I had an interesting insight the other day and I have been trying to give it words.
I have been writing songs and performing for over forty years. I have played as a solo act and I have played guitar and been the front man for a number of bands. I was even offered a development deal with MGM long ago. I was a building contractor most of that time and played and recorded every time I could. My entire porfollio of songs is now placed with a publishing company. I enjoyed the journey. But for the sake of this article the two things I have always done, all the time, is to play guitar, sing, and write songs. So what does this long scroll of years reveal? And how is this article going to now offer some helpful tips to the songwriter/performer?
In an odd way this will be an article about success, but not in the way you may think. The world would have it that success means making tons of money, and being known on sight by millions of people. That vision would less importantly include that you are gifted in some way in that you are able to produce a consistent artistic product – the rest is noise, business, nonsense and the dissolving of any possibility of you having any privacy. The reality is that a person’s success can only be determined individually by the person involved with making the ‘product.’
I am not saying that I wouldn’t love a song of mine being picked up by a recording artist and go to the top of the charts. But would I say that I am successful if that happens or would I say ‘Just two more in the top ten’ and then I’ll be successful? So herein is the reason for this article.
No matter where a person is on their artistic journey the thought of success is in the mix. The questions become: 1. “How will I know I have it?” 2. “Will I be happy when I do?” 3. “What is next after I have it?” 4. “What if it wasn’t the success I wanted?”
I am not going to make you wait for the answers by having to read through a page full of my, albeit brilliant, opinions. Here are the answers:
1. You won’t – no matter what you do the next thing to do will be in front of you. You will acquire the temporary trappings of success but without an ongoing project you won’t feel successful. The best you can hope for is a sense of accomplishment.
2. I don’t know. If you are a happy person now you probably will be then. If you are an unhappy person now you no doubt will be an unhappy person then. I have come to learn that happiness is self generating – in my case always working on a project makes me happy – successful or not.
3. The next thing that you hope will make you a success – sorry no prize here. If you are alive there is always more to do.
4. Oh well! The thing about any possibility in life is that you don’t have the knowledge or tools right now to see what knowledge and tools you will have in the future.
I know none of this seems helpful because even after reading this you sit there with your great voice, a notebook of pretty good songs you wrote, guitar or piano just off to the right, CDs you recorded colorfully stacked on your desk, a small book of passwords to all the music sites your music is posted up on and you still want to be a success.
Now here is the good and the bad news:
Success is always attainable. There are seminars, and books, and tapes, and CDs…. There will always be people who are successful telling you that success is attainable. They do that by telling you how successful they are selling you a seminar on success. That may seems snarky I know but you gladly pay them to tell you just that and they are right.
Here’s is the bad news:
Success is the end result of some effort. You can’t realize it because it is not easily quantifiable. If selling a million records is success why must there be an award show. Wouldn’t selling that many records mean you are successful? If you had a million fans on Reverb Nation would you be successful? If your song was on every radio station in America would you be successful? The answer will probably be no, because you would always feel as if there was more that had to be done.
And some more good news:
Failure is not an end result but more than often just a point along the way. Not done yet!
So let’s change the language a bit. Success is the result of an effort that meets all your planned expectations. Oh crap! That is already limiting and by definition not successful.
You can see the problem.
Success is incremental, steps along a journey marked by effort and accomplishments. Success is built on one accomplishment laid down one upon another. Success is attainable if your eye isn’t on success as a destination but as a process.
Now I can tell you the secret. The first magic word is INTENTION. The 2nd magic word is AWARENESS. The 3rd magic word is COURAGE.
Intention is the fuel in any artistic endeavor. The wanting of something is the first step.
Awareness is the beginning of any artistic endeavor. Self- knowledge without self delusion is a powerful tool.
As a performer and a singer/songwriter there are a gaggle of issues mixed up in the soup. You have to write songs – so what genres do you write in? Have you ever written or studied poetry? Have you studied the differences in lyric writing within different genre forms? Do you even know what genres are? Or are you so brilliant that you just write you own style – your art. If you perform with a guitar or piano – do you play well – do you know any music theory – if you play guitar do you know all the chords? Do you know the fret board? Do you know anything about music composition? Are you a singer – do you think your voice is good? Do you sing in key – have you ever taken any lessons? Have you ever listened to your recorded singing voice? Have you played in front of an audience? Friends? Fans? Strangers? Do you have any performance skills or do you just wing it? Are you naturally charismatic or is public performance awkward for you? Are people willing to pay you to sing? Ever do any Busking? Coffee House tips? Bar gigs? Shows? If you answered any of these questions without rationalizing, justifying, or defending yourself you are well along the journey towards success. There is a lot to do and learn in any vocation or avocation. Doing an honest inventory of your skills and weaknesses is important.
Courage is the foundation of any artistic endeavor.
Once you have done your personal inventory and you see what works in you and what doesn’t it is necessary to go a bit further and this is where it can get scary. Even though you think you are a fully actualized person who knows themselves very well indeed, chances are there will still be a little self-delusion. The show American Idol has made the crushing reality of self- delusion their ‘Good TV’ at the beginning of each season, as crying and cursing hopefuls have there never possible dreams dashed against the rocks of reality. I don’t say this to be mean spirited. These young people are courageous for even trying out. It’s just a shame that all it would have taken is a little honest hard work and self –awareness to know that they were not ready.
Misplaced courage can be replaced with courageous self-improvement. If you know you have talent then don’t be afraid of constructive and honest criticism. Such critiques already acknowledge you as talented and capable and that there is a foundation of skill and talent that can see and make the adjustments and improvements. (If you remember nothing else about this article remember this last paragraph.)
Here are helpful steps I have sought out:
- Take classes in poetry or lyric writing. Learn forms and structure.
- Learn lyric writing styles within genres.
- Write, write, write. Most of your songs are not good!!! Sorry but it’s true. Okay! That’s not fair – I know some of your songs are pretty good. Your friends like them – people ask for you to play them. But tell the truth – have you written your best song yet? I have been writing for 40 years and I have a couple hundred songs that still work. The rest … well! I keep them so can steal lines from them. Good songwriting is about output – there are no magic formula for writing a hit – no matter what you have been sold. There are rules, structures, and word usage that give the songwriter a better chance at selling a song, but mostly it’s just work, time acquired skill, and a little help from the muse.
- Collaborate with another songwriter, play with other musicians whenever you can.
- Allow your songs to be critiqued. This will speed you up as a songwriter. Having a skilled ear listening and suggesting fixes is invaluable.
- Take music lessons in your chosen instrument.
- Learn a little musical theory. If not then learn the Nashville Method. It will help when working with other musicians and producers.
- Take some singing lessons. Allow your singing to be critiqued. Sometimes small corrections can make a huge difference.
- Record your songs – allow your recordings to be critiqued. It’s better if your first recordings be just you and an instrument, so that before you spend a fortune you can hear where you need work.
- Perform everywhere you can. Get comfortable in front of an audience in as many different venues as possible.
- Use a coach, someone who has been there and can objectively look at you as a performer/singer/songwriter and offer suggestions for improvement.
The best to you.
Ken Lehnig(c)2012 Songwriters Marketplace
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