Sooner or later we all need help in our songwriting careers. Generally, the earlier you are in your journey, the more help you’ll need but I’m twenty-five years in and still need a hand from time to time. The key is not in avoiding help but, rather, in knowing how to ask for help and what to do if/when you receive it. To that end, I’ve put together a few semi-gentle reminders for songwriters on the subject.
I understand – all too well – how it feels to be so excited about your songs that you can’t imagine anyone NOT sharing your feelings and wanting to hear what you’re working on. This usually manifests itself in the form of a request that someone in the industry listen to your material and give you their opinion. From the songwriter’s perspective, these are the only songs you think about and it seems like a reasonable request. However, if we stop and consider for a moment what it’s like on the other side of the desk, we’d see that industry decision-makers are inundated with requests to listen to songs. Even professional songwriters are often swamped with requests to take time out of their days to listen to the songs of up and coming writers. The reality is that most working music professionals have plenty to do as it is and if they take the time to listen to your songs it will be as a favor. Just keeping this in mind will go a long way.
If and when you decide to make a request for assistance in some way, make sure you’re clear about what it is that you want. This could be anything from a ten-minute chat to a professional opinion on one of your songs (generally one song is the maximum you can request someone listen to outside of the context of a paid consultation) to even a simple recommendation as to how to proceed in some area of the industry. All this to say, be clear and specific so that the person to whom you’re making your request will know whether or not they can help.
One of the elements of a request for help that unfortunately goes out the window is the appreciation that you’re receiving a favor. Properly thanking someone for taking time out of their busy schedule to help you would seem an obvious thing to do but it’s sadly lacking in my experience. A simple thank you note or even an email goes a long way towards showing the person who has helped you that you don’t take their efforts for granted.
Early on in your songwriting career, you might not have a lot to offer someone in the industry but, then again, you might. When asking for help, it never hurts to also ask if there is some way you might be able to return the favor. You might have a skill set outside of your songwriting that a music industry exec might find useful. All this to say, making an effort to return the favor is always a good policy.
I have an expression that I often use when asking for a favor that goes, “If I can ask, you can say ‘no’.” If your request for a favor is declined or – as is more often the case – unacknowledged, don’t take it personally. Sometimes people are dealing with things we don’t know about or simply aren’t in a position to help in the way we’d imagine. You should expect to encounter at least as many “no” responses as “yes” responses. In fact, the way you handle the “no” you receive might set you up to hear “yes” from that same person in the future.
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help as you navigate your way through your songwriting career. That being said, remembering that you are, indeed, asking for a favor and being appropriately mindful of that fact will serve you well. Also, for reasons of karma, it never hurts to remember to help someone else out from time to time if and when you can.