I’ve heard baseball described as a “game of failure,” which means that even the greatest batters in the game miss close to seven out of every ten tries. Well, using that same math, songwriting, too, is a game of failure where the greatest songwriters who have ever lived have had success with only a tiny, tiny proportion of the songs they write. Given that this is the case, it might be worth your while to make failure your friend since, as a songwriter, you’ll be keeping pretty steady company. Stay with me here as I show you a few reasons why failure as a songwriter can ultimately be a good thing.
One of the toughest lessons to learn as a creative is how to toughen up a bit when it comes to our art. Part of what helps us create is our sensitivity to the world around us. This is all fine and good when it comes to the creative process but when it comes to comments about our songs, well that’s a little different. The reality is that not every song we write will connect with people the way we hope it will but the more we realize that as songwriters the only people we really need to please is ourselves, the easier it will become to hear less than kind comments about our work. Better yet, the more we hear those kinds of comments, the thicker our skin will become so that we can go about our business without letting unkind words get us down for long.
If you’re “failing” when it comes to getting your songs out there, that actually means you’re doing the right thing. If you don’t fail, that most likely means you’re not taking any risks and, I assure you, not failing is NOT the same as succeeding. So take heart. The more you hear no, the closer you’re coming to hearing yes.
It can be discouraging when you feel like you’ve written a song that isn’t up to par but the good news is that even if that song never gets better, you’ll take away the lesson. The more you can analyze what isn’t working in the songs that aren’t ready for prime time, the better able you’ll be to avoid those issues in subsequent songs. Learning from mistakes whether as songwriters or marketers of our songs is the hallmark of growth in a career. To paraphrase, “you may lose the song but don’t lose the lesson.”
Nothing strengthens commitment to a goal more than repeatedly picking yourself up from a failure and moving on. A life in songwriting is not for the faint of heart but if you’re willing to recommit each time things don’t go your way, you’ll build up a resilience that will serve you well throughout your entire career.
When success does come, it’s generally the result of what I like to think of as a critical mass of effort – and failure. What this does is give you a much deeper appreciation of what it takes to have success with your songs. That kind of gratitude goes a long way towards motivating you even further.
On the flip side, all that failure keeps you from ever feeling like you’ve totally got the whole “songwriting thing” licked. I’ve written over a thousand songs and I still get nervous before I write. That’s a good thing.
So, if something doesn’t go your way, take a deep breath and try not to take it so hard. This is tough to do when you’re as passionate about your work as most songwriters are. A career in songwriting rewards those who can weather the storm of failure and come out the other side better, stronger and more grateful. Or as I like to put it, the first twenty years are the hardest.