“If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.
Every time I read it, this quote hits me right between the eyes. In some areas of my life, I’m still very much a procrastinator and excuse maker. I keep telling myself that I want to lose 10 kilos and have a six-pack stomach. I know HOW to do that. I’ve even done it before. The trouble is that I don’t want that as bad as I want that plate of steak or just one more glass of that whiskey while I'm writing. So, I put it off and I make excuses. “It’s the holidays – I’ll do all that in January”. “I don’t have time to go to the gym today – I’ll go tomorrow”. You know the drill...
If you are trying to get a song recorded on a major artist, you are competing with professional writers who write a song almost every day. Those professionals are pumping out more than 200 songs a year in many cases. The sheer volume of material they produce increases their chances of getting a cut exponentially. Why, you might ask? Here is a story to illustrate. Recently, I pitched a song to an A&R person for a big shot artist. She responded that she loved the song, but she thought that it had already been cut. I told her that I had no knowledge of it being recorded.
I had my former publisher (who published the song in question) look into the situation. They discovered that the song was scheduled to be the first single for a rising star artist that had just been signed to a major record deal. Neither I nor my publisher had any idea that the artist in question was planning to cut the song.
I have discovered that there are many reasons people write songs. Sometimes we assume that everyone writing a song must want a major artist to record it. While that is true for many writers, it’s not the real motivation for many others. Based on my “survey” through my fellow writers, here are some of the more popular reasons people write songs:
They feel like they have something to say. Many people write because they have a message they want to share with the world. Sometimes the message is religious or moral. Sometimes it’s an attempt to share something positive with the world. Other times, the writer is promoting an idea or cause they believe in.
They were “inspired” to write. I have had many people tell me that they just “woke up with this song in their head” or that they were “given” a song and didn’t really know where it came from. Sometimes inspiration just strikes, and it seems as if we are simply writing it down as it comes to us.
One ordinary Tuesday, I went to a co-write with really low expectations. My co-writer and I were going to try to finish a song that I wasn’t really in love with. But we had decided we would finish it, so I drove to his house. We started working on the song and when lunch time came, we had not even added one word to the song. So, we decided to take a break and come back to the song after we ate. On the way back from lunch, he asked “Do you like the song we are working on?” I replied, “Not really, but I thought you liked it.” He laughed and said, “I don’t like it – I thought you did!” Beside the fact that we both were happy about our mutual respect (without saying it out loud), for working on a song we didn’t like but we thought the other one likes it and we were rolling in, we were both relieved that we didn’t have to work on a song that we didn’t like any longer. When we got back to his house, we talked about music we loved, and we discovered that we both really like R&B feels. Then the conversation turned to the lack of that kind of feel on modern country radio. At that point, he said “Let’s just write something with an R&B feel that people can make out to.”
Here are 5 things I try to do every day. Doing these 5 things helps me feel like I’m making progress in every area of my songwriting.
Learn something. I’m trying to learn to play harmonica now. Yes, sometimes I work on learning an alternative tuning on the guitar. I want to try to learn something that makes me better each day. This way I’m constantly forcing my brain to be active and don’t go lazy. Brain is just like the muscles on your body. The more you use it, the stronger it will get. Plus, learning all these can be fun and you never know when they come handy.
There have been many days in my writing career when I thought about quitting. The voices in my head have frequently tossed out “I’m not sure you’re good enough” or “The odds are stacked against you”. Most of those days have followed some sort of big disappointment. A hold lost. A cut that was a “sure thing” that fell through. A single that didn’t happen. I’ve endured many of those days.
A friend offers to take me to lunch. The big test of my resolve came one day when a friend staged an intervention of sorts. He offered to take me to lunch. That’s like inviting a fox into the hen house. A struggling songwriter is always going to be up for a meal with a good friend and having a discussion, hoping something good comes out of it. So, I went. And lunch began with lots of probing questions regarding my songwriting career.
I write a lot about encouragement and perspective because I believe they are two of the most important issues that songwriters face at any level. For me, I stay in my “happy place” when I see progress every day. It can be the smallest bit of progress, but I need to feel a little momentum or movement in the right direction each day. The days that I get down are the days when I feel like I’m slipping backwards. A big co-write cancels. I lose a hold I counted on. Or a cut doesn’t make the record.
