Singer-Songwriter

How a Songwriter — or Any Musician — Should Measure Success

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” comes with an excellent Study Guide that’s meant to get your songwriting moving in the right direction. Also comes with a FREE eBook, “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.”


For practically anything you do there are established ways to determine if you’ve been successful. For some projects, like stacking a cord of firewood, success is easy to assess: is the wood secure and up off the ground? For the most part, it’s either a yes or no.

But songwriting comes with an added category: does my target audience like what I’ve done? You may have followed all the basic principles and guidelines of good songwriting, but ended up with a song that just doesn’t reach out and touch listeners. Yes, in songwriting you can do everything “right”, but end up with a bit of a dud.

It’s that way in all the arts, not just songwriting. Everyone has their own opinion as to who the best singer is, the best ballet dancer, the best playwright, the best painter — and it all comes down to a mixture of several things:

  1. adherence to basic principles of whatever artform you’re pursuing;
  2. your creative innovations within your chosen genre; and
  3. (possibly most importantly) the artistic taste of your target audience.

It’s that last item — the personal taste of your audience — that’s often trickiest to determine and please. People’s tastes changes over time, because we’re all subjected to new music, new art, and along with that, new expectations as to what’s good and what’s not.

Given all that, it’s difficult to determine what success really is in an art form like songwriting. Combine these thoughts with this very true statement: someone disliking your songs is NOT an indication that you’ve done something wrong. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is to please yourself.

Pleasing Yourself

When I was a high school choir director many years ago, I remember the year-after-year task of getting the choir ready for its appearance at the local music festival. Like anyone, I wanted my choir to do well, and I think I can be forgiven for wanting to win whichever class we were entered in.

Mind you, I didn’t obsess over winning. But winning, at least to me, meant that we had achieved a goal of sorts: we pleased at least one person with our performance: the adjudicator.

I remember one year we were performing “Dirait-on” by American composer Morten Lauridsen. (There’s a lovely recording of the Chamber Choir of Europe. Give it a listen, it’s an amazing piece.)

We worked hard to get the piece sounding as good as we could. It was a true labour of love. But there are moments that are hard to get just right, and like all student groups, sometimes we seemed to nail it, and sometimes not.

At the festival, it was our turn to perform. We started to sing, and it was sounding good. And as the song progressed, the choir sounded better and better: they were nailing it! It was an amazing five minutes.

But my point is this: By the time we were halfway through our performance, my nerves about what the adjudicator would think of our performance simply evaporated away. We were singing as well as we had ever sung, and to me, that was success.

With songwriting (and the performance of those songs) I can imagine that with some of the best albums of the pop genres — Sergeant Pepper, Thriller, Blue — there was likely a point where the musicians realized that they were nailing it. And it wasn’t because they thought that their audience was going to be so pleased… it was because they were pleased.

There will always be detractors, people who don’t like what you do, and that’s very normal and to be expected. So what it all comes down to is you. Are you pleased with what you’re doing?

And it’s a wonderful feeling to be “liberated” from the stress of always feeling that you have to please the public. Most of the time, the best way to please your public is to actually please yourself.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessThe best songwriters are best because of the power of the words they use. Read “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process” in order to become a better lyricist. It’s a FREE add-on to “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”

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