If you’re like many people today, you might like to think anything can be done in just a few, easy, Google-able steps. And you wouldn’t be totally wrong: there’s a quickest, most efficient route to accomplishing anything.
But you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you can accomplish anything worthwhile just like that. Building a songwriting career included. In our usual style of no-bullshit tough-love, here’s The Song Foundry’s patented seven steps to getting there, all in good time.
1. Face reality
Once again: there is no shortcut to achieving anything truly worthwhile. No one became an award-winning, hit-spinning songwriter overnight. These steps are simple but not easy. They take years of dedication, perseverance and self-belief to put into effect. No one is exempted from that. Let’s get a reality check: if you’re looking for shortcuts you’re in the wrong profession.
2. Lose any and all sense of entitlement
Building a career as an artist is one of the most challenging things you can do (see Step 1). There is no correlation between talent, fame, notoriety and income. Art imitates life: life is unfair; art isn’t any better. Still, there is nothing to be gained by telling yourself you’re owed or entitled to anything. Period. It creates a needy self-limiting victim mentality which undermines your ability to do positive things that keep you moving forward. People can sense entitlement and, even if it’s justified, it’s not a quality that endears you to others. Fight it at all costs. You need to build good relationships with people (see Step 5) and self-entitlement isn’t going to help you do that. Replace any sense of what you’re owed with gratitude for what you do have. Let any and all frustration fuel your determination to succeed.
3. Know your craft
If you want to build a bridge you learn how steel and concrete work. If you want to paint a portrait you learn how color and composition work. If you want to write a song, go figure. Study, read and philosophize. Rhyme, meter, structure, melody, harmony, instruments, software, the human voice, human emotion: commit to understanding them better. This commitment to craft will set you free. Craft is freedom.
4. Take an ax to your comfort zone
Hack at that mothertrucker like there’s no tomorrow. Get used to embracing the unknown. Get used to throwing yourself into unusual and challenging environments. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Make bold decisions – good decisions, bad decisions, inconsequential decisions – but all bold all the same. Learn from every decision you make. Dare to make things nobody else is making. Dare to be someone nobody else is being. Dare to stick to your guns and stand your ground.
5. Get to know people
Art can’t be made in a vacuum. To succeed, you will need a crack team of collaborators, promoters, producers and – most importantly – supporters. The more people you know, the more people you have the privilege of calling on. Go to parties. Go to other people’s shows and events. Ask people for introductions. Introduce yourself if need be. Take an interest in these people for who they are not for what they can do for you. Build respectful and genuine relationships and you will be continuously rewarded for your effort.
6. Get to know people’s work
No artist made a mark in their field without knowing, admiring and loving what came before them. Writing in a cultural vacuum is like stabbing in the dark. Seek out work you admire and get to know it so well you’re sick of it. Develop strong opinions about every tiny detail of it. You’ll find inspiration in what you love about it as well as what you hate about it. Commit to exploring more and more new work. The more adventurously you explore, the more adventurously you can write. Become an encyclopaedia of melodies, lyrics, sounds and styles.
7. Get people to know you
Even if you’re the greatest artist since Shakespeare, it means squat if nobody has heard of you. Talk to people about your work, your plans and your ideas. Don’t be shy about peddling your wares. Even to people you don’t know well. You’re a life-changing virus and it’s your job to infect everyone. It’s not immodest to share what you’ve got. Make a storm on social media and cover the Internet in your work. Invite people to your events. Don’t hold back. You might fear being imposing, but you’ll be surprised how positively people will respond. Get over any sense of entitlement (see Step 2) that good work spreads of its own accord. You have to set the ball rolling.
You’ve got everything you need to get to where you need to be. The hard part is putting it all into practice, day after day. After day. After day. Good luck!