In any career, especially one involving the arts, it’s very easy to get so immersed in the day to day activity of creating your art and making a living that you lose sight of the big picture. While there is real value in simply putting your head down and getting to work, it can pay big dividends to stop from time to time and ask yourself a few – sometimes difficult – questions. Below are a few things that might be helpful to think about as you go through your days as a songwriter.
This is, at once, a ridiculously simple and deeply complex question but here’s what I mean. We all have days when things don’t go well and we feel discontented or frustrated but if that describes your typical day, it might be worth examining how you’re spending your time. Very few of us are taking exactly the same approach to a career in songwriting now as we did when we started out. For example, I moved to Nashville in the early 90s assuming I’d write songs predominantly for myself as the artist and if someone else liked one, that would be fine too. However, after single-mindedly pursuing an artist career for a number of years, I realized that the profession that had given me so much joy at the outset was making me profoundly unhappy and envious of the talent around me. That envy, in and of itself, is a recipe for disaster in a town like Nashville where there is an endless supply of talent to be envious of. All that to say, by asking myself that simple question and coming up with a “no,” I was able to begin reshaping my career as a songwriter and producer which almost overnight made me happy again. All this to say, know that there are a variety of ways to pursue your songwriting and being happy on a day to day basis is a huge advantage in that you can get up and do the necessary work in service of a career you love.
I’m completely aware – and a big believer – that songwriting is an entirely subjective art. And, on top of that, placing too much weight on any one person’s opinion of your song is never a great idea. In fact, having a thick skin and a bit of a stubborn streak are great qualities to possess on the business side of songwriting. All that being said, if you are getting similar comments from most if not all of the people who hear your songs, it might be worth giving some serious consideration to what is being said. I’m definitely not saying that you should mindlessly agree and follow these suggestions even if you are hearing the same thing time and time again. At the very least, knowing that your songs are striking people in a similar way is valuable information. In the end, whether songwriters choose to follow the suggestions or ignore them, it should be a conscious decision.
It’s too easy to say the game is rigged and that only people with connections get their songs cut or get film/TV placements. The reality is that writing great songs isn’t enough. It takes professionally demoing your songs, pitching them (many times, not just once) and following up systematically to even have a ghost of a chance of making money from your songs. There’s a tendency – and I was as guilty as the next guy – to get frustrated because you feel like you’re writing great material and nothing’s happening. I’m here to tell you that great material that hasn’t been properly demoed or pitched might as well not exist in the eyes – and ears – of the industry. I hope you get my point. No one is going to do this for you. Get your songs out there!
There’s a dangerous thought process that goes something like “as soon as I get a publishing deal, I’ll write songs every day.” In other words, you’re waiting for someone else to decide when you’re a professional songwriter. I’d suggest that you look at it the other way around. If you want publishers, labels and other industry execs to treat you like a professional, you should already be acting like one. What’s to stop you from writing a little every day, networking, pitching your songs and generally pursuing the business of songwriting right now? I’m well aware that you may have a full-time job and other considerations but if you don’t make time for your music now and develop your songwriting skills, you may never get to the level where anyone in the industry will take notice in the first place. Don’t wait. Act like a professional now.
There are obvious benefits in simply putting your head down and moving forward step by step in your pursuit of your songwriting dreams. In fact, it takes that kind of single-minded, consistent effort in order to have a shot at a songwriting career. However, it never hurts to stop from time to time and take a look at the big picture just to make sure that you’re still on the right track and looking at things holistically. It’s the combination of the details and the big picture that makes for a prolonged and successful songwriting career.