The 10,000-hour theory I was reading a magazine on an airplane the other day and ran across an article about Dan McLaughlin, an Oregon man who quit his job and decided to try to become a professional golfer by testing out the 10,000 hour theory made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”. Dan saved up $100,000. He rented out his home and got himself a cheap apartment so that this housing cost was nearly zero. And he began living very simply. He didn’t spend much on anything other than golf.
n the beginning, he thought it would take him about 5 years to reach the 10,000-hour mark. Mentally, he set aside six years. At the time of the article, he was 7 years in and still has 3600 hours to go. Reading this story reminded me of the beginning of my songwriting career!
As a songwriter, I am a “lifer.” I’ve spent many hours everyday writing with, teaching to, and in online forums conversing with songwriters. It’s not uncommon to hear songwriters say things like, “You can’t learn songwriting. You either have it, or you don’t.” Or, “This song came from my inner soul, so it’s perfect just like it is.” And here is my personal favorite arrogant quote, “I only write when I’m inspired. Anyone who doesn’t just writes crap.” No, my questions are, why do many songwriters believe their art is different than every other art in the world? That hard work, training, and practicing “even when you don’t feel like it” doesn’t apply to them? Can you imagine a great guitarist saying, “I only play my guitar on days when I feel inspired?” Hell, no! The great guitarists practice hours and hours playing the same lick thousands of times. Does that mean that great guitarists don’t play from the soul like a songwriter writes from the soul? Of course, they do! But the hours of practice — inspired or not — get them to a point of executing their art at a higher level.
I had a few minutes alone in the quiet the other morning and I started thinking about all of the different ways that songwriting has changed my life. Some of those changes are the result of being successful as a songwriter, but the biggest, most profound changes are ones that were simply the result of writing songs. Songwriting itself, and the process of becoming a professional in this industry – which can literally take ages – will teach you a lot of very valuable lessons. I was just reviewing the lessons I learned and in no particular order, here are the ways songwriting changed my life.
It opened my eyes to a larger world and my place in it. In the beginning, my songs were very self-serving and self-reflective. I wrote about the people, places and emotions that I knew, and it only belonged to me. Unfortunately, my world at that time was very plain, very lower middle class, very political and very homogeneous in almost every way. I can say I used to be pretty narrow minded and I was very comfortable in my own comfort zone and had no intention to get out of it.
Co-Writing songs is a lot like dating. It takes work to find and develop good co-writing relationships. And, not every date is going to work out. So, you keep kissing frogs until you find a prince, metaphorically speaking. If you treat songwriting relationships like real relationships, you can avoid some of these mistakes that I’ve seen lots of people make. Here are some real life relationship rules that you can apply to make your co-writing relationships better.
If I introduce you to my girlfriend, don’t ask her out behind my back. Unfortunately this is a common mistake in the co-writing arena. If a co-writer of mine brings an artist in to work with us, I don’t go behind his or her back and try to get the artist to write with me alone next time. This happens to me at times as well. A writer friend of mine asks if I will write with him and a friend of his. As soon as the guy I know goes to the bathroom, the one that I don’t know starts saying “We should get together sometime, just you and me.” Bad form – in life or in co-writing. If someone introduces you to an artist or to a hit co-writer, show your appreciation by continuing to write with the two of them. That’s what I would call basic manners.