Songwriting is an extremely tough and competitive business, and nobody builds a pro career without sacrifice and struggle. So if you want to be a pro, just accept that fact now. If you don’t want to sacrifice, that’s cool. Just don’t expect to ever be a pro songwriter.
But if you’re willing to sacrifice, I wanna help you out with my thoughts on the matter. Here’s my list of things you should be willing to sacrifice for your songwriting dream. Not that you MUST give up 100% of each of these things, but it may come close to that. Personally, I’ve sacrificed in each of these areas for years.
1. Vegging out.
Working toward your dream takes time, and the first thing that time should come out of is TV / gaming / net surfing. You DO need to relax from time to time. But if you’re hustling for your dream around a full-time job or school, you simply can’t afford to watch 2 – 3 hours of TV a day. I just almost never watch TV. If it’s on in my house, it’s because my wife or kids are watching something. Or my wife and I are spending a little time together “couch dating.” Even during football season, if I watch a game, I try to multi-task with something that doesn’t require my full attention, like working out, paperwork, folding laundry, etc.
2. Status symbols.
Let the Joneses keep up with themselves. You have more important things to worry about than “who has the newest car” or “who has the nicest clothes” and “who has the biggest house.” You have to be about impressing your listeners, not your neighbors. That car payment? That could be demo money. And I don’t know about you, but a platinum record hanging on the wall is a lot prettier than a shiny stack of car payments sitting in the driveway.
3. 100% spending.
You gotta learn to live on less than you earn. You gotta save money. Putting money back is going to help you survive the financial (possible) ups and (definite) downs of the music biz. Get on a written budget and stick to it. Otherwise, the money that could feed you in 5 years when you’re between publishing deals will slowly be spent on beer, movie tickets, 3-star verses 2-star restaurants, trips to Gatlinburg or Tunica, etc.
4. Entitlement mentality.
There are no participation trophies given out on Music Row. There’s no such thing as a “consolation cut,” either. Nothing will be given to you based on how bad you want it. Yes, there is some luck (or divine providence) involved, but luck is a horrible strategy. No, you will mostly earn success or failure based on the value that you add to others in the biz. That value may come in the form of great songs, genuine friendships, or something else. But you have to put to death the notion that if you show up and “kinda” work hard that the universe owes you success. ‘Cuz it doesn’t.
Are you willing to wait tables at Cracker Barrel even though you have a master’s degree? That’s what I did when I moved to Nashville. And I won’t lie- sometimes it stung to know I’d spent 6 years in college to get a degree plus my MBA. Yet there I was, refilling coffee and slinging hashbrown casserole. But it helped me survive my first year in Nashville, and I’m thankful for it. But that’s not the only way you might need to sacrifice your ego. Are you willing to take criticism? Are you so intent on getting better that you look for the lesson in a negative song review instead of protecting your pride and not learning anything? Are you willing to admit that your writing needs to get better? Are you open to the possibility that the folks getting songs on the radio might know something or have skills that you don’t?
6. Hobby work ethic.
If you want songwriting to be your business, you can’t treat it like a hobby. Pros don’t wait to feel inspired before they write. They write to invite inspiration. You have to be willing to do the hard, uncomfortable things. If you want songwriting to be a hobby, that’s awesome. Songwriting is a great hobby, just don’t expect to treat it like a hobby and get cuts.
7. Your hometown.
If you wanna go pro- if you REALLY want to go pro, you should seriously consider moving to a major music center. Not that you 100% HAVE to move, but being in a town like Nashville seriously increases your chances of success. Why? It’s a lot easier to learn and improve your craft when you’re in a community of songwriters. It’s easier to make music biz connectors when you eat at the same places, know the same people, etc. It also forces you to make a very real commitment to your songwriting goals. If you’re serious about this, you might have to break your mama’s heart.
8. Counterproductive friendships.
Choose friends you can rise with, not friends you have to rise above. Seek out friends who inspire you, challenge you to raise your game and encourage you to be your best. As you gravitate to these people, you’ll find you have less time and energy for friends who bring you down, discourage you, or cause too much drama. It sounds harsh, but if you wanna run with the stallions, you gotta stop rolling in the slop with the pigs.
Finding a songwriter who builds even a short-term career in music is rare. Finding one who does it without years of struggle is even more rare. If you’re only going to give it a year before you quit, you might as well quit now. This is not a get-rich-quick business. You most likely will NEVER get rich, and definitely not quickly. It takes a long-term commitment.
Knowing you’ll have to sacrifice- and being willing to do so, is how pro songwriters think. And if you want to become a pro, you need to think like a pro. 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…
- How to get on a music publisher’s radar
- How the pros know who is looking for songs
- Six simple ways to make your songs more commercial
- And more!
God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,
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.