There is a popular motivational saying in the business world: “failing your way to success.” But does that clichéd school of thought have any bearing in the world of music and, more specifically, among songwriters?
Let’s get straight to the meat of the matter. The music business is not for the faint of heart. And in the world of songwriting, it can often feel like constantly swimming against the tide. This is despite the fact that songwriters make up the meat and drink of the music industry; without them, there would be no content.
The songwriting life is often one of obscurity – lived in the background - while the performing artists take up all the spotlight. Of course, many songwriters are fine with that arrangement. They don’t mind staying in the shadows, as long as they are getting paid or receiving some other form of fulfillment. But therein lies one of the fundamental issues: earning or benefiting from their music creations. This is where songwriters – even those whose primary objectives are not necessarily about making money – will feel like a failure.
When it comes on to the business of songwriting, most songwriters have the goal of writing a song that gets some exposure in one or more ways, including:
- Getting picked up by a major artist
- Sync placements in a major production, such as a movie or popular TV show
- Ad placements
- Performance royalties
And there is more. But before any of that can happen, songwriters must overcome a number of failure-ridden hurdles.
First, they have to actually write songs. That seems like the easiest part, but it can sometimes be one of the hardest. Things like songwriter’s block, overthinking, lack of motivation, procrastination, and endless distractions can make it super hard for songwriters to begin writing and go on to complete a song.
Others have the passion to write but are still working on their skills or are just not up to date with songwriting best practices in the modern era. Luckily, there is plenty of material available on how to write a song, as well as fun songwriting challenges, that can help songwriters become better and more productive.
After writing a song, the next challenge is to have it produced, and herein lies the next barrier to success. Traditionally, the cost of music production has always been high, requiring songwriters to have several hundreds and even thousands of dollars upfront in order to create a professional demo or full song.
Some songwriters who have fulltime corporate jobs use some of their wages to fund their music careers. Others borrow from friends or take out loans to invest in recording a few good demos that they send to record labels, music supervisors, and even artist managers in the hopes that something will click and they will be able to recoup the money they spent. As you can guess, that rarely ever happens. The most likely outcome is that they will get a few plays on SoundCloud and a number of unfulfilled promises.
Failure also affects songwriters based on where they live. You see, a large proportion of songwriters live in places that are not known for high amounts of experienced musicians. This means they either have to travel far and wide to connect with skilled singers, instrumentalists, and other songwriters, or try to do everything themselves.
This reality drives many to go the route of home recordings, some of which may be reasonably decent but just not at the level for professionals at record labels or music publishers to take them seriously – let alone music fans. So, that is one huge hurdle that put too many songwriters in a loop of sub-standard recordings that constantly result in failures.
Okay, up to now we have been talking about some of the failures songwriters and other music creators tend to face in their careers. And much of it sounds like a recipe to quit the music industry, right? Sadly, a few do end up walking away, or at least putting their music careers on hold.
Still, many hold on to their dreams and work through the failure in pursuit of something more. Despite the many hurdles they face, they hold on and eventually turn their failures into their version of success. This is a common story across all facets of the business, as the concept of “overnight success” is simply a myth. Almost every known act you can think of has a “fail to success” story. The list includes Bruno Mars and Ne-Yo, who we have written about in the past, as well as The Beatles, Shakira, and Elvis Presley, all of whom were pretty much told they did not have what it takes.
How did they do it? Well, the stories vary, but the common thread is that they all used their failures as stepping stones. Each time they fell down, they got back up. Every time they tried something that did not work, they looked for another opportunity that might. It may have taken some of them years – in Louis Armstrong's case, a number one song did not happen for him until he was well into his 60s – but they ended up doing it and appreciated the failures along the way.
What about you? Regardless of what you have been facing in your career, the evidence is strong that your failures can turn out to be triumphs someday.
As an aside, Tunedly has helped hundreds of music creators take full advantage of their failures over the past five years. Remember the loop of sub-standard music we mentioned earlier? Well, we help songwriters get out of this dreaded loop by connecting them with skilled music collaborators and professional music production services. This has led to a number of them achieving long-awaited goals, including winning songwriting contests, landing major publishing deals, having their songs reach the tops of iTunes charts, and even winning awards. We are happy to have helped songwriters turn the tables on their failures.
Like any other aspect of life, failures are a natural part of being in the music industry. The important thing is to recognize these failures for what they are and use them as stepping stones to achieve the results you seek.