Being a professional songwriter is the dream. Not just selling a song or two, but being able to support yourself entirely on your songwriting skills. Selling songs regularly, working with popular, established bands, and possibly even achieving some sort of name recognition outside of just the music business. Well, all of that is entirely possible if you are dedicated enough and have the right approach.
What does “the right approach” entail? Well, first of all, talent isn’t a factor. Not that talent doesn’t help, but innate songwriting skill pales drastically in the face of hard work and a strong commitment to networking. Talent only gets people so far; hard work gets them all the way.
Your first step should be to develop your skills. Don’t even think about trying to sell a song until you’ve studied and practiced songwriting quite a bit. There’s no “magic number” of days or months or years to hit before you’re good enough to start trying to become professional, but a good metric is this: practice diligently until you’re good enough to see the flaws in your work compared to the work of hit songwriters. Then practice until you can correct those flaws. Then practice for another two months. After that, you should have a good shot. But all of this practice must be thorough. Your first focus should be on learning the basics: chord sequences, how to construct a compelling melody, how to integrate imagery into a song, and the differences between the current popular music styles. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you should be at the point where you’re experienced enough to compare your songs to the hits. Start using those hits as references for your studies; find out what makes them great and how you can integrate those practices into your own songs. After a few months of consistently writing songs that seem like they have hit potential, you’re probably ready to start trying to sell something.
Which brings you to the networking aspect of being a successful songwriter. While skill is the single most important factor in songwriting success, it isn’t the only factor. Networking — developing connections and relationships in the music business — can be the difference between success and failure. Without the ability to network, you may never get the opportunity to put your songwriting skill to good use.
What’s the best way to network? Well, to start, you need either a website or at least one social media page dedicated solely to you as a songwriter. Giving people your business card or email address doesn’t mean much if they can’t find you online. Once you have an online presence, it’s time to mingle. Find places to interact with artists, producers, and even other songwriters; music conventions are excellent for this. If only one in twenty connections you make will produce a relevant lead, then you had better make a lot of connections.
Don’t assume that these connections will turn into leads overnight. Like any relationship, they must be nurtured and developed before they bear fruit. Be patient, put in the work required to keep in touch, and eventually you’ll get your shot.
In fact, the single most valuable skill to have in this industry is patience. Yes, you’re dedicated and you care so much about succeeding and getting your work published and proving to yourself and the world that it’s good, but take a breath. Step back. Remind yourself that the music industry isn’t going anywhere. You’ll still be able to get published tomorrow or the day after. So be patient and give yourself enough time to do it right. You’ll be happier and more successful that way.
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