The Most Important Part of Persistence
“How long are you going to give this songwriting? You can’t go on struggling forever.”
“You’re right, Dad. I can’t do this forever. If I’m not successful in the next hundred years, I’m going to give up and go back to school!”
We’ve all heard stories of songs that took decades to find their homes and their places atop the music charts. We’ve also heard tales of songwriters and recording artists whose journeys to success spanned years—even decades. My own journey from living in a one-room Hollywood hovel (no kitchen, a shared bathroom, mice, and cockroaches, and eating cat food when I had no money) to having songs on Billboard’s pop, country, and R&B charts—all at the same time—took more than sixteen years. My story is far from unique.
“Page 25,” a song I wrote with A.J. Masters, was the title cut of a 1991 album by Kimberly Roads before, as Kimberly Schlapman, she found platinum success as a member of Little Big Town. When two record deals failed to bring the band hits, the members took day jobs and sang background vocals—including on my song “What I Need” (written with Karen Taylor Good; recorded by Collin Raye) while continuing to pursue their goal. Seven years passed from the time Little Big Town was formed until a third record deal delivered the success they sought. From the time Kimberly Schlapman recorded my song as a 22-year-old, until she found chart-topping success at 36, fourteen years went by.
Prior to winning the USA Network’s inaugural Nashville Star TV competition in 1993 and landing a #1 album and two top-5 Billboard singles, Buddy Jewell was Nashville’s most popular session singer. He lent his vocals to more than 5,000 demos, including quite a few of mine. Despite his formidable talent, a coveted recording contract eluded him, and Jewell’s journey to fame took more than 11 years. P!nk (who sang the demo of a song I critiqued) is among the many recording artists who sang songwriters’ demos to eke out a living on their way to superstardom.
Before scoring eighteen #1 singles and four GRAMMY awards as a solo artist, Keith Urban fronted The Ranch, a band that received a tepid response to its 1997 Capitol Records release. Similarly, a debut album and follow-up by Vince Gill failed to crack the top 10 before he switched record labels, ultimately receiving an unprecedented 22 GRAMMY awards.
As these examples illustrate, persistence is critical. Sometimes we simply need more time for our lucky stars to line up; for the right opportunity to present itself; for the time and the marketplace to be right. But in some instances, we might need to examine and revise the music we are creating and actions we are taking to attain our goals. Making the same mistakes over and over is unlikely to lead to different results.
At a publisher’s urging, I wrote seven versions of my song “I Had a Heart” (written with Bryan Cumming; recorded by Darlene Austin). Seven years and more than two hundred songs after I moved to Los Angeles to devote 100% of my focus to writing songs, it became my first country music recording. The song was performed at the Grand Ole Opry, and charted on the Billboard country chart, opening the door to everything that followed in my career. What if I had refused to rewrite the song? What if I had stopped after the third, fourth, or fifth rewrite? In this instance, believing in my song and waiting for it to be recorded was not enough. I needed to revise the song.
We need to find the balance between believing in ourselves—and acknowledging that our work might need to be honed, polished, revised. Get professional feedback about what is working— and what is not. See if there are comments that resonate when you receive critiques. Learn from the lessons in each disappointment and rejection. If multiple trusted sources suggest there are problems with your work, explore what you might be doing that is holding you back.
Even if your music has all the right elements to make it a hit, it is unlikely that a music business executive will knock on your door. Assess whether you might need to change your approach to the business side of the music business. Are you networking? Availing yourself of multiple resources to promote your music? Putting yourself in places where decision-makers can hear your music?
Keep persevering and remember that even though you might not be where you hope to be in your musical career, it does not mean you cannot get there. But … it might mean you need to reevaluate your work—and the actions you are taking—to give your work its best shot.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on. For information about workshops, webinars, and more than 125 additional articles, visit www.jasonblume.com.
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