I don’t usually like to blow my own trumpet, but I’ll just say it: I’m good at a lot of things.
I can sit on the floor in front of a piano, cross my hands behind my head and play the opening of Mozart’s C Major Piano Sonata.
I know the Spanish word for ‘dude’ in like eleven different Latin American countries.
But no, I can’t make you famous.
I don’t have some magic bullet to make you the next Max Martin.
I don’t have some single secret that’s going to have Capital Records salivating at your front door and begging you to sign with them.
Why? Because nobody does.
Because even the major record labels – with all their clout, experience and mountains of cash – have a more than 99% failure rate in launching new artists.
Because writing a great song is one thing, but how far it spreads and how popular it becomes comes down to much more than the song itself: it depends on how it’s marketed, who sings it and – honestly – just a whole load of luck.
But most of all, I can’t help you become famous because if the only reason you want to write songs is ‘to be famous’ I’m not sure I want to help you. I’m not sure I want to help you chase some ephemeral dream that sounds more like it’s about satisfying your fragile ego than spending a life doing what matters to you.
Because the simple truth is, most songwriters are not famous. Most songwriters do not get recognized on the street. Even a lot of the most famous and financially successful songwriters who work with megastars aren’t household names – they’re just one of many people who work behind the scenes to make successful artists successful. And honestly, if your main goal is to get famous, then there are far better ways of doing it.
So again, pursuing songwriting because you think it’ll make you famous is like ‘investing’ all of your money in lottery tickets because you think it’ll make you rich.
Sure, it might. But 999,999 times out of a million it won’t.
Chances are, if you decide to pursue a professional music career you’ll end up as part of the 99.99% of professional musicians – working musicians, jobbing musicians, who make average (and often below average) incomes doing what they love.
They’re the session players, the recording artists, the arrangers, the producers, the recording engineers, the music teachers, the venue managers, the indie musicians, the YouTube musicians – and usually some combination of all of the above. They bring in a living wage and maybe even get to see a bit of the world and build up a following of a few thousand people online.
That’s the reality for most musicians. That’s how it works. And sure, while there is the lucky, right-time-right-place 0.01% who might make millions, there is no consistent, foolproof way to join them. So deciding that that’s the only kind of musician you want to be is a great way to set yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, the only gameplan is to create the art you want to make, get it in front of as many people as you can and build as wide a network of friends, collaborators and artists as you can, and see where that takes you.
Spend five to ten years doing that and, hey, you’ll probably be just fine. Not famous. Not a millionaire. But just fine.
And the next time you tell someone at a party that you’re a songwriter and they try to figure out if you’re any good by asking ‘Did you write anything famous?’ you can set the record straight. You can ask them whether they’d only hire a plumber who only fixes famous people’s bathrooms. You can ask them whether they’d only use a checkout aisle if Alex from Target was working it. You can ask them whether they’d only visit a doctor who has her own TV show.
And more than anything, you can be proud that you’re a songwriter for all the right reasons.
Because – if you want to keep your sanity, at least – they’re the only reasons.