Looking back on twenty-five years as a songwriter, I’ve come to realize that a big part of the reason I’ve been able to do it for so long has as much to do with my ability to diversify my musical pursuits as it does with my songwriting ability. Another way to put this is that there are very few thoroughbreds in the music business. I’ve come across only a handful of songwriters over the years who write songs as their sole form of income. The more you do in music, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be able to endure. While I refer to myself as a professional songwriter, I’m also a music producer and educator. By diversifying, I’m always doing something that keeps the lights on and keeps me moving forward and growing. I’ve put together a few of the most important reasons songwriters should consider alternate musical pursuits in service of a lasting music career.
While receiving royalties for your songs can be a wonderful thing, it’s not at all uncommon for a year or more of delay between the time your song receives airplay or gets placed in a film/TV show and the arrival of your royalty income. Finding songwriting/music-related work that provides a more predictable and consistent form of income can go a long way towards taking the pressure off of having to wait for your royalties to arrive.
The reality is that while professional songwriters write a lot of songs, there are simply some times when we need to take a break from writing. I’ve heard this referred to as “going on input.” In other words, if you’re not taking time to live your life and actually have some experiences, you’ll find it hard too continue to create. That being said, being involved in other aspects of the music world such as studio work, music publishing and education can keep you connected to music – and the music business – even as you take time off from the actual creation of songs.
Songwriting is essentially a solitary exercise. With the exception of your collaborators, it’s easy to inadvertently isolate yourself from the music world around you. The more musical areas you’re actively pursuing, the better and more organically you’ll be able to build your network.
Finally, one thing I’ve noticed over the years of wearing multiple musical hats is that everything you do informs everything else. Working as a songwriter informs how I think as a music producer and the kinds of topics I feel qualified to discuss as an educator. All this to say, by exploring and actively participating in a variety of different musical pursuits, I’ve managed to have a deeper, more well-rounded understanding of my musical universe.
While I understand that a passion for songwriting is, essentially, a full-time commitment, I would argue that along the way, songwriters should explore other music-related jobs and pursuits. This way, as your songwriting fortunes ebb and flow, you’ve created a broader and more reliable foundation from which you can make a living.