When I think about the mental state of my younger songwriting self, I see a mixture of bravery, idealism and a healthy dose of misinformation. While I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences, it might have been nice to receive a friendly warning or two along the way about the realities of my chosen profession. In that spirit, songwriters should consider the below not as an attempt to discourage but rather an opportunity to set reasonable expectations on your way forward.

What songwriters need to hear

1. It’s not just about your talent

I believed – whether I ever actually said it aloud or not – that if my songs were just good enough, the music industry would beat a path to my door. In other words, it was going to be my musical talent that made everything happen. Unfortunately, while talent is an essential component to songwriting success, it is also the least common denominator once you get past a certain point. The truth of the matter is that elements like your work ethic, peer network and business savvy play a much bigger role than we’d like to admit. Remember, if you’re hoping to make money from your songs then you’re running a business and all the rules of successful businesses apply. Just as it’s not enough for a company to have a good product if they don’t market it, it’s not enough to have great songs if you don’t take all the necessary steps to get them out in the world.

2. It’s going to take longer than you think

If I’ve learned anything in my twenty-plus years of writing songs, it’s that nothing in our business happens as quickly as we’d like. Publishing deals, first cuts, singles, royalty checks happen at their own pace which is rarely the pace we’d choose. I only mention this to make clear the value of patience. With patience, you’re less likely to get discouraged and more willing to get up every day and make the slow and steady progress towards your goals.

What songwriters need to hear

3. You don’t just need “one good song”

“You just need one good song” is one of those sentences that does more harm than good. I suppose it’s meant to encourage songwriters to write a “hit” but, in actuality, it plays on a myth that a single song makes a career. Writing songs is a skill and you may have to write hundreds of songs before you have any measurable success with any one of them. I did. The danger in thinking that it’s just one song is that you’ll be tempted to skip out on the work and, instead, hope for the inspiration that’s going to give you one great song. If you’re planning on a sustainable career as a songwriter, you’re going to need LOTS of good songs. Do the work.

4. Don’t write songs for the money

I read somewhere that writing songs for the money is like getting married for the sex. While I won’t delve too deeply into the marital side of that equation, I can safely say that if you write songs only in the hopes that they’ll pay off financially, you’re in for a lot of frustration and disappointment. The key, in my opinion, to being a successful songwriter is the ability to wake up hungry to write great songs for their own sake. This is a way of sustaining your passion through the lean times (of which there are many for even the most successful songwriters). The money, if you learn your craft and work every day towards your goal, will come but the goal should be writing the best songs you can no matter what.


I feel the need to repeat that this article is not designed to discourage but instead to temper any unrealistic expectations you might have so that you can go about the business of being a successful songwriter in every sense of the word. If you’re fortunate enough to have found a passion like songwriting in your life, you owe it to yourself to treat it with the respect it deserves.

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8 responses to “Four Things Songwriters Need – But Might Not Want – to Hear”

  1. Well said, Cliff. Hard truth, but this business is not for the lazy.

  2. I learned this the hard way. I thought because the songs I get from above just come to my hands without my effort, people would see this Miracle and be amazed. Some are while others aren’t. I still get songs whenever I take the time to set down but I do it for different reasons now.

  3. Joe Rudis says:

    The commitment has to be in the joy of the songwriting process itself and not in the money or an individual might be surprisingly disappointed. In this digital age, the times have changed dramatically in the music business. Persistence always remains the same.. If persistence is the dominating force, along with the joy, we might have a chance at the next hit song.

  4. Danny Springston says:

    More good info as usual Cliff. Sorry I missed the seminar in Nashville. I was at the beach in Ocean City with family.
    I would like to send you a few songs later in the week if its ok.
    All the best,

  5. Joy Hanna says:

    Wonderful article! Thanks, Cliff!

  6. Cliff says:

    My pleasure Joy! Thanks for reading!

  7. Stryker Warren jr says:

    While not a songwriter, I teach innovation and entrepreneurship at the university level and am an angel investor. This is exceptionally sage advice from a business perspective, and hopefully meaningful to all those who write songs. Very well said Cliff!

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