Songwriting: My Highest Self?

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Brent is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ray Stevens, and more.  He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Songwriting is, without a doubt, my sweet spot. It’s that incredible place where my passion meets my talent and my ambition. It’s where I feel like I’m my truest, best version of myself. It’s the hard work that usually gives me more energy than it takes. When I’m in the zone, writing with people I enjoy, it’s a great feeling. It never gets old.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to write full-time right now. I have a day job that I’m thankful for, but I don’t love it. I work hard, and it definitely takes more energy than it gives. (After years of being a full-time songwriter, I’m relearning what it means to look forward to the weekend.) The job doesn’t need me to use my “best” skills- skills I’ve spent years developing. In short, it doesn’t allow me to be my highest self.

Maybe you feel that way, too. Yes, your job gives you a paycheck, but you feel like you’re wearing a mask every day at work- that the real you is hidden at home inside your guitar case or notebook. It’s the feeling of, “yeah, but a lot of people can do this job. I have this songwriting thing where I’m SPECIAL.” Man, I get that in a big way, and I struggle with it sometimes.

But maybe, just maybe… I’ve had the wrong definition of my “highest self.” Where I tend to think of my highest self as being the guy that can turn an idea into a song that makes you laugh or cry – the guy that hears his words sung back to him over the radio- the guy with a platinum album on the wall… what if my true highest self is the guy that puts his dreams into a corner of his life and gets up every day to go to a day job so that his wife can live her dream of being a stay-at-home mom? What if my highest self is the guy who turns down most cowrite opportunities so his son has someone to wrestle with after dinner? What if THAT guy is my highest self?

What about you? I’m not saying to give up your songwriting dream, but what if your highest self is when you are… selfless?

Anything you’d like to add or ask?  Leave a comment!  Are there any topics  you’d like to see addressed in a future MvR post?  Thanks!

Also, if you want to become a pro, you need to think like a pro, too. In my FREE e-book, “THINK LIKE A PRO SONGWRITER,” I not only reveal several of the mindsets which separate the pro songwriter from the amateur, but also…

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43 thoughts on “Songwriting: My Highest Self?”

  1. Brent, this is a powerful insight. I’ve had some small songwriting successes and am still pursuing the “dream.” But I have also come to these realizations as well, being married and having a family. I feel exactly this way about my day job, not that I don’t give it 100%, but in reality it pays our health insurance. Thank you for your blog. Robert Sans

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  2. I believe your higher self will breeze you through any future songwriting gigs simply because you add value to your world, but hey that’s just me… 🙂

  3. Man I totally identify with this, my friend. It’s the blurry place between what you feel God has gifted you to do versus the possibility that He might just do something completely different, which may not feel like a strength for a season, to test and deepen our reliance upon Him. Family changes everything about our priorities. As a married father of 4, many dreams over the past 10 yrs have been put on hold. Every moment waiting has been worth it to be there for my kids. My prayers are with you.

  4. Hi Brent
    A line from a song by Mike Cross from maybe 40 years ago has stuck with me all these years “Life’s what happens when your makin’ other plans…”
    I’ve had a lot of indy cuts and I’ve heard my songs on the radio a lot of times but I’ve never in my 47 years of songwriting been able to”make it” without the day job…even sometimes the day and night job.
    I have faith that you will be able to write “full time” again, you really turn a phrase well and your insights are very helpful to a lot of folks here. I would simply look at this as you just give too much ( of you) to not get to live how you visualize your dream.
    But man life sure happens when your makin’ other plans
    Much good fortune to you and yours and God Bless
    Just another fan, Terry

  5. Good word, Brent! Dignity aren’t something you get from a job–they are something you bring to it. Be the Brent–it works.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  6. It is the people in our lives who bring it meaning, not the things we own or our own solitary accomplishments. We live on within the memories of others, and those we touch most deeply will pass along our words and deeds. We ourselves are just a link in this chain. We connect those we loved and learned from in the past to those who are moving forward into the future.

  7. WOW – I get your blog in my inbox every post, so I read them all, but don’t always come here and comment. I had to this time… This post is much like a song. It started in one place and I had “this” reaction to it. I had already thought of how I would comment – then you threw a curve at me and I had “that” reaction.

