Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Well, it turns out songwriting is the opposite. Every happy songwriter is happy because they’re unique in some way. But the causes behind every stuck, struggling one are usually pretty similar.
See, in most cases, what stops would-be songwriters is fear of getting started.
Songwriting can be frightening. Songwriting is hard. It’s easier and safer to watch TV.
But if you want to get good at songwriting – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to write.
And if you want to write – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to get off your ass and start.
Even though it’s frightening. Even though it’s hard. Even though Netflix just released the new season of Narcos.
90% of success in songwriting is getting started. Because the more you do, the more you realize your fears are unfounded and the easier it gets to overcome them in future.
That’s right. Feel scared but do it anyway.
Because here’s the thing: in songwriting, like in life, it’s almost always better to do something than nothing. It’s almost always better to do the quote-unquote wrong thing – and learn from it – than do nothing at all.
And just in case you’re still round the fire making S’mores at Camp Sit-There-And-Do-Nothing, let’s talk about five common beliefs that might be holding you back – and what you can do about them.
You Think You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
OK. I’ve got a newsflash for you. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Not now. Not ever.
As a kid, you have this idea that somehow, somewhere there’s a room full of adults who always know what’s best. Maybe they’re your parents, your teachers, your government.
As an adult, you realize that’s bullshit.
The trouble is, the world is complicated. There are lots of choices. There are few guarantees.
Nearly all of the big decisions you make in life are creative decisions. What to do with you life. Where to live. Who to date, marry or just make out with at your cousin’s wedding.
These are not simple choices. You don’t know their consequences. You don’t have unlimited time to mull them over.
The same is true in art, life, everything.
In creative decision making nobody knows what they’re doing.
Get used to it.
Then get on with it.
You’re Scared You’ll Fail
Face it: messing up is part of life.
That’s a natural consequence of making complex choices. You’re going to make a few bad calls. You’re going to make a few terrible calls.
It’s time to get used to that.
And it’s time to get used to that, not just because it’s an inevitable part of life, but because mistakes are where you’ll learn some of your most important lessons.
Failures teach you things successes can’t.
Every heartbreak, every disappointment, every rejection. Sure, they’ll piss you off at first. But with time they’ll teach you to look at what went wrong and be better next time. There’s no pressure to do that if you never make a mistake.
In life, you fail until you succeed. You can’t succeed without failing.
Want to be a great songwriter?
Get on with it. Fail at it. Succeed at it.
Monty Python never fail to motivate.
You Think You’re Not Talented
A talent is not something you have. A talent is something you develop, something you unearth.
None of your songwriting heroes spluttered into the world as talented foetuses. They used to be terrible at songwriting.
They used to suck at it, but they stuck at it. So they got better.
As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Take that leap of faith. Take the decision to unearth your talent – open the box, poke around and see what’s inside.
Or sit at home doing nothing and wonder what might have been. You choose.
You Don’t Understand Songwriting Yet
OK. Congrats. You found a legitimate concern.
There’s more to songwriting than instinct. There’s specific knowledge to know and specific techniques to master.
That’s why I built this site. That’s why I put all of those ideas into this video series. That’s why I wrote this book to explain the ideas in the video series in more detail.
Songwriting is not complicated, whatever anybody tells you.
There aren’t that many ideas that go into making great songs. Any resource that makes songwriting sound complicated is either a) overcomplicating things to try and impress you, or b) trying to explain all the subtleties that you have to learn first-hand.
That’s right: songwriting concepts are not that complicated, but they take time to master.
That’s why you should understand the concepts as soon as you can. And that’s why you should start putting them into practice as soon as you can.
The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll be churning out great songs.
You’re Afraid It’ll All Be A Waste Of Time
Life is full of dead ends, screw ups and disappointments.
I’m sorry if that bursts your bubble, but that’s the truth.
If you decide to do something interesting with your life – if you decide there’s more to life than doing what you’re told all the time and never taking risks – you’re going to experience your fair share of dead ends, screw ups and disappointments. There’s no way round that.
But none of this is wasted. Nothing is ever wasted, if you’re smart.
Whether you decide to pursue songwriting as a career or decide to write as a hobby or decide to write and figure out what you’re going to do with your songs later – nothing is wasted.
The time you spend growing as an artist is never wasted. It makes you more creative. It makes you more decisive. It makes you a better person.
Whether you ultimately use those skills to make money as a songwriter is immaterial. Something does not need to make money to have value.
New skills are new skills. New knowledge is new knowledge. New confidence is new confidence.
Whatever you apply all that to – you win.
Whatever you apply all that to – you get one step closer to where you’re going.
Whatever you apply all that to – you’re better off because you did it.
One of the things that makes The Song Foundry different from most songwriting sites is that we’re not about making it in the music industry. We’re not about how to write a hit, or how to get a record deal or how to find 10,000 new Twitter followers.
To me, making art is its own reward. It brings its own benefits – whether you go on to make money from that art or not.
And the truth is, the only thing holding you back from making art is you. You and only you.
That might be a tough pill to swallow.
It’s easier to blame your parents or your high school or whatever culprit du jour you like. But it won’t do you any good.
We live in a ridiculous age of unparalleled opportunity. There have never been more ways, available to more people, to make art and share it with people.
But that doesn’t happen until you make it happen. Until you make something – anything – happen. It’s as simple as that.
Nothing happens unless you start making it happen.
So go do it.
We’re rooting for you.
Photo by Riley McCullough on Unsplash.