Determining the Definition of Success in Songwriting

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music staff paper and pencilOne of the most common causes of a creative block is the fear of failure. In fact, it might be better to call the fear of failure a symptom rather than a cause, since that fear typically comes from something else. Nevertheless, it’s important as a songwriter that you get a handle on exactly what’s causing the fears that stifle your creativity.

The fear of failure usually means that you aren’t measuring up to your mental image of what you think success is. So if you want to control your fears and keep songwriting a happy, enjoyable experience, you need to define success. And as you will agree, success is different depending on the personality of the musician.

In my experience, when composing music becomes frustrating and causes more anxiety than joy, it’s because the songwriter has unrealistic expectations regarding where their favourite activity is heading. I know from the emails that I often receive that many novice songwriters believe that if only more agencies, managers, producers and performers could hear their music, they’d be writing songs professionally. They just need to break in to the market.

If that’s your plan for making songwriting a career, you’ve set unrealistic expectations, and that leads to frustration. Frustration then leads you to second-guess the quality of what you’re writing, and bingo! Songwriter’s block has grabbed hold.

To keep yourself sane, happy and productive, success in songwriting needs to be measured on a song-by-song basis. For every song you write, you need to say yes to all of the following statements:

  1. My new song represents an interesting musical journey for the listener.
  2. My new song builds energy over time in a way that keeps the listener captivated.
  3. My new song feels even better than the one I wrote before.
  4. My new song has something about it that keeps the listener humming once it’s finished.

If you can say ‘yes’ to those things, you’ve achieved the most relevant definition of success there is. And you’re ready to start the next tune.

The best thing you can do at that point is to build your own audience base for your music. Don’t sit in your room trying to figure out which rock star you should send the tune to. Get your own performing career going, improve your writing skills, and most importantly, get fans of your own.

Most great songwriters these days are discovered because they’ve got their own fan base, people who love their music, and who will wait to hear what you come up with next. To people in the industry, a fan base proves to them that your music sells. Without your own following, you’re a shot in the dark that most industry professionals won’t risk pursuing.

So the definition of success should be on the song-by-song basis. If you’re waiting for Adele’s manager to perform your song, it’s not going to happen, particularly not by sending it off and waiting for a phone call. If anything, that’s a definition for failure waiting to happen.

Gary Ewer is the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music”, available through, Barnes & Noble, and Hal Leonard Books.

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