitching songs is just plain boring marketing work. Do it anyway.

Bonus: Getting up tomorrow and writing another song

No matter what happens, the best way I know to have success as a songwriter is simply not to quit. There are times when we can’t imagine doing anything else and times where we don’t think we can put ourselves through another disappointment. I’m here to tell you that the longer you tough it out, the better it gets. I wrote songs for fifteen years with nothing “official” to show for it until I got my first major label cut. It was twenty years before I had a #1 single. I can say with absolute certainty that I’m glad I didn’t quit but that’s not to say there weren’t times it took everything I had to keep going. Keep going!

Good Luck!

Learn how to pitch your songs like a pro.

Click the image on the right to find out more.

10 responses to “Four Ways Courage Can Make A Songwriter Successful”

  1. Spot on as ever, Cliff – particularly 3. – performing when it’s scary. Yes, it’s terrifying, but my word, it has made me so much better at writing. As you say, the live experience shows what works, what doesn’t, and you learn heaps. Pitching is pretty soul-destroying, but like you wrote, you have to stick with it. Thanks for these – they all help!

  2. Dale O. Tjaden says:

    Hi Cliff,
    I want to mention a way of keeping the craft of songwriting going as a daily habit for me. If I get an idea for a song, I go to my computer and
    put that title into docx as a heading. Then I visualize what the beginning, progression, and ending of the story might be and probably add that as a note to said document. The next thing I do is determine what what the song strucure should be and I lay that format out on the page. I then put down whatever else I feel compelled to add at the time and don’t push it beyond that. All my songs are a work in progress to be reviewed daily adding anything I think of as I go through them. If I have no inspiration to add to any individual song, I do not dwell on it and move on to the next one. This way, you trick your subconcious mind into working on your entire creative catalog at one time and produces surprising results. It’s better than dwelling and struggling on one song too long and tiring yourself out . If you follow this method faithfully, there is no pressure, but you will find lthat you will add lyrics to songs wiith regularity and when you least expect it, you will be able to complete a song and move it to your completed catalog. You can review your completed catalog the same way to improve on your first completed drafts. You can probably do the same thing with the music you need for the song. I am not known for my big bag of #1 hits, but I do have my collective bag of songs that I enjoy creating and performing.

  3. Mark says:

    Hi Cliff,

    Thank you for writing an article that has inspired me to be better this year. I wrote some very catchy songs during the Covid lockdown last year but have I demoed any of them? No.

    You’re right, if the songs just sit there, then the world will never have them. They’ll never have a chance to be judged as silly or great. I think I’ll cut two demos from the best of the 20 or so songs I wrote in 2020 and send them out to the publisher I’ve been way too afraid to approach. Time waits for no one, and sometimes our fear of success/failure is the only thing holding us back.

    Keep these great articles coming and I look forward to the next one!

  4. Tyler Morger says:

    Inspiring insight Cliff!
    I like the statement “the longer you tough it out, the better it gets.”
    Always looking forward to your article Cliff,
    till next time,
    Write On!

  5. Can someone tell me where and how to pitch songs? I am clueless about how to contact artists to pitch a song to. I have given two of my songs to two separate female independent artists. They both sound incredible but the one let me release it and I got incredible reviews but just didn’t get the streams and the other won’t seem to release it or she is waiting for the end of the world before she puts it out. I think it could really put my songwriting on the map. Extremely frustrated.

  6. Tom says:

    Thanks for another great read, excellent advice and a perfect reminder to all your readers that anything worth having is worth working for. The world is full of songwriters that are many steps in front of you, and many that are tracing the steps you’ve already made. Embrace the journey and be heard!

  7. George Smith says:

    “Get up tomorrow and write another song” is now on a Post-It note on my alarm clock…

  8. Michael Sion says:

    One of my favorite columns you’ve done, Cliff.

    Interesting that you and Jason Blume each took 15-plus years to sell your first songs. You stuck with it.

    Looking forward to booking a consultation with you this year.

  9. Dale O. Tjaden says:

    Hi Cliff,

    You really threw me a curve by rerunning that old email from 2018. I purposely read it over to see if I should make any changes to see if I was still okay with that way of working. I haven’t changed anything over the years and it still works for me, It did make me think of one other thing that I’ve learned along the way. Don’t assume that because you have written a wonderful, grammatically perfect, set of lyrics and structure, blah blah blah, it is automatically going to be easy to sing. You have to perform the song yourself or even have another singer perform it back to you before you realize that you have not left some kind of stumbling block in there somewhere. This could be like a tongue-twister that is hard to perform vocally or maybe a phrase or words that create a breathing problem for the singer that affects the meaning of the word or phrase so much that you actually have to change the work you already considered done. I think that is a big part of the process of writing the lyrics because they simply have to blend perfectly with what the singer wants to add emotions to. This would even be important for stops and starts in the music as related to the rhythm and melody of the finished song. I don’t usually respond this much in the reply section, Cliff, but you can be sure that I am always waiting to hear from you and your followers. Thank you and keep it up. I’m 84 years old and you never get too old to write your next song.

    Think Positively……..the older you get, the closer you get to God!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.