In the twenty-five years that I’ve been writing songs and, more recently, that I’ve been teaching songwriting, I’ve made and/or observed countless missteps in songwriting and navigating a songwriting career. Here are two big mistakes that you should attempt to avoid if at all possible.
Given that we all write songs because we’re moved to do so, it’s completely understandable that our early – and sometimes even later – efforts will have an abundance of emotion at the expense of songwriting craft. The danger in sacrificing the craft in your songwriting process is that without the proper emphasis on craft, your song will most likely lose your listener’s attention. When I speak of craft, I’m referring to everything from an understanding of song structure, consistent rhyme schemes, the use of imagery (i.e. “show ‘em, don’t tell ‘em”), keeping your verb tenses the same and your pronouns consistent as well as making sure your lyric stays conversational. This and dozens of other details make it so that you can communicate your song’s message in the most effective way possible. Emotion in a song without craft is difficult and sometimes confusing to listen to but all craft and no emotion doesn’t work either. The key here is to find the balance.
While I understand that it’s essential to be passionate about the art of songwriting, this should never come at the expense of remembering that songwriting – if you’re hoping to generate income from your songs – is also a business. Forgetting this fact can lead to a whole host of problems. Let’s start with not pitching our songs. Writing a great song is wonderful but if you’re not willing to do the unglamorous work of getting that song into the right hands, you shouldn’t be surprised if nothing happens. Speaking of which, getting impatient while waiting for things to happen can lead to a variety of other problems such as overdoing it in a networking situation by pushing yourself or your songs too hard or losing your cool on the phone or via email. Not only that but being impatient can also quickly turn to discouragement which makes everything harder. Also, given that we’re talking about the business side of songwriting, don’t forget to think about what would make a publisher, artist or record label interested in what you have to offer. Are you giving them something they don’t already have? Are your songs going to make them money? I don’t mean to sound crass but it does come down to more than the art when commerce is involved. Finally, follow up is another part of the business where songwriters need to strike the delicate balance of doing enough but not too much. This is all part of behaving like a professional which is easy to forget when we’re wrapped up in writing the best songs we can possibly write. Still, you simply have to remember to do it.
If you’re hoping to turn your passion into an income generating activity, then anything and everything you can do to avoid the mistakes above is worth your while. It’s hard enough to sustain a songwriting career when you’re doing things right. Don’t sabotage yourself by making these preventable mistakes.