Why I don’t play guitar- and play to my strengths instead.

Man vs Row

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

My guitar is in the garage. The strings on it are older than my son, Ozark. Yet, I’m a decently successful songwriter. How do I manage that?

Well, if you’ve followed Man vs. Row for very long, you know I’m a lyricist by trade. I don’t take a guitar to cowrites, I don’t write melodies, and I don’t sing or play out.

This way of operating has not been without consequence: I don’t get to put my face with my songs at writers nights. Cowriting with a non-playing artist can be tricky because we have to bring in a third cowriter. But I’m sticking with this way of thinking. Here’s why:

It allows me to focus and specialize.

I figured out early on that it’s better for me to be great at one thing (if I can be great at anything) than average at many things. Focusing on my natural strength (lyrics), allows me to have an identity as a writer. It gives my cowriters a reason to call me in on a song.

It’s more rewarding.

Focusing on my strength gets me better results than working on my weakness.  It’s a lot easier to take a strength up to professional level than it is to take a weakness up to professional level. It’s also a lot less frustrating than banging my head against the melodic wall.

It’s a more effective use of my time.

If I took my guitar to a cowrite, I’d feel obligated to pull it out. Then, I’d end up taking up our writing time by getting my cowriter to show me how to play a certain lick or sing a certain melodic line. That would distract us from the task at hand- writing a great song. If I’m solo writing, I’ll get a lot more done if I work on a lyric than if I try to write a melody.

I’m not saying that the way I work is the way YOU should work.

We each have our own unique mix of skills and challenges. What I hope to do with this post is to get you thinking about the best way for YOU to work. Maybe it’s focusing on just lyrics or just melody. Or maybe it’s doing both. Or maybe it’s something else. That’s up to you to figure out.

Playing to your strengths will lead to better songs.  However, how you apply those strengths can help you write market-smart songs (songs that have a competitive advantage in the commercial market).  If you want to discover more about how to write market-smart songs, check out my ebook, “Cut/able: Lessons In Market Smart Songwriting.”  Click on the image below or click here to write market-smart songs.

God Bless,

cutable 3d final white


8 thoughts on “Why I don’t play guitar- and play to my strengths instead.”

  1. As a lyricist also Brent this makes sense to me. Problem has been finding and keeping songwriter/musician collaborators. There have been a few, very few, and also a few ‘rough’ demo’s completed. They insist that there’s no conflict – we did freely collaborate, and enjoyed doing so – and that they believe my lyrics are good (even very good!) That of course is for others to decide, although if I didn’t believe that they were worthwhile I wouldn’t be kidding myself otherwise. But they have gone their way and I kinda lose steam for a while, until someone like you kindles the fire again!

  2. I get it, this is why I upload more melodies than full songs. Although I do believe that practice will make you better. And I would rather practice and be at least comfortable with both than just ignore the thing that makes me less good. But I guess that is a personal preference.
    Enlightening post though, I was under the impression that professional songwriters always had to use instruments. So thank you!I Look forward to reading more!

  3. I mostly agree with what you are saying. My fiancee is a great lyricist, sometimes writing prose that I do not have the musical level to deal with, but that’s okay because the lyrics still stand in their own write. Sometimes though, her words are so musical in their layout that a musical phrase or melody just jumps right out at me. So I’m like an antennae that picks up the signal and amplifies it.
    However, over the course of my life I’ve found that being real good at one thing “and” damn good at a few other things has helped me tremendously. I’m an above average guitar player but not a “guitarist” (…ist meaning “specialist” like say Danny Gatton who could play just about anything he was asked to play anyway you wanted or use his own interpretation) My “ist” has always been vocals and harmonica. I’ve also been a drummer. Being real good at one thing has helped me develop other strengths. I learned guitar because I was already a good percusionist and because I could sing harmonies very well (good ear) I developed harmonica playing to a fine level as well as improving my vocals. So to my way of thinking yes always go with your strengths first but use those strengths to develop those side talents. I got lots of work for just having a harmonica in my pocket at the right place and time, and if there was a need to fill like percussion their was another gig. I grew wide not tall.

  4. I am more of a lyrist than a melody person too..but I hear music as I write, Then I sing my songs on to a tape..At least I did
    wwhen I had a cassette player/recorder. They are hard to find.I use Pro demo makers.I
    would like to have some help with a story song.
    And would like to talk to a fiddle player about it.It will incorporate fiddle muaic.

  5. Thanks for your insight. I just love to play and sing music. I enjoy writing a little too. I enjoy the challenge of learning the guitar, keyboards, harmonica, and vocals. I just simply enjoy it and figure that I can’t help but to get a little better the more I do it. What the heck, do what you enjoy doing. I just enjoy the fun of the music and the people. I have no aspirations of playing out a lot or writing for Nashville. I don’t care for politics. It messes up my relationships with people and the opportunity to spread the good news.

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