This is the Biggest Mistake in Songwriting

Before I start, I have a HUGE shout out to Dave and Sammi Martinez (long time friend of the show) Thank you guys for reading these! I love you both!

“But this song wouldn’t be on the radio?” 

“But my fans wouldn’t like this?”

I​ hear this often, hell! I’ve said it before, and it’s kind of sad, and it is entirely laughable. Well, it stops today! I mean, who cares? Let’s take a long, hard, honest look at the facts.

I​f you’re reading this, you are not in a position where you need to worry about these things.

What fan base do you have right now that you would lose from trying something a little more artistic, who is going to be disappointed that you sacrificed something a little catchy and what you have deemed “radio worthy” for something really YOU – I’m not trying to be an asshole, but how many songs have you had trending anyways? Do a hundred people regularly listen to your music? Maybe a thousand? It has never been easier to keep track of who is listening, where they are listening, how they are listening, which specific songs they are listening to. 

I want to tell you that “fan base” you have, they don’t care. They should care, but they don’t care. If you’re trying to make another Taylor Swift song, that’s cool! Do that! But remember there is already a Taylor Swift, and she has millions of dollars funneling into every aspect of her art. You want to be John Mayer? 

*I slowly raise and lower my hand* 

He is ultimately, and shockingly more talented than I will ever be! And that’s okay, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write songs, or even write songs that I think sound like they would be played by him. Do that! Do those things if you want to do those things. 

Does it sound like I’m flip-flopping? It’s kind of confusing, so I will clarify.

The problem is not having a similar sound, or wanting to have a specific song have a sound. The problem is the expectation and giving yourself pointless boundaries. You HAVE to change your expectation. Is that clicking? Maybe I can phrase it ten different ways, so you will understand, I call this the “My Dad” method. Repeat myself until the kids are asleep. 

Is it wrong to write a catchy song? No, obviously not. Is it wrong to write a catchy song to get it on the radio? If you’re Mark Ronson, then no! If you’re a local band, and it prevents you from taking some risks, then yes. Until then, just focus on writing a lot of songs. And I mean, A LOT of songs.

Instead of trying to write a great radio hit, try to write a song. Don’t try to knock it out of the park. Just write a song. I love the video of Glenn Frey of The Eagles, he’s talking about Jackson Browne and the songwriting experience.

I​t’s not exciting, it’s simple – it’s also beautiful and one of my favorite things in life. 

W​hen you’re recruited to craft the ultimate pop song, then work on that. Until then, avoid saying the phrase “I can’t put that in there, my fans won’t like it.” That’s a very damning sentence, and it doesn’t really make sense if you think about it. You don’t have any clout to lose. Who is going to stop listening to you? If you want horns in your song, or if you want the song to have some twang, then play those horns/give it some twang! But don’t pander to a genre that doesn’t give a shit about you. 

Just write. Just write. JUST WRITE! 

How do you write a great song? By writing ninety-nine bad songs. 

This is the part of your career where you should be trying a lot of things! You should be making a lot of mistakes! You shouldn’t be trying to get a single song on the radio. Even if you succeed, what will you do next? How long will that sustain you? Do you really know how to write a song? I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m just asking this question. If you were invited to record an album and tour tomorrow, would you feel ready?

H​ow do we change our process from creating art for people, to creating art for us. How do we find the people who will love what we create? I promise if we get in this mindset, you will start creating your best work. 

First, we ask ourselves these questions. We say aloud, WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?! –

  • W​hat is my purpose – How do I make art happen? Write down what you want the art to sound like. Do this often. Write down the instruments you would like used and the sounds you would like. If you don’t know the names of the instruments, or sounds, that’s okay! Use adjectives to describe sounds, use a sound from another song to describe. When you find that sound, learn the word and the correct description for next time. Find the words, you have to find a way to describe what you want. Otherwise, it won’t happen.
  • W​hat is my purpose – How is your art being consumed – How will this realistically be presented to an audience? Dream big, then acknowledge your limitations right now. You picture a music video with a car wreck in it (I love it)! You can’t afford to do that know. Acknowledge that vision, then do what you can do right now. DO NOT PUT IT OFF! You can make it work, you just need to work around what you can do. If it comes up looking a little DIY, it’s okay! Move on to the next project, and except the growth, you’ve just had.
  • W​hat is my purpose – How do you find your audience – Focus on the now, who is coming to your shows? Write what you think your fan looks like, what do they do? How do they dress? How old are they? Other than your music, who else do they listen to? How can you reach this person in their day to day life? What social media (if any) would they use? Knowing this shouldn’t change your sound, but help you define what you sound like right now.
  • W​hat is my purpose – Where am I performing – Understand where you are playing, and what is expected from the typical venue/form you are playing. If you are playing singer/songwriter tunes, maybe a bar isn’t the best play to find your fans. 
  • W​hat is my purpose? To what end am I creating this? Realize that it is okay to write for someone else, as long as we acknowledge it and manage your expectations. 

What should you take away from this? Chase down fads, and you will always be behind. Keep focused on what’s you have right now. Don’t chase down fans by trying to pander to them, because they won’t care. Create something you love, and I promise they will come to you. Know thy audience, not what you pull later. 

Final thought – Yes, you can remind me that Kurt Cobain wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit in an attempt to craft the ultimate pop song – I would say that due to his typical sarcastic nature, that’s probably not wholly true.


Published by crazylegsdean

Self defined as: taste taster for the aspiring musician on the go.

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