I deal with songwriters a lot. Actually, I deal with songwriters on a daily basis due to my occupation. I love working with songwriters, helping them make their song stand out and giving them a fighting chance to get somewhere with their music. So, why on earth would I write something that offends, no, not offends, really pisses off 90% of all people calling themselves a songwriter and potential clients for my business?
Well, first of all I'm rather direct in the things I say. Most people that know me, including our clients are aware of that from the moment they deal with me personally and they appreciate the honesty. I'm just not sugar coated. I know some people trying to sell you their music production, songwriting education, or whatever else will put little hearts into their tweets and tell you exactly what you want to hear. (Rolling my eyes right now)… I won't put a heart when I tweet you (not that I use twitter in the first place). My team won't put a heart when they tweet you neither. A heart is a symbol for love, but I don't love you. How could I - I never met you. But, I do want to help you and your songwriting career, finding a way for you to actually make a living or at least a partial living with your craft. That's why my team and I came up with a way to produce professional songs on a much lower budget than others can at the same high quality. That's why we provide a blog with free advice and career tips and that's why I am more direct than some others might be and don't necessarily say exactly what you want to hear.
Secondly, as I deal with our clients personally at some stage during the process I'm confident enough to say that the vast majority of our clients don't fit the profile described below and are actually among the 1 out of 10 songwriters who will not be pissed after reading this.
Okay, enough talk - none of you are pissed yet.
The other day, a 15-year-old aspiring songwriter wrote something along the lines of: "Every time I tell people that my career choice is to become a professional songwriter, they always tell me to stop dreaming and focus to get a 'real' job. They say it is not possible to break into the industry as an outsider. Why does nobody encourage me?"
You, being a songwriter yourself, probably heard this from fellow hobby musicians and songwriters a lot yourself. "Better get a real job". "The industry is closed for outsiders". "I tried myself and didn't make it, so you know it's not possible". Those are just a few of the catch phrases being said to younger, ambitious writers and being written over and over again on forums. How much truth is in those sentences though?
The 15-year-old songwriter asked this question on a public forum and many musicians took the opportunity to give some 'free real life lessons' of how they also once had the goal of being a songwriter but it did not work out and he should really concentrate on getting a real job while he's young. Again, the answers were flooded with the above phrases. Until: Someone entered the thread anonymously (nope, not myself even though I would have wrote something similar) claiming he is a professional musician saying that all these people telling him to give up music, give up dreaming, give up having a goal are just jealous. I was relieved beyond belief. Someone is out there sharing my thoughts.
Now, let's face it. The reason why these people try to talk that boy out of a music career is because they gave up and would simply hate seeing someone else reaching something they failed in.
There are two types of failing songwriters:
1) The Ignorant: They are the ones going into the game of writing songs and thinking of it as an easy job. They try to place their songs which are badly written, not professionally produced and are ignored by A&Rs and executives. Why do they get ignored? Because those A&Rs and executives don't have the time to teach. They are busy enough finding the few gems in a pile of trash. Those songwriters do not intend to improve themselves, or improve the production quality of the recordings, and after a few months or years, they give up, blaming the industry. It's easier to blame an entire industry or others than admitting that they failed because of their own fault.
2) The Impatient: They are normally on a really good way to the top. They know that they have to pitch professionally produced songs and record their demos in a studio or get help from online music production studios for songwriters. They know that they have to write a lot, educate themselves, and always try to improve their writing in order to make it to the top. However, they want it now or never. To be fair, some of the category 2 failing songwriters hit the lucky jackpot and get their one hit wonder placed with a big name and are happy. However, for 99.9999% of category 2 failing songwriters, this won't happen within the first 5 years and they give up. Again, blaming the industry, and telling young aspiring musicians to do something else instead of making music.
The reason why the category 1) writers fail is pretty simple. You need to constantly improve yourself, you need to have professional recordings of your music and you need to make the right connections.
The reason why the category 2) writers fail is actually sad because they start out on a great way. They do everything category 1) writers don't do but they forget the little detail that it might take years if not even decades to get to a professional point and most of all make the right connections. Building trust with an A&R takes time. Having a portfolio of a decent number of songs covering several genres also takes time. They give up after 5 years but guess what, maybe they would have placed a song in year 6. They'll never find out because they're already too busy telling poor 15-year-old writers to put down their pen.
Just think about it, how long does it take for a Doctor to become a Doctor? How much investment does it take for a Doctor to become a Doctor? The answers to those two questions are: Very long, and a lot. If you're spending less time and investing less resources into your songwriting career, you can't blame anyone else but yourself for not having made it.
Songwriting, or any music related career choice such as session musician, touring musician, singer, etc. is like any other career choice. You'll have to train, learn, and work harder and for longer than the other guys and gals trying to reach the same goal. Before you get to the stage where you can live from your primary career choice, you need to make ends meet by doing other jobs without losing the focus to your primary goal: Being a professional musician. How many medical school students do you know working a full time corporate job at Google trying to advance their career and become a team manager in the non-medical field during their studies? The answer is none. They can't work 40-50 hours per week advancing their non-medical career expecting to do well in medical school in the few spare hours they have each week.
I know, many older folks might comment on this post claiming they've worked all their lives to make it and when I will ask them for a link to their professional portfolio of songs I might find one or two professionally produced songs among the list, if any. Or, in the very rare case that they do have a rather professional portfolio I will ask how many songwriting expos they have visited, how many A&Rs they have met in person, how many hours have they spent on the phone chasing placements, or how many local bands and musicians have they met and presented their songs to, I can be sure the number will be ridiculously low. See it that way - it takes a doctor 11-15 years of full time commitment to become eligible for medical licensing (see here). Now, ask yourself: did you spend 11-15 years FULL TIME pursuing your songwriting career? I betcha didn't.
Luckily for you - there is lots of free songwriting advice online and producing a professional song doesn't have to cost more than a few hundred dollars today contrary to going to med school which sets you back a whole lot more in terms of money investment.
Now, really though - why the hell did I write this article? No, I don't want to convert the 9 pissed songwriters to admitting that they failed because of themselves and not the industry. And I sure don't want them to get back up and try again. The successful musicians need those 9 failing writers to be the ONE who makes it.
But I do hope to inspire the ones that have the will to pull through even more than before. And most of all, I hope to reach some more young writers that don't have a supportive environment around them but have the dream to become a professional musician. If others tell you that it's not possible to break into the industry - it's a lie. They say it because they don't want you to break into the industry either because they failed or they are afraid of ambitious people. Paul Graham, one of the world’s leading computer programming pioneers, once wrote: "…most people are threatened by ambition: you seem to be trying to put yourself above them, even if that isn’t your intention."
The fact is - it's a long, tough, and hard road to make a decent living with music. But it's not an impossible journey. You will spend a lot of time and money, cry many tears, put up with crappy jobs to stay afloat but if you go through all of this, you will be able to separate yourself from the ones that give up on the way trying to destroy another young musician's dream.