Risk-taking is a crucial element in getting yourself noticed. Songwriting’s not for the faint of heart.
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I do my best learning when I approach a topic obliquely, which is to say that I learn more from analogies and metaphors than I do from the direct “here’s how to do it” approach. Back in the 70s, when I was a student in music composition, practically all of my classmates were reading Timothy Gallwey’s revolutionary book, “The Inner Game of Tennis.” His method was to help the tennis player to focus the mind, shut out the noise, and become the best tennis player possible through psychology. My classmates saw the obvious applications to musical performance.
For me, some of the best lessons I’ve experienced have come from non-musicians. You can learn a lot from the business world, for example, if you’re a songwriter.
The vast majority of successful businesses in the world are not necessarily risk-takers. They do what they do, and sell enough product, and hopefully increase sales over time to be successful and stay successful.
And the great majority of those companies are ones you’ve never heard of, and will likely never hear of. They don’t get written up in anyone’s blog, they don’t appear very often on the business pages of the biggest news magazines, and are rarely required to do anything but fly under the radar. They’ve got a clientele, and know who go to for a sale. Quick: which company makes and sells the most vinyl siding in the world? Who makes the most filing cabinets? The most fibreglass insulation? Exactly.
To get into people’s minds, you need to be more than successful. You need to be a risk-taker. Go to any business page, and you’ll keep hearing about the risk-takers. Some are famously successful at it (Apple), and others are… well, the jury is still out (Facebook). People love reading about risk-takers. Why do laypeople read the business pages? They want to know first of all who the risk-takers are, and then they want to know if the risk has paid off.
To make a splash in the business world (and by “splash” I mean not just successful monetarily, but successfully in people’s minds), you need to be doing three things:
- Offering a product that can touch people on a personal level.
- Taking a risk.
- Ultimately succeeding.
Now take the word “business” out of that paragraph and insert the word “songwriting”, and you get my point.
The best of the best in the popular music world have been risk-takers. They’re the ones that have done, or are currently doing, “their thing,” and have succeeded in pulling everyone along with them. While some performers started out decidedly safe, becoming much more innovative and ground-breaking after they had built a sizeable following, others took obvious risks at the outset, building their audience slowly but surely.
So when it comes to songwriting, are you a risk-taker, or are you playing it safe? The benefit of the safe game is that you’ll likely copy other successful artists, and acquire some of that success. But therein lies the handicap: copying other writer’s success means the world can never be focused on you.
In that respect, your success as a songwriter is going to be ultimately measured by 1) how much your music was able to touch the hearts of listeners; 2) how much your music moved in a new and innovative direction; and 3) whether or not you were able to turn that risk into success.
If your music sounds like everything else out there, your audience will be today’s audience, with not much room to grow. If, however, your music is yours, touches people’s hearts, and breaks out in a new direction, you’ve got a shot at actually making a huge impact on music history.
But it’s a risk.
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