Your time is priceless and limited. If you’re going to spend any of your time on this craft of songwriting, it’s worth considering what your goals are.
We all must make choices about what to do in this life. At age eighteen, I gave up on painting and drawing because I knew I didn’t have time to pursue music, writing, and art. Instead of scattering my energy between three loves, I narrowed it down to just music and writing. The choice was painful at the time, but it was the right thing to do.
From my own interaction with fellow songwriters and musicians, I’d say they fall into about three rough categories of commitment. Check out the list below and ask yourself: which of these comes closest to describing me? Which category would I like to end up in?
The casual songwriter
Chill the wine, tune your guitar, and put your feet up – casual songwriters just want to have fun, express themselves, and escape from life’s stressors.
The casual songwriter doesn’t want music to become a job. She’s not actively grooming herself to be a pop superstar, an independent success story, or a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. She just thinks that a cup of tea over a notebook sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon.
When other things capture her interest, the Relaxed Songwriter lets the guitar gather dust for a while. She’ll pick it back up again someday, when – and if – the mood strikes her. Over a lifetime the casual songwriter may or may not play gigs at medium-sized venues, and may or may not write enough songs to record a short collection of them.
The part-time songwriter
The Part-Time Songwriter is committed, and she works at songwriting over months and years in her spare time. She may not have ambitions of making songwriting her career, but she works on improving her skills every week. This might involve:
- Private instruction in guitar, piano, or voice
- Studying music theory
- Writing at least one new song every month
- Serious and structured efforts at self-teaching
Over years the Part-Time Songwriter can reasonably expect to record an album, impress their friends, and enjoy at least some local success.
The full-time songwriter
Finally, we reach the smallest group: those who wish to make songwriting one of their life’s core commitments. The full-time songwriter spends multiple hours on the craft every day: practicing hard, writing songs, getting songs critiqued… possibly even pursuing a viable income from their music.
Many of these ambitious songwriters must find other work to cover food and rent costs while pursuing their art. They may choose to keep their overhead low for years while they labor at the craft and piece together an audience.
These are people who will either gamble everything for a shot at greatness, or who love the craft so deeply that they’ll keep working at it even through great hardship. They’ll rearrange other areas of their lives to ensure that songwriting remains a central focus.
The curious songwriter
There’s one final category that deserves a mention. The curious songwriter is interested in the craft of songwriting… but for now she’s just experimenting.
A curious songwriter might begin with ambitions of becoming a rock star or a big-shot rapper, but then realize that she just wants to go back to listening to music. Maybe the guitar and notebook will gather dust along with her old tennis racket in the closet. If that’s her fate, she loses nothing and walks away with a greater appreciation for music and lyrics. Even just flirting with songwriting for a while can leave you with a lifelong appreciation.
It’s also possible that the curious songwriter will discover an affinity for this craft, and develop into one of the categories above – for her, songwriting might become a casual hobby, a part-time pursuit, or a serious discipline.
All of the above categories are perfectly fine, fun, and valid. The typical songwriter starts out as curious, then gradually escalates her investment of time and energy over weeks or months until she reaches the level of commitment that’s right for her.
When a novice tries to rush and start writing four hours per day right away, she burns out. Much better to take on a reasonable, short daily commitment and slowly increase the time commitment as the songwriter’s life adjusts and makes room for the new pastime.