Does having a day job make you a failure as a songwriter?

Man vs Row

You’re a songwriter.  You’re passionate about writing songs.  Maybe you’re pretty good.  Maybe you’re even excellent.  And maybe you feel called to do music- called by God or by “the universe.”  But you have a day job.  You haven’t been able to transition to doing music full-time.

Are you a failure?

We’ll get back to that in a second.  First, let me tell you about a guy named Paul.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Apostle Paul.  Paul was passionate.  He was also very, very successful- widely considered the greatest Christian missionary in history.  He was literally called by God to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If there’s one guy who should’ve been able (and deserved) to follow his passion full-time, it’s Paul.

But Paul was also a tent-maker.

He made tents to help make ends meet.  At times, he’d work his day job during the week and chase his dream around it.  Sound familiar?

Tentmaker

Was Paul a failure because he didn’t pursue his passion full-time?

Of course not!  He was relentless in following his calling.  He went about it with passion and intelligence.  He never quit.  Even as he lived out his last days in a prison, he was writing letters to churches- letters which would become much of the New Testament.  And you can bet his jailers were getting an earful of the gospel!

paul prison

He was faithful to his calling, and that made him successful.  The results, he understood, weren’t in his control.  God didn’t “deliver” Paul from his day job (I sometimes wonder if that was the “thorn in the flesh” Paul talked about.  But that’s probably just my personal issues showing.).

God used Paul’s day job to fund some of his missions work.  There was a reason it was best for Paul to step back at times and make tents. (Read my blog post: “Day Job: A Songwriter’s Prison or Patron?“) What was God doing in his heart and mind during those hours that made him even more effective when he was preaching?

So if Paul, the greatest missionary in history, was not a failure in spite of his day job, you probably shouldn’t see yourself as a failed songwriter based on your day job status.  Maybe being a full-time songwriter isn’t the plan for you.  Or maybe this season is to prepare you for full-time writing later.  It’s sure not for me to say.

The question isn’t, “Am I able to write full-time?”  The question should be, “Am I being faithful to my calling?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please leave a comment!

1-to-1 Coaching

Want some personalized help and guidance for your songwriting journey?  I’ve just opened up some spots for 1-to-1 coaching.  I’m happy to be your “personal pro”- to give feedback on your songs, answer any questions I can, help you develop your song ideas, and discuss goals and “next steps.”  I also have some coach-writing spots open.  This is when you and I actually write a song together!  If you’re interested, CLICK HERE.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,

Brent

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.

Man vs Row

30 thoughts on “Does having a day job make you a failure as a songwriter?”

  1. Now you’re speaking my truth! I was wondering when you were going to hit this one. Most days I would like nothing better than to just stay home and write all day! Just not in the cards yet. Write whenever I can and keep working towards the goal in a few years of being able to do it full time. Gives me plenty of time to write enough great songs to impress a publisher hopefully. Thanks for another spot on post Brent!

  2. You had me at Day Job.. LOL! For me it’s a real quick answer and a real long answer.. LOL!

    First off you can’t be a failure at anything creative, really, because you always get something out of creating. However it’s probably way more common to be a financial failure as a songwriter, which could lead one to being a failure at other roles such as father, husband, etc. To me the only way to be a failure as a songwriter would be to never ever finish even a single song.

    I LOVE your comparisons on this one! I like that thorn in the flesh as well! It’s pretty hard to fail in ministry as well. You’d have never have ever helped anyone in the name of God.

    While being a full time songwriter and that means actually making my whole living that way would be awesome, for me, my priorities dictate that I need to provide for my daughter until she’s out and on her own. A non-songwriting “day job” makes that a much more achievable goal at the moment.

    If Paul’s tents were used to have meetings, teach about Jesus, bring others to Christ, then that was as much a part of his ministry as any Day Job could be.

    In my book, if you aren’t failing in life, in general, no matter what temporary failures might come your way, you’re still WINNING!

    You’re the one with the MBA.. but in business a business is only a failure, when it ceases operations. As long as you keep writing songs, you’re not a songwriting failure.

  3. The best statement is “Am I being faithful to my calling?”. As a “songwriter” who also has a mortgage, car payment, and now help support an aging parent, there are some things that I have to do to survive, like have a full-time non-songwriting job. Although I have had to even spend less time writing lately due to parental care-taking, I still attempt it if even for an hour or two a week. Failure would be to walk away from it completely, using any excuse to not go back.

    Would I like to go back to spending more hours writing? You bet! However, when life hands you some obstacles, you learn to deal with them as well as to keep what helps you from going insane.

    Failure would be surrendering the little available time for songwriting to watching TV or playing video games. Recently, I made the decision to give up one of my valued hobbies due to the fact that, with all that was going on in my life, I did NOT want to give up any songwriting opportunities.

    If you are pushing yourself forward, no matter how little, then you are not failing.

  4. Here’s my 2 cents. First, unless you have been signed as a writer by a publishing firm that pays a decent
    draw or you are getting cuts on your own regularly,
    you’d better have a day job unless you’re financially independent. Serious songwriting is not cheap. And the draws that publishers are offering these days aren’t that great. Hold on to your job until you start making some serious royalties off of your songs. That’s the only smart thing to do.

  5. To answer your question “Does having a day job make you a failure as a songwriter?”

    No, having a day job is not what makes me a failure as a songwriter.

