Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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It’s a wonderful time to be a student of anything. Information is instantly at your fingertips with the internet. But for songwriters there is a possible downside to this: it’s actually possible to be writing music in, for all intents and purposes, complete isolation. Getting your music out there, heard by other people, is a crucial part of your development as a songwriter.
This week I am adjudicating at the Atlantic Band Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’s an opportunity not just for me and others to hear the results of the hard work many of these young musicians have been putting into their ensembles. It’s a vital part of the process of becoming better musicians.
And these musicians and their conductors know it. There are bands from all over Canada and the USA “competing” at this festival. I put competing in quotes because in a very real sense, the only competition here is with themselves. These musicians play to a standard of performance, and any one band’s achievement is unaffected by how another band does. It is actually possible at this festival for all bands to get gold.
And while that’s important, you simply have to ask a conductor why they’re here, and every one of them will tell you that the playing of music in front of other musicians makes them better.
Leaving aside for the moment the value of playing in front of an adjudicator, it really is quite simply all about the value of playing for others.
Which gets me to you, and your songwriting activities.
If you aren’t getting your songs out there, and performing them for others, you are missing out on a crucial opportunity to get better at what you do. Singing your stuff for others gives you the chance to hear honest audience reactions. And while that is something that takes guts, and is something you may not be anxious to hear, it’s so important.
Songs written in isolation that stay in isolation have a way of missing the mark. I don’t know of a single musician who has ever benefited from keeping their songwriting as a personal and private activity. If you want to improve, you’ve got to find ways to get your songs out there.
If you’re worried that others will dislike your songs, let’s get this part straight: You will encounter people who will dislike your songs. It’s OK. That’s not because your songs are bad; it’s because the human race is large and varied, and everyone has their own tastes. You will get people who dislike your music, and it is not an indication that you should change or stop. It’s normal.
Playing your songs for others, though, will give opportunities to people you care about, and who care about you, to give you honest feedback. And then it’s up to you what you choose to do with that feedback. If feedback gives you nothing else, it should at least give you a chance to think about your music.
And thinking about the music you’ve written is the step that’s necessary to becoming better. Your songwriting skill will die in isolation. Only by getting your songs out there and heard by others can you improve.
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