Your Songwriting Career – Taking the Small Steps

© I.Woloshen

One question I get all the time from new songwriters is…”I want to be a hit songwriter (singer, star, etc.) What do I do?” Man! That’s always a HUGE question!

If you decided to climb Mount Everest, would you go there without any plans, without any other thought, and just start climbing? Probably not! But the equivalent of that in songwriting/performing happens ALL THE TIME!! I just met a songwriter who, as an adult, decided to write some songs for the first time, and immediately after getting them demoed went straight to Nashville! It’s admirable, of course, that someone would have SUCH determination so early, but he definitely learned a few things from that experience. Was it a waste of his time? Certainly not, but he realized how far he had to go before he was ready to pitch his songs.

If you’re a hot-blooded songwriter, you have little time or patience for all of the rest of it, all you feel is the fire in your belly to write. You have to spend as much time as you can getting those gems out, but at some point you might start considering how you’re going to get the rest of the world to hear them. Rather than take this from the perspective of an artist or performing songwriter, let’s just consider the songwriter.

There are several ways to get your songs heard. One is to go to an open mic, where you can have the opportunity to play to an audience that doesn’t have a vested interest in you 🙂 Open mics can often be found in the “what’s happening” section of your daily newspaper. Sometimes pubs or bars or even coffeehouse-type venues will hold these events on slow nights just to get something happening. Folk clubs are another place where you might find the opportunity to play. Do some research and find an open mic venue in your area. This might be a HUGE step for some of you, so another “first step” to take is to join a songwriter’s group of some kind.

You can be really grass-roots about it and put up a notice in a local music store looking for other songwriters who might like to get together once in awhile to listen to each others songs. Or you might also consider joining an organization such as NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Assoc. International) or SAC (Songwriters Assoc. of Canada) or any other organization in your area or country, where you will find a good support system and the opportunity to meet and play with other songwriters and even people in the music business. These organizations will go a long way to help educate you and to give you lots of information on the business of music.

An excellent source of information on the music industry is a book called “Songwriters Market” which comes out every year with a fresh crop of names and addresses of publishers, agents, record labels, and lots of useful articles on the subject of songwriting and the music business. Go to your local library or book store and look for a copy. It can also be ordered online from several places…one of my favourites is the Muse’s Muse book ordering page. There are also some excellent books there on the subject of songwriting. I don’t read songwriting books too much, but most of my songwriting pals swear by them…some that are frequently mentioned are “The Craft & Business of Songwriting” by John Braheny, “Tunesmith” by Jimmy Webb, and “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison. All can be ordered from the Muse’s Muse.

What is the point of doing all of these things? Why not go straight to a publisher and start pitching your songs? It amazes me how many people start mailing tapes off to publishers BEFORE THEY’RE READY! That’s the point…are your songs ready? You might think they’re perfect (which of course they ARE 🙂 but remember who your competition is! Every great songwriter with a hundred hits already under her/his belt who is still actively pitching their songs…that’s your competition! Can your songs stand up to that?

It’s REALLY important to expose your songs to other people in order to get an understanding of how they stand up. I don’t mean your family, either 🙂 Other songwriters can and will help you with feedback, the organizations I mentioned above will do the same. Don’t jump the gun, take those small steps and you’ll start to build your confidence in your songwriting as you go.

This next point is a sticky one. So let’s say you feel like you have a song or two that you’ve spent a lot of time crafting and it’s ready to be demoed. Do it yourself? Well, before you do, consider a few things. If you’re not a great singer, don’t really know how to use the equipment and have no idea how to create arrangements, you could spend the next 10 years learning…or you could try to find a studio close to you that could do it for you. I know, I know…you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person and how else are you going to learn these things? You’re right, you won’t learn unless you do it yourself, but take it from me, it’s going to be a LONG time before you really learn enough to be able to present your songs adequately. Going into another studio is another way to learn about the recording process, and you’ll meet other musicians and people who are trying to take the same path you are. I DO have an article for beginner recording if you INSIST on doing it yourself! But one thing that songwriters tend to do is to become pretty isolated…meeting other people is also a GREAT way to expose yourself and your music, and create a name for yourself! Okay, so now you’ve got a demo and had some positive feedback…time to send those songs off to the big name artists, right? Yikes! Unless you have some amazing contacts, it just ain’t gonna happen that way. I know, I know, yours is the perfect song for *put BIG NAME ARTIST here*, but how about somebody you can actually talk to at a concert or on the phone? Local artists are ALWAYS looking for material to perform…not only that, but they’re already OUT THERE playing all the time! Do some research, look for some local artists or a band who might be perfect for your song(s). Go to one of their performances, ask them if you can give them a tape. Be prepared. Look professional. Have a business card and mark your tape CLEARLY with all of your contact info. The first artist/group might not go for it…the second one might. Keep taking the small steps.

Now you’re a little further down the road, you’ve been getting your songs demoed, a couple of local acts have been performing them, one group recorded a song of yours…do you know what this is called? It’s called a “track record”! This is your background, your bio, your story. This is when you start pitching your songs to small publishers. The work you’ve done already gives you credibility, it shows you’re hard working and serious and publishers are ALWAYS looking for that! The pitching process is a whole other process, I’ve written another article on it here.

This is what I mean by taking the small steps…if you take enough of them, they will inevitably lead to bigger ones. Don’t run off to Nashville with your first three songs and become disheartened and disillusioned, just take the next step, and the next. And let me know when you get your first cut 🙂

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  1. Thanks man, that was very educational. I’m looking forward to my plans to get those steps going. Its not easy working a full-time job AND trying to zero in song writing skills.

    1. Thanks a good guide for beginners who are new to this song writing world. I get the feeling that this has to be in your belly to succeed.

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