I feel myself slipping back into the abyss and I get scared. The “voices” start telling me that I’ve had my last cut. They start making me wonder if I’m cut out for songwriting. They tell me I should have found a stable job to work at. I fight the voices with my daily progress. I prove that I’m moving toward success and away from failure by taking at least one step forward each day.
We usually get a lot of questions in Flipside's website in regard to co-writing etiquette. There is a lot of factors in creating a reputation in the industry and make people want to write with you or simply making them to avoid you. It’s important to know whether you are on the “naughty” or “nice” co-writer list. Here are some real-life experiences I (or friends of mine) have experienced.
Naughty Co-Writer #1. This guy takes a phone call during the co-write and stays on the phone for more than 5 minutes without explaining what is going on. Usually, he leaves the room, so you don’t know where he is and if/when he is coming back. Nice Co-Writer #1. Apologizes for his phone ringing, explains that it is urgent and comes back to let you know if he is going to be a while. Communication keeps him in the “nice” category.
In a mentoring session the other day, I was helping a young songwriter who felt like she was really floundering around in pursuit of her dream. She talked about how frustrating it was to tell whether or not she was making progress and how difficult it is to tell what she should be doing differently to get ahead. I told her that 99% of the people I mentor have the same questions. Since it’s such a common ailment, I have spent a good amount of time applying my psychology degree to figure out why so many people feel this way and how I got out of that mentality earlier in my career.
A dream is not a goal. The big issue I discovered is that a dream is really a goal. It’s a destination that you would like to arrive at someday. That’s not measurable. Neither does it provide any instruction on how you get to this beautiful destination. It’s simply a wish. Saying “I want to be a professional songwriter” is like saying “I want to go to Madagascar”. Except that, if I say I want to go to Antarctica, it’s easier to see what I need to do to get there.
Last year a publisher friend asked me to write with a new singer/songwriter who had recently moved to town. The first thing out of the publisher’s mouth was “this guy has over 80,000 Instagram followers.” Not that that the artist was a great writer or singer or guitar player. The publisher was blown away with all the Instagram and Twitter followers. So, we set a date for the writing appointment, I remember it because it happened to fall on Valentine’s day. Not that it particularly matters to this account. The artist arrived before me and when I walked into the writing room he was on his computer and couldn’t wait to show me how many comments he just got on a recent Facebook post.
At least twice a week I get an email seeking advice on how to overcome writer’s block. For many songwriters the worst part of the whole writing experience is just getting started. Those times when we sit down to write, and nothing comes out. We feel like we have nothing to say. Well here are 5 techniques I’ve used to permanently eliminate writers block and free up creativity.
In the music business, I see two general categories of people – the excuse makers and the other people. The excuse makers always seem to have a lot going on. So much, in fact, that they can’t ever seem to get around to doing the things that would cause them to succeed as a songwriter. They are doing LOTS of things and appear to be busy, but somehow there’s always a reason why they don’t have time to do the things that would help them get ahead.
I couldn’t possibly count the number of beginning songwriters, when asked “Who would you pitch this to?”, give answers like Keith Urban, Katy Perry, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Rhianna, etc. I’ve been writing professionally for almost 15 years, I have had multiple #1 songs and over 3000 songs recorded, yet I have never had a song recorded by any of those artists. What does that tell you about the realistic (or not) nature of those goals?
Pitching your songs. It means playing songs for publishers, artists or record label people in hopes of getting them to record or help you get a song recorded and it is one of the most important steps of being in the music industry as a writer – otherwise your songs without being pitched basically means nothing – yet, pitching is one of the areas where songwriters make the most mistakes. And, those mistakes can be costly. Sometimes the cost can be losing all your credibility as a writer while maybe your songs are actually pretty good, but you’ve already ruined your reputation by making these simple mistakes. You don’t get too many chances to make a good impression before you are put on the “burned bridge” list. Here are some of the important dos and don’ts to remember when you pitch songs.