    Being ADD is at least part of the problem. 🙂

  6. Sometimes it can be overwhelming juggling my job (make that jobs), family, and everything else I do and still write. Not to mention trying to save money to make demos, go to Nashville. etc. But I love it. Why else would I do it. I love the comparison to Paul, he loved the Lord and did what it took to minister!

  7. I really needed to read this today, thank you for being a blessing to so many people through what you write about songwriting! 🙂

  8. Oh! Those are such a great words that you have spoken! Thank you very much for that! And true, finding the joy in the moment that you ARE! Thank you Brent! truly Rachel 🙂

  9. How is it possible I am just now discovering your blog? Gah! I have some catching up to do. Thanks for the article. I never knew Paul was a tent maker. That certainly brings some perspective.

  10. Brent, I tried so hard to make it my full-time occupation as a singer/songwriter. I wanted so badly to say that I did this for a living. At times, I have felt like a failure because I didn’t get the validation I was seeking in the way of major song cuts. Some of that was a certain degree of pride and some was perseverance. Some was probably just not having a healthy understanding of what success was. But after years of just getting by, I realized that being “full-time” just wasn’t happening for me. Thankfully, I always had a teaching degree, and reluctantly got a teaching job here in Nashville. Now, not only do I get to impact the lives of students with God’s love and grace, but I get to teach songwriting, poetry, and lead modern music groups at school. It took me a couple of years in to realize that I really been graciously given the opportunity to play music AND impact lives everyday, while “making tents.” I’m still writing songs consistently and playing out when I can. I think that it comes down to our perspective. Families appreciate A roof over their head and bills being paid on time too! -Joe

  11. Thanks for all the posts, everyone- and thanks for encouraging each other! Okay, the baby’s up and crying. Gotta go!

  12. Seeing this Post is absolutely divine intervention! I have a full time banking career, 4 grandkids with one more on the way, a husband, and grown daughters close by. I LOVE Writing and singing, but it is a challenge to follow my passion and still tend to other responsibilities. Music and inspiration are everywhere, though, so I try not to turn off the passion channel and drive. I know God’s got this! Thank you for such an inspiring post!!!

  13. I feel very fortunate to have a “day job” that I love, teaching a college success course to help my students discover their own dreams and clear the obstacles to achieving them. It’s my passion and gives me a sense of purpose in my life. It’s always been a dream of mine to write song lyrics, and the students have been some of my biggest supporters, encouraging me to take a class on it and give it a whirl. It was thrilling to announce to them today that I just won 2nd place in the lyrics category of the Great American Song Contest. Being able to walk the talk in what I teach feels great, and finding happiness in my work helps me to be a better songwriter because I’m in it for the pure joy of it. If I ever make a little money from it, that’ll be gravy. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun!

  14. I am a songwriter, Composer and poet. I have written 3 Christmas songs Fluffy Snow which I know will eventually be a hit. Key to Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming.

    I also have them on an album called Nutty Christmas for young kids.

    My compositions cover a very wide genre my favourite being Viennese Waltz.

    I am self employed being a care home entertainer. I am not earning riches in money but my music, poetry and entertainment puts many smiles on faces and that is far more rewarding.

    I am far from being a failure and my faith in the Lord will will prove this when he decides when my door with open.

  15. There are certainly times when having a day job can get in the way of writing! I’ve been trying not to let it get in the way of performing.

    On the other hand, my day job is (among other things) teacher, and I meet so many hundreds of inspirational people all the time that I wonder if my songs would be as good if I didn’t have it…

  16. Great question, and great use of the Apostle Paul. Wow, well I would like to say I have about seven day jobs since I am a consultant and business owner in addition to being a songwriter and composer. I think it is a lot BETTER that way. Interacting with people in all the walks of life I encounter is where I draw material. I can’t imagine just sitting in a room all day trying to write songs. I would have no material. But something can happen to me out in the world “on the job” and I can go home and write a song about it in ten minutes. I love having days jobs as well. It in no way makes me a “failure” of any kind. Variety is part of my personal success.

  17. I am working on writing full time, but it would take some kind of hefty advance from a publisher. The bills won’t pay themselves, that is why I have to work another job. I just need to figure out how to get the major publishers attention. I am making connections via social media, so I guess we will see.

        1. If you consider full time as writing being all that you do, you can’t until you have some meaningful cuts. Meaningful meaning either top 10 radio singles, or an album cut with one of the 10 to 12 artists in country music whow are selling albums that exceed 750,000 units in sales. And I wouldn’t quit a good paying job until I was getting regular cuts. It’s rough in Nashville now. A lot of great writers aren’t getting cuts. If you mean holding on to your existing job and writing great songs that someone would cut, yes you can do that. You can either be your own publisher and pitch your songs your self, along with hiring an administrative publisher when needed or you can develop a relationship with one or several publishers to pitch songs of you’re they like for half of your publishing. Get a reversion clause in place of no longer than 2 years. You will be paying for all your studio demos and copyright registration. However, you’ll have a job that allows you that. You’re not going to get any publisher to give you a draw higher than $40,000 a year, if that.

          1. Thanks for the advice Jeff Green. I usually make my own demos at my house with my equipnent. Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered using it so needless to say my end product doesn’t sound professional and after I pay the bills, I dont have enough to let an expert do it. I have managed to get a couple of pub deals with a couple of indie publishers, but no results so far with them.

  18. “Am I being faithful to my calling?” Wow…no. Thanks so much for the reality check today. 🙂 Now, to pick myself up, dust myself off, and find a way to get back at it.

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