    I *was* going to say that I agree – the day job is not the fulfilling part of my life. I have a job, but it’s not my passion. My wife has a job, but it’s not her passion.

    But then after the curve, I must admit that my family is my first passion! I am only now, at 47, really doing music “as much as possible” because the kids are grown and out of the house. When they were still there ALL of my time and my wife’s time was spent in support of their activities, etc. No I’m not thankful they are gone, and I would trade all the music in a heartbeat to have that life back, but the world has moved on. Now I spend as much time with my family as I can, but I also take advantage of the “other” time to pursue music. 🙂

  8. Brent, I feel you brother. This is something I think an awful lot about. You nailed it. Often times I feel I am my higher self when I’m with my (4) kids and sweet wife but to be honest, other time I don’t. Working for a living is not fulfilling. Working as hard as I can to free myself up financially translates into such limited time with the family and a “me” that’s so exhausted that I’m not very much fun to be around. Add upon that the feelings of guilt and remorse for not being more “present” and the strain on my marriage that sometimes comes from being torn. I am passionate about my family. I am passionate about music and songwriting. Why is it so hard to enjoy both AND get paid to be a full time songwriter?

    1. Cody,
      Yeah, marriage can be tough when you’re passionate about both your spouse and your music. Especially because music never gets onto you for dirty dishes on the sink or because you need to lose a few pounds. music doesn’t care. It can be a mistress- always there for fun and not asking more than you want to give. Of course, the same can be said for anything you make a mistress- football, alcohol, porn, food, etc.

      1. Brent, if I were you I’d seriously consider becoming a songplugger. That would enable eyou to pitch your own songs along with other writers songs you deemed good enough to be pitched. I don’t know what your other job is but if you could, let’s say get 10 writers paying you $500.00 a month on average, that’s $5,000.00 a month and you could grow from there. It’s also something you could ease into keeping your present job until you had a base monthly income amount you’re comfortable with leaving your present job for.

        1. Thanks, Jeff. Honestly, I’d have to ramp up my network of producers, managers, etc. before I’d feel comfortable taking anyone’s money for songplugging. Thanks for the suggestion, though!

  9. Great post! Whether it is or isn’t… I think the feeling that is there when we are being our highest self is undeniable. Now the highest us, to others could always be a different story. Being selfless, by design, doesn’t usually allow us to feel like our highest self in the moment, but through others being their highest self, because of our highest selflessness.

  10. Thanks for your insight Brent, I feel the same way. And it feels good to know, there are those that are seriously pursuing this career that still face the same challenges the rest of us do. If you haven’t read War of Art by Stephen Pressfield yet, I highly recommend it! Addresses this very issue. Thanks again.

    1. Chris, I keep hearing nothing but good things about that book. It’s on my Amazon Wish List, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I need to. Sounds like it’d be well worth the time investment. Thanks for the suggestion!

  11. Okay, I know this is a couple days after the post and I have wordplay to do but I just put the guitar down after finishing my first verse on my new song and behind on my route which is my job my own business that feels like a job,day job. But I have been wondering something, I believe your still in Nashville selling insurance or door to door salesman(don’t know what just yapping) wondering why you don’t push your publishing company more. I believe publishers are out there hitting he pavement like you. And developing songwriters like you do. To me you are on the cutting edge of finding a diamond in the rough. I think you probably touch 300 or better songwriters with your post and its going to grow. People charge for the info you give us. I am going to go one step farther and say I would rather pay you than the other organization I am paying. You do 10 times as much for me than they do. Maybe I am not using them like I should but you are in my inbox at least 3 times a week. Here I go rambling again as time ticks and I have to figure out what route stops I am going to skip lol. Not sure what a publisher does but I think part of his job is developing songwriters. You must love doing man vs row So why not take this one step farther? Put on a man vs row song contest charge us 30 dollars. Give everyone a short critique and the winner a chance to write with the man himself. 300 x 30 we are all behind you and want you to be able to continue this Just thinking out of the box. Anyways got to run. The day job awaits. A half a day job sounds better

    1. Hey Mark, maybe Brent will be talking about that when he presents at the Songriting Music Business Conference in a few weeks…? – I’ll be there!

