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Great American Song Contest
(Do you have what it takes to make
it in the music business?)
In a recent series of articles I have walked a line between straight
technical information and the more creative aspects of songwriting.
This article is going address both issues from a slightly different
perspective is your desire for a career in the music business
a dream or a delusion?
Very often in consultations with students or people starting out
in the business they will ask me a variation of the question, Do
you think I have what it takes to make it in this business?
It is a normal, sane question.
But like most of life, there is no easy answer. As I mention in
Black Book of Songwriting, I have seen incredibly talented
people fail in this business, and I have seen marginally talented
I often hear music business people say so and so doesnt
have a chance or wow, that writer / artist / singer
/ whatever is really bad. I cringe inside when I hear that
because I heard it said about me when I was starting.
Part of my motivation over the years has been proving them
wrong. Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales says
to a little old lady when they are under attack and outnumbered
that sometimes You just gotta get plain mad dog mean
in order to survive.
Notice that the old saying survival of the fittest doesnt
say survival of the smartest, survival of the
most talented, survival of the fortunate, or survival
of the ones with the most advantages.
Nobody starts out in this business great. Life and all skills are
a learning process. Even if you are born with a natural talent,
once you get to a professional level, that talent needs developing.
Everybody has to work. The truly great make it look easy
watch Fred Astaire dance, Jimi Hendrix solo, or the Beatles live
what doesnt show are the hours and hours of practice,
hard work, study, and mistakes it took to get there. Try to do what
they did and you will see how difficult it is.
Motivation has to come from inside. The desire to create, to excel,
to be the best at your craft has to come from someplace inside you
that is willing to do whatever it takes to be that good. Nobody
can teach you that, nobody should be able to take that away.
It can be discouraging to hear people tell you that the business
is too difficult; you dont have what it takes. The accounts
of all the greats are littered with people telling them they couldnt
do it. But somebody does do it could that be you?
Often, the most damaging criticism comes from those closest to us.
People who care about us, who are only thinking
of our good. Often family, friends, loved ones, and partners
in romantic relationships can make us feel guilty and inadequate
like a failure.
But everyone is a failure until they are a success often
in this business there is no middle ground a broke, struggling,
starving musician / writer / singer until that first hit
then you are there. Its like that old joke - Q:
What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? A: Homeless.
Funny because its true.
Not many other businesses are that extreme. It takes a certain amount
of what is perceived as dysfunction in order to do this.
The clinical definition of insanity is doing the same thing over
and over and expecting different results. Of course, that is a good
definition of songwriting also.
If you are willing to pay that price are you delusional?
I think everybody has a dream. Some people are not willing to pay
for it. In the end, they die. Some people are willing to pay for
it, go for it, and suffer for it. In the end, they die.
But at the end, which would you rather be, the one who never tried
and gave up and lived a life of quiet desperation, or the person
who tried and failed? Only the one who tried had a chance of success.
Reality has its way anyway. If you are not successful in the way
you desire when you start out you may find a direction along the
way that works even better for you. A lot of music business professionals
start out in bands or as performers and end up in other areas of
the business. You find your path by setting out on the road after
your dream, not sitting home wishing.
So is your dream a delusion? I cant tell you nobody
can. You have to get out there, go to work, take your shots, learn
your craft, compete, and get mad dog mean when somebody
tries to take your dream away.
This article is reprinted
by permission of the author, Michael Anderson. For more great articles
on the craft of songwriting, visit his website at: michaelanderson.com
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