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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!