      1. I amI not sure if I can make it there yet but what I think would be cool if all the man vs row followers would all sit together

        1. I would LOVE to shake hands, get pics, and visit with as many “Row Warriors” (is that cheesy?) as can make it to the conference!

          Also, all you guys are awesome. I don’t post any of my personal stuff in order to garner sympathy or whatever- I post that stuff to be honest about what the writer’s life is (for me) in hopes that it will serve and prepare you guys. It’s about helping you achieve YOUR goals. To see how some of y’all are turning that around and are offering advice and support to me is just humbling and makes me very thankful to have you out there. Thanks.

          1. We could all wear a certain color wristband, hat or shirt on one of the days…? I had an idea to be remembered… that I think I’ll steer clear of. Wear pink tights to yoga one morning, even though I’m a 350 Cajun that’s never done yoga…? We could all do that! Or most logical might be a side meetup during one of the breaks?

  12. I too feel that tug of war between doing what I want versus doing what I need to do at this particular time in life. The decision is complicated by a growing awareness that our days on Earth are of a finite number and dreams may be left unrealized. I guess getting to do something of what you desire is better than not doing any portion of it…???

    1. Let me share some thoughts with all of you. First, if an individual is young and doesn’t have serious financial responsibilities and wants to be a professional songwriter then they should pack their things and move to Nashville. They should get whatever job they can get that allows them to support themselves while they hone their songwriting skills, develop important realtionships in the music industry and learn the business. You can and should do that if you’re young and don’t have a wife and children you have a responsibility to. Ideally the job they would get is one in the music industry due to being able to make contacts through their job. However, if you’re not under 25 and do have financial responsibilities you can become a serious professional songwriter and keep the job you have and not move from where you presently live. It’s going to be harder and take longer, but you can do it if you approach songwriting, song demos and song pitching as a serious second occupation. That means truly learning the business, continually doing everything you can to become as good a songwriter as those currently getting cuts, which means writing with those better than yourself, reading everything you can get your hands on about songwriting, learning what a great song is and isn’t, having high quality professional demos done of great songs sung by great vocalists and either taking the time and driving or flying the distance to Nashville for the sole purpose of developing relationships with those you need to get your songs to like publishers and artists or hiring a reputable songplugger who has those relationships in place and thinks your songs are good enough to be pitched. Are the best songwriters living in Nashville? Yes. Are they all living there? No.

        1. Thanks, Brent. I try to help those seriously interested in songwriting/singing careers whenever I can with what I’ve learned over the years. The songwriting I know firsthand since that’s what I do on an almost daily basis and I’ve used and known many singers over the years and have witnessed and learned why they ultimately reached or failed to reach their goals as a major label artist. I’ve had friends signed by major labels and were dropped or left on their own in 24 months and I’ve had others that made it big including a cousin with six number 1 songs and millions of cd’s sold to date. Joe Diffie, Trisha Yearwood, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Buddy Jewel are just a few of the demo singers I’ve had. I’ve had songs carried by publishing companies owned by the likes of Hank Cochran, I’ve written with other songwriters who’ve had numerous number 1 songs and I’ve had songs cut and I’ve been abused by song holds. I still don’t know everything, but I continue to try and learn everything and continue to improve. You either get better or you get worse as a writer and which of the two happens is up to you. Finally, I was up until 3 a.m. this morning finishing a new song and before going to bed sent a message to a female independent artist that I think has a very good chance of being signed by a major label. The message to her was that I thought she’s an outstanding vocalist, the 4 song cd was very good and two of the 4 songs were great. However, I told her on one of her songs you could distinctly hear the sound of her guitarist’s fingers sliding on the strings as he changed chords and it took away from the song. I hope she takes that in the spirit it was given. God Bless.

  13. I can see this post spoke to a lot of us. I too have to balance time with 3 kids, a wife, day job, weekend job, and songwriting/publishing. I gotta say, I definitely realize it’s first a blessing. Not many are blessed to have a spouse, kids, or a job. And ultimately, it’s always family first.

    With that said, over the past 10 years (I’m 28 now, been married since 21), I’ve realized that I am finally on the right track with taking care of my responsibilities first, and continuing to put in the time, effort, and prayer towards my songwriting career. I have left two full time jobs in the past 10 years to try it as a full time songwriter. But each time, it was too much of a financial strain, and an emotional strain.

