In a previous article, I brought up a couple of big mistakes that I’ve noticed songwriters tend to make. In my experience, these mistakes come from a place where, as songwriters, we simply don’t know what we don’t know yet. So, to that end, I’m going to bring up a few more mistakes that songwriters should avoid if their goal is to build not only a catalog of great songs but a career as a songwriter.
Waiting around for inspiration
If my past as a songwriter is any indication, I know that I started writing songs not because I had a specific game plan but because inspiration struck seemingly out of the blue and I was moved to write. It went this way for me for the next dozen or so songs that I wrote. I’d be going about my day to day and I’d get an idea for a song and shortly after I’d begin working on it. While this is an exciting and wonderful way to create, it’s not exactly what I’d call a business plan. If your goal is simply to honor your creative spirit without any thoughts to a career as a songwriter, then letting inspiration find you is perfectly fine. If, on the other hand, the goal is to build a catalog of songs, get known as someone who can reliably deliver strong material on a schedule and, ultimately, make a living as a songwriter, then you simply cannot afford to wait around for inspiration to strike. You have to go out and get it. This can take a hundred different forms from writing down a song title every morning when you get up to scheduling co-writing appointments even when you don’t know what you’re going to write about. As the famous prose writer, Dorothy Parker, once said - and I’m paraphrasing here - “Writing is the act of applying the ‘butt’ to the seat.” In other words, if you want to make a living as a songwriter, you need to write every day and consistently chase ideas and inspiration.
Letting someone else tell you if you should be writing songs
As a part of my work, I do a lot of songwriting consultations and one of my least favorite questions is when a songwriter asks me to tell them whether or not they should be writing songs or just give it up. I’m always glad they ask because it allows me to speak frankly to them about how strongly I feel that they should NEVER let someone else tell them whether or not they should be writing songs. It’s my least favorite question because I hate the thought of any songwriter putting something that important to them - their songwriting - in the hands of another person. This is not to say that in the course of writing songs, you shouldn’t seek out advice/critiques from experienced professionals. Consultations and other people’s opinions about your songs are part of the process and you might find that, when constructively offered, some of the advice and insight is genuinely helpful. However, only you can - or should - decide whether or not to continue writing songs and whether the songs you are writing are “good.” I put the word good in quotes because songwriting is art and art is subjective. Period. Not everyone has to love your song nor will everyone. The primary person who has to believe in your songs and your songwriting is you. That’s what will give you the strength and motivation to get up every day and work to become the best writer you can be. Others will have opinions and that’s fine but remember that they’re only opinions. The ultimate opinion about your songwriting should always reside with you.
Neither of the above mistakes is unusual. We all make them - myself included when I was starting out. But if the goal is to build a healthy and satisfying career as a songwriter, then the sooner you stop yourself from making these mistakes, the better.
Cliff Goldmacher is a GRAMMY-recognized songwriter, music producer and author with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and demo singers for their songwriting demos. Find out more. You can also download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs.”