“Success” is a relative word, and your idea of it can change as you inevitably do. For instance, in my teens and 20’s (ugh!) I measured success by my position, my income and the number of friends I had. Well, the part about friends hasn’t changed much 🙂 But everything else has!
These days I define my success much more simply…I ask myself, am I doing what I want and love to do? Most of the time, I’m happy to say, the answer is yes! But it took me a long time to get here…
I believe that the largest hurdles we have in front of us are the ones we put there ourselves. Never mind what the “others” say, what are the things you tell yourself? Have you ever listened to your own thoughts? I know, that sounds weird and new agey, but have you? What kinds of things do you tell yourself? Do you encourage yourself and keep a positive attitude, or do you tell yourself over and over “I’m a terrible writer, I can’t do this, I’m not going to make it”? Creative people, on the whole, tend to be extremely sensitive…it is that sensitive part of ourselves that gives us the insight to our own creative juices, but it can also be a burden. The downside to sensitivity is the old chip-on-the-shoulder syndrome when things aren’t going the way we’d like.
But knowing all of that, what can we do to get a little closer to our idea of success? Being songwriters, sometimes we lose our ability to come down to earth and establish some structure in our lives! But structure, organization, plans and work are all necessary ingredients! Here are a few steps you can take:
1. Identify – write out what your idea of success is! Sometimes we meander around the subject without really clearly identifying anything about it. What is success to you? You can give yourself a time line, if you like. “In five years I’d like to be…” Work your way backwards, all the way to what you can do today!
2. The Steps – what steps can you take to achieve your goals? Make two lists…one will be the more major steps (ie…I want to get a publishing deal, I want to record a CD…etc.), the other will be the little steps! I can tell you right now that the little steps will be the most important!! For instance, if you want a publishing deal, there are several things you need to do to make that happen. You need to identify the publishers who might be interested in your songs, you have to have a decent recording of your songs, you need to collect addresses, make a list of who you’ve sent to, etc., etc.
Perhaps your primary goal is to become a better writer. Well, that goal is never off my list! Again, you would benefit by sitting down and determining what it is that YOU NEED in order to begin achieving that. Do you need to improve your lyric skills? Do you need to be around other writers? A few visits to some open mics? Are a couple of piano lessons in order?
3. Be Prepared To Change – For heaven’s sake, if something isn’t working, let it go! It’s okay to move onto something else! Stubbornness and determination are admirable qualities, until they are just plain stupid!
4. Opportunity Meeting Preparedness – I’m sure you’ve heard that expression before. People who have achieved success weren’t just sitting around waiting for it to fall into their laps. Well, most of them anyway! They were able to recognize an opportunity when it hit them square in the face. You may think that is obvious…but you can never be sure exactly when it’s going to hit, or how. A little story, if I might: When I’m almost finished recording a song, I tend to make a DAT copy of it (digital audio tape) just so I can have it there to listen to for myself, and for whatever else I might need it for. A couple of months ago, my husband and I had a business meeting with an old friend in our home, not related to songwriting in anyway, just an investment opportunity. This friend brought his business partner with him, and we spent an hour or so discussing this new business. At the end of the talk, we started chit chatting about other things, and it so happened that this friend mentioned to his partner that I was a songwriter and had a studio downstairs. Lucky for me, I’d cleaned it that morning 🙂 So I invited them down to see the studio. I happened to have my DAT machine hooked up with the tape in it, and my friend wanted to hear the latest version of Catnip (a song he’d participated in recording). It JUST SO HAPPENED that his business partner was ALSO a songwriter and NOT ONLY THAT, but he had a line on a guy who was looking for material for an up and coming group, so I played him some of the songs…was that a coincidence? No, it was opportunity meeting preparedness 🙂 What comes of it doesn’t matter, but I was ready!
5. Critical Line – ever heard of this expression? It refers to the steps that have to be taken in order to achieve goals. Even at their jobs, most people spend a great deal of time doing the peripheral things that aren’t getting them any closer to getting the job done. Like sharpening pencils and tidying the desk, or getting distracted by something entirely un-job-related. Try to spend 1/2 an hour each day completely devoted to your critical line…doing something you need to do, even if it’s just a boring “little step”. Time is everything! So is discipline!
6. Discipline – is not one of my strong points. I consider myself a naturally lazy person, and have had to battle with myself most of my life to do what I need to do. This can be applied to just about anything in your life…but in order to succeed, you need discipline! Instead of throwing too much on yourself too quickly, take those “little steps”…see how important they are? But taking just one of those will make you feel better! And when you feel better, you’re likely to do more! It’s magic 🙂
7. More Irons in the Fire! – I know you’ve heard quite the opposite…that you can’t have too much on the go, but I’m here to tell you that when it comes to writing songs, the more your songs are “out there” the better it is for you! I don’t mean that you should be careless about it, BUT, if you’ve ever listened to some of the stories of how songwriters got their music heard, most of them had quite a long trail of opportunities. Someone just happened to hear a recording in the other room that someone’s cousin was playing that just happened to be sitting on the top of a pile…you know what I’m saying? Great songs aren’t just AUTOMATICALLY HEARD BY ALL THE “RIGHT” PEOPLE! It can take years for a great song to get the attention it deserves! So multiply your opportunities…let other people perform your song, play them at every chance, let people hear ’em!
8. Diversify – You’ve heard the saying “putting all of your eggs in one basket”. Having any kind of career in music means you have to diversify. The statistics are that less than 1% of songwriters make more than $5000 a year from their writing. That means that more than 99% of us have to have some other kind of income. I teach guitar, write music for television, write and perform…when some areas are not as profitable or emotionally satisfying, others are! As long as it is music-related, I’m happy. If it comes down to employment (and it inevitably does!), try to find work that is related somehow to your music, or at the very least, find work that allows you to BE a songwriter, go to open mics, or run off to the bathroom and record an idea when you have one 🙂 Then again, a job that is completely non-music related is sometimes perfectly satisfying! I’ve met writers who LOVE songwriting, but also love their jobs. Wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂
Okay, well there you have it…some ideas as to how you can achieve your idea of success. You know, half the time I write these articles as much for myself as I do for you 🙂