Songwriters tend to have this “win or lose” mentality. When I play my songs for someone, I either “win” and they take a copy, or I “lose” and they reject my song (and by default, me). I would suggest that we look at those opportunities as “win or learn” opportunities. Again, if they love my song and take a copy, I have won! But, if they don’t, I have a chance to turn my “loss” into a “learn”. Here’s how I do it.
As the music economy continues to move toward a streaming based model, people are drifting rapidly toward the idea that music should be free. I think it’s vital to remind ourselves (And our friends) from time to time WHY it is important to pay for music:
For my song to get out to the public, I have to demo it. A conservative estimate of the cost of that demo is $800. I make approximately 9 cents per sale of the song. So, I need 8,888 people to buy the song before I even cover the cost of my demo.
Most songwriters I know have a lot of people who have helped them get to whatever level of success they are enjoying – even if it is simply being able to write regularly. Here’s my list. I’m guessing many of you have similar lists.
Over the last decade of working with some of music’s top producers, recording artists, and songwriters, I started noticing similar personality traits and habits of highly creative people. These professionals possessed a certain mindset that allowed them to perform at a high level and do it effortlessly. Their personal habits funneled their energy into a kind of creative vortex. I’ve listed 7 of these habits here. There are certainly more, but these are the 7 that almost all of these pros had mastered.
Music History is filled with great songwriting collaborations. John Lennon-Paul McCartney, Elton John-Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger-Keith Richards, and the list goes on. Two heads can truly be better than one when writing a song, but only if it’s the right match! And finding that right match can seem impossible at times. Over the years I have written with many artist, producers, and writers; some went great and spawned multiple hits while others were a dud. Here are some of the qualities I look for in a co-writer.
Just like most other jobs and careers, making a living from writing songs and being a professional in music industry requires a huge amount of sacrifices and more importantly it requires consistency. If you're anything like me, and the rest of 99.9% percent of other musicians, you'd fail for at least a couple of years! But the key here is not to give up. Not to be stubborn, taking no as an answer is okay here but don't "go home"!
Through years of working at Flipside, I met a vast array of people wanting to become professional songwriters. People of all ages, races, backgrounds and economic situations, most of whom would love to achieve some degree of commercial success with their music. As a student of people and a guy in love with studying psychology, I have studied what causes some people to succeed and others who are equally talented to fail in that quest.
Networking and relationship building is such an important skill for success in any business specially music business, where these relationships can take you to places you wouldn’t even imagine. You can gain value by attending events or loose credibility pretty quick when you meet people at events. Here are some tips to help YOU on YOUR Journey!
Do your homework. Research the people who will be at the event in advance. If it is a #1 party, find out who the songwriters are and research the writers and publishers to learn a little about them before you go.
The more people I photograph, the more I've come to realize something: a great portrait is a collaboration between photographer and subject. When both are working together the result is far more than what comes from direction alone. Our subjects often aren't experienced in having their photo taken, and don't know a lot about the process. The number one thing I always start out with when I meet a new client is to explain my style and what to expect from me and what I expect from them; as well as any others they may have with them, as many have spouses, management team, wardrobe stylists, hair and makeup team etc. I encourage them to be themselves… Talk, move, and most importantly, relax and have fun!
With so much interaction happening on social media these days, many musicians think that maintaining their own personal website is a thing of the past. But that couldn't be further from the truth! In fact, artist, musician, composer, and music company websites are more essential than ever for establishing and developing a brand. Your website is your home base. It's where you ultimately maintain control of what and how you communicate with your fans and/or customers. It's your virtual HQ. And whether you know it or not, it speaks volumes about you and your music before anyone ever hears a note.
Every company is now a media company. This isn't a new take or an innovative take. It's the reality of today's business landscape. It's the standard. CEO and Marketing expert, Gary Vaynerchuk has talked about it. Consulting firm PWC has written about it. With the barriers to entry to media creation shattered by innovative technology, there's very few reasons not to play in the content creation game.
In most instances, the focus is on traditional businesses evolving as media companies, but I want to talk about why this is essential to artists and how they can employ similar tactics.