DAY 185 – the hunger become a successful songwriter
It seems like only yesterday I was a confused college student back at Baylor, living off scrambled eggs and Ramen noodles, studying pop songwriting and playing the open mic at the local coffee shop, wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Now here I am on the verge of the biggest music project I’ve ever attempted, and I’m feeling a little nostalgic and anxious at the same time…
I always get this way at New Year’s.
It’s good for me to take a step back every once in awhile and look at the big picture — to remember WHY I’m doing this. Without fail, the “hunger” to make this thing work comes rushing back to me every time. And you better believe I’m hungry right now.
From the time I decided to quit monkeying around with songwriting and give it a real shot, seven and a half years have passed. I’ve invested more time and money into this thing than I ever imagined. I’ve spent five of those years learning my craft as a songwriter, earning little to no money in the process, and I think I’m finally starting to get somewhere. But it’s painful.
See, during these past few months my best new songs have been torn to shreds by my producer and publisher. It’s a wonderful and terrifying thing to be working with a legitimate music publisher. Each time I take in a new song for critiquing, she shows me where it needs improvement, and each time it’s a hefty shot to my ego. I was initially frustrated and terribly disappointed that my songs weren’t as good as I’d hoped (and believed) they were. Each time when I finally grasp what’s wrong and make it better, I’m not making the song better, but I’m gaining invaluable “songwriting tools” that will be incorporated into my songs for years to come.
Even so, I’m my own worst critic. I’ll write and rewrite — and then rewrite my rewrites.
Jason Blume says getting your songs critiqued is a bit like being a pinball.
When you hit a side bumper (i.e., being told your chorus melody isn’t strong enough) and then write a more memorable melody, you get pushed towards the center — where you can stay “in play” and have a shot at winning the game. The next time you might hit the other side bumper by writing a lyric that fails to communicate, or lacks fresh, detailed imagery. Again, you get pushed back into the center of the action when you work to correct those areas that miss the mark.
As your skills improve, you notice sometimes there’s nothing really wrong with your songs. But many times there just isn’t anything exceptional or fresh enough about the idea, the melody, or the lyric to edge out the competition. In some ways, those are the most frustrating critiques to receive, yet the most helpful.
And so for me, I’m back at the drawing board right now determined to write a hit.
It’s that hunger for success that keeps me going, knowing the odds are against me. It’s that hunger that makes it almost unbearable to work at the “day jobs” that keep me from devoting the time and energy to my music. It feels like torture to spend eight of my best hours every day not writing, and to be too exhausted to do quality work when I get home.
How many times have I said to myself, “If only I didn’t have to work, I could be a successful writer.” But again I fall back to stories like Jason’s…
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the truth was that I needed those years of miserable temp jobs to allow the lessons I was learning to sink in and to later emerge in my songs. I hated that hunger because I translated it into feeling that I was a failure. I was driven to achieve success and without a staffwriting deal or a hit song on the charts, I felt frustrated, deprived, and miserable much of the time.
Now I look back and I see that the hunger was my friend. It was the mentor that kept me trudging towards my goal, no matter how impossible that goal seemed to others. I only wish I had been kinder to myself along the way. The times when I felt like a failure were all a part of the journey to success. If I had never written a hit song, the journey would have still been worthwhile.
Following a dream is just as important as having one come true — and it was the hunger that kept me on the path. — Jason Blume
So I’m going to keep on rewriting these songs until I get it right. It doesn’t matter if it takes 365 days or 3,650 days. Jason did it. I can too. How about you? Still think you have what it takes?