[dropcap]W[/dropcap]riting a song has its own rewards, even if nobody ever hears what you wrote. With that said, every songwriter will eventually want to share her creations with somebody.
Once you open your writing room’s door and sing your song for somebody else, your song doesn’t belong to just you anymore. You should be prepared for performances to go differently than you planned.
Singing in public for the very first time
Most songwriters get their start by playing for friends and family. If you’ve got supportive listeners in your life, you’re very lucky! Listeners like that will cheer you on even if you forget lyrics mid-song and miss chord changes.
My experience is that community open mic audiences will applaud imperfect songs and performances – because half of the audience is made up of fellow performers, and they’ll treat you the way they hope to be treated.
Over time I learned how to bring the house down at occasional shows in Maine, but my first-ever performance was a disaster at an open mic.
I started by singing “Folsom Prison Blues” an entire octave too low, if you can imagine that. Rattled, I then lost track of the chord progression to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” entirely and soldiered on by singing a capella. After the last “Hallelujah” faded out, the audience shocked me by applauding – those people were far too nice about my two sloppily-performed cover tunes. Outside of open mics, audiences might not be that forgiving.
The first time you play for strangers who have high expectations, your song truly enters the wild. Everyone listening is free to form their own opinions about the song and about its singer – that’s you.
Sing, whether or not they sing your praises
Playing in front of strangers is an important fork in the road – will you choose to stick to the cozy safety of venues like your living room, or will you embrace the challenge of winning over an audience of strangers from scratch?
Whatever you choose, I want to offer a word of encouragement.
It’s natural to seek reassurance and support. Writing songs is hard, and presenting those songs to others is scary. After we sing someone a song we worked hard on, we’d all like to hear them sing our praises, right?
The need for reassurance is natural, but becoming too dependent on it can hold you back from doing your best work.
Eventually, you’re going to write a song that the people around you won’t go nuts about. Probably many songs. Or you might write a song you’re proud of, and get unexpected critique from your local songwriter’s circle. At those times you might feel embarrassed and discouraged. You might feel like shrinking back, giving it a rest… or even giving up.
But I hope you’ll continue on. I hope you’ll take it as a challenge to train harder, learn from these stumbles, and write better songs.
Try not to take lukewarm or negative audience responses personally. People lead busy lives, their attention spans are short, and it’s an uphill battle trying to get most people to slow down and appreciate anything – including your music.
Even if you write the best country song ever written, there will still be people who don’t like country music. Even if you’ve taken great pains to write a rap with fresh and exciting rhymes; even if your song is stellar, the world might not pound your door down and demand to hear it. You might have to bring that song to them many times over before it takes hold. And if it doesn’t take hold, you may need to strike off in new directions.
Let’s support each other as songwriters
I hope songwriters will support one another for working hard, for taking creative risks, and for trying things that might not work on the first, second, or even fifth attempt. Celebrate the hard work, even if the finished piece of work isn’t perfect.
Audiences are fickle. Stay focused, keep learning the technical details of songwriting. Trust your own tastes and take bold creative risks.
Whether your audience applauds or not, resolve to keep learning and writing. Stay a student, and expect that you’ve still got much to learn. That makes the ups and downs of this craft much easier to take.