    There is something special about being able to use a skill (for a day job) for the benefit of others, even when it is not our passion, yet still pursuing what is truly for us. We should continue to embrace our journey, because I don’t see any one of us giving up.

    I really enjoy reading and sharing out experiences here. Brent, your blog is becoming a social network! I am looking forward to following those that have commented here. God bless you all, and let’s each pray for each other in our journey.

    1. Jared, welcome to the conversation- thanks for adding some great thoughts to it. Yes, prayers for everyone- the more the better! We all need the support of others. It’s a long, difficult journey. But what a ride!

    2. In the current music business environment, unless you are rich from previous songwriting royalties like a Dean Dillon or Bob DePiero should be, or you have a sweetheart staff publishing deal as a staff writer which pays a high base salary and benefits you’d be crazy to give up a good job to write full time unless you’re young with minimal financial responsibilities. Those sweetheart publishing deals are pretty much a thing of the past. Try developing a relationship or relationships with bands or artists you believe have the talent to make it big. Write for them or cowrite with them and make yourself a valued part of what they’re trying to do. Find a way to hitch yourself to rising stars.

  14. This hits home for sure. Similar to “Quitter” and “Start” by Jon Acuff. Thankfully I read those a few months back and have been doing my best to give “my best self” to my job even though I’m not paid for “my best self ” haha

  15. Interesting thought…….. But then what do you do when you know inspiration has come from a higher source and yet you your self lack the skills to fully develop the song beyond lyrics and melody? I have almost given up finding someone to collaborate and I’m learning to play the piano, hoping to be able to, at some point, accompany myself. But in the mean time it hurts to know you have created something worth while with a great message and virtually no one can listen because it is not really finished beyond a simple recording of myself singing acapella.

    1. Mark,
      Thanks for joining in. That’s a tough one, for sure. If God has given you a message, just do your part and He will provide whatever you need to reach the audience HE wants that message to reach. Some songs might just be for you and Him. Others might not be.

      I wouldn’t give up on finding a cowriter, though. That’s something I need to dive into on a future post, but there are online resources and ways to even cowrite remotely (Skype, Google Hangout, etc.).

      Maybe some of the MvR community has some wisdom on how they’ve found good cowriters.
      God bless,
      Brent

      1. I don’t do much co-writing. And when I do it’s with the select few. However, for unestablished writers I would reccomend joining NSAI, TAXI or any number of songwriter associations in your area. That’s where you’d meet potential co-writers. Introduce yourself to local bands in your area to see if they’re interested in co-writing.

  16. I’m at the opposite end of this spectrum…I put the dream on hold to be the best Mom, Wife and teacher I could be …and now that my baby (daughter #3) has graduated college, I decided to retire from teaching and give the dream a fair shot . I’m making my first demo in Nashville at the end of July and I can’t wait….finally it’s MY time after all these years… btw I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.

      1. Thanks Tommy! Check out American Songwriter Magazine this month (July/August 2014) My lyrics won 2nd place!!

  17. Jeff,

    In my experience, unsolicited negative criticism (like you did with the indie singer) is not going to get us the results we want with anyone contacted cold. I would focus on asking the artist to listen to/consider a song you had for them, and let the flaws go un-mentioned. In other words, a totally positive approach.

    The only place for critique is when someone specifically asks for it, or pays for it. And even then, it’s best to tread very gently…

    Just a thought, since obviously you want to work with her if possible.

    1. What negative criticism are you referring to? I’ve sent 2 tweets to Sahara Starr in recent memory. One last night that said “Wildfire'” is muy, muy bueno and if major label executives weren’t beating on her door they were crazy. The other if I recall correctly was a compliment on her song/singing and I told her I had a song that I felt would be good for her if she got a record deal. Is that what you’re referring to?

    1. Why are some having a personal debate/discussion via this thread? It sure seems irrelevant to the original post to me. Thanks for keeping it clean and classy folks!

  18. TommyKib, I was simply addressing a comment made to me by Sully I find perplexing. I don’t know what he’s talking about.

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