One of the rites of passage for songwriters is performing (or hearing your song performed if you don’t sing/play an instrument) at a songwriter night. This can be alternately terrifying, thrilling or just another day at the office depending upon how often you go. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity yet, here are a few of the pros and cons to consider.
There’s something different – and great – about actually witnessing the effect your songs have on a live audience that makes songwriter’s nights unique. So many of us get used to working in what amounts to a vacuum – writing and playing our songs in the writing room only – that we forget that one of the primary purposes of songs is to connect with people. It’s a deeply meaningful right of passage to see one of your songs move someone to tears or laughter and that kind of thing can only happen when you’re playing your song for someone other than yourself or your co-writer.
Often, the bulk of the audience at a songwriter night will be other songwriters. This is a great, organic way to meet your songwriting peers and possibly a music publisher or label exec as well. Since you’re all there for the same reason, it’s a very natural setting to introduce yourselves and get to know your peers.
If you’re considering co-writing, songwriter nights are a great place to look for potential collaborators. If you like someone’s songs and feel like you’d be compatible – assuming the person you’re asking is a peer and not already a hit songwriter doing a guest spot – it’s very common to suggest a collaboration based on what you’re heard. This works especially well if they’ve also heard your songs and feel the same way.
One of the things I loved most about coming of age as a songwriter in Nashville was the challenge of not only writing songs that I was proud of but would also gain the respect of my songwriting peers. So much of the learning process as a songwriter is based on what you’re exposed to and when a lot of like-minded people are put together in a single place (whether that’s a city like Nashville or just a bar full of songwriters) everyone is inspired to up their game that little bit more to impress each other.
We all want our new songs to be loved and to receive rave reviews. The danger of bringing new songs to writer’s nights is that if the song isn’t well-received, it can discourage you from either editing that song or even working on new ones. Two things to remember: One – the audience at a writers night is generally other writers who listen to songs differently/more critically than the average listener and two – learning to thicken your skin will be an essential skill if you’re considering making songwriting your career.
Sometimes playing your songs at a writer’s night can bring into stark relief just how far you’ve still got to go before your songs are ready for prime time. While this dose of reality is important, if you’re not careful, it can also be demotivating. While I’m not a believer in self-deception, I’d recommend dosing your exposure to too many writer’s nights early on. Go just enough to take advantage of the benefits without going so often that you get discouraged thinking about how far you still have to go.
As you get further along in your career, I’d recommend limiting your exposure to too many writer’s nights as you’ll spend a lot of time listening to songs from songwriters in earlier stages of development than you are. Please understand that I’m not criticizing any beginning songwriters, we all have to start at the beginning. However, as a more seasoned songwriter, continued exposure to these kinds of songs can actually be a bit difficult.
While songwriter nights are an essential component of a songwriting career, they are by no means the only piece. Co-writing, taking care of the business side of things and even music or voice lessons are also important parts of cultivating a career in songwriting. I’d recommend leaving time for those things as well especially if you work during the day and your evenings are your only time to work on your writing. Songwriter nights are great but they aren’t a substitute for all the other things you need to do for your career.
If you’ve never been to a songwriter night, I’d highly recommend it. Check with your local songwriting organization to find out where and when the local writer’s nights are held. If you’re not aware of any local songwriting organization, the Nashville Songwriter’s Association has local chapters in cities all over the country and even some overseas. Click here to find out more and get your songs out there!