It’s the dream of countless music-makers to spend their days writing music and earning a living. For many developing artists, songwriting seems like the opposite of working at a conventional job, and in some ways they’re correct. When you create music, you are your own boss and what you say goes. It’s a creative pursuit that allows you to express yourself exactly how you want to. Compare the experience of creating a new song to sitting in an office all day, and the two experiences couldn’t be any more different.
But here’s why you actually should think of songwriting as your job even if you aren’t doing it for money or aren’t far enough along in your career to get paid to make music. For the vast, vast majority of songwriters, it takes years of effort to develop an interest in making music into a defined and reliable skill. We’re obsessed over the musicians who started creating when they were young and quickly found success, but this situation is simply not the reality for most songwriters. Getting truly good at creating music takes years of consistent practice. And by “consistent” I don’t mean picking up your instrument a few times a month and writing for a bit but making the decision to create as often as humanly possible.
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You should approach songwriting like a job because a job is something you show up to day in and day out whether you want to or not. Making music that’s actually good takes a huge commitment of time, money, energy, and devotion. Writing only when you feel like it works great if you have no social life, tons of money, and a constant desire to make music and do nothing else. But for the rest of us, the songwriters with relationships, non-musical jobs, tight budgets, and interests in non-musical things, thinking of songwriting as a job is essential.
Showing up to the songwriting process as often as possible with the discipline and commitment you would for a paying job allows you to create music as consistently as humanly possible. This sounds overly simple, but the truth is that the more often you write, the better songwriter you become, and the more chances you have of uncovering great ideas. Write a little bit, and you probably won’t write anything good. Write a lot, and you’ll have a far better chance of creating great songs.
Equating your songwriting practice to your job also helps you make the most out of the time you spend creating. Wait for inspiration to write and you might be left waiting forever. But when you approach songwriting with the seriousness of a job and a willingness to work, you create the conditions for inspiration to find you and shape your process. You inevitably create better work more often when you consistently schedule time to write music during your week and commit to creating no matter what happens.
Showing up to your songwriting practice like you would a job doesn’t mean the way you write needs to be predictable and boring. In fact, forgetting that productive writing needs novelty, risk, and newness is a huge mistake. You’ll get the most out of your songwriting efforts if you can balance discipline and consistency with curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to fail. These are probably characteristics that aren’t encouraged in your non-musical job.
Carve out dedicated time to make music every week and bring energy and joy to your work. That’s the best way to treat songwriting like a job you love showing up to. But remember, songwriting is never easy. It can be grueling, thankless work. When you run into dead ends, the job approach will help you to find solutions when it would be far easier to throw up your hands and quit. Resilience is an essential trait to develop if you want to do this as a career or over the long-term. Show up and write even when you don’t feel like it. Create and work towards achieving goals. Keep going even when things feel impossibly hard. And, above all, don’t forget to embrace joy and curiosity when you write. Yes, you should think of it as your job, but one you love doing.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
Carl Watson - October 6, 2021
Thanks for the pep talk. I’m actually laying in bed at 6 pm with thoughts about energy and motivation (the lack there of) when your article pops up in my email. Great timing! Great concepts as well. It is a job to embrace if we want to see our work brought to completion. Putting the time on your calendar, daily or at least weekly, to write or polish what you have already written is really essential. Developing a knowledge of the fast paced and quick changing business end of the game is part of the victory we seek. I like what Tom Brady said the other night about his greatness. Something like it doesn’t matter how good he can throw a football 🏈, he’s nothing without guys who can catch a football. Learn how to get your music out there! Put that on your work list as well.
Okay, then. I gotta gets back to work 😎. Thanks again.
Mike Gentry - October 6, 2021
“ You’ll get the most out of your songwriting efforts if you can balance discipline and consistency with curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to fail.” This sentence is gold. Great article. Thank you.
José Corisco - October 7, 2021
Yes, you said it right. This was inspiring. By the way, I’m listening now to Straight White Teeth for the very first time and its good. Real good.
Amelia - October 7, 2021
I really want to work with song writers, also contribute & hopefully get reco contract
Iplay Pearldrums - October 7, 2021
Good point. Gene Simmons talks about discipline in his interview with Dan Rather.
Rudy Gentry - October 7, 2021
Writing just does not come to me on demand i wish it were true (for me) But it sneaks up on me like a melody i can not get out of my head, Or a set of words that go together real nice but need arranging in a special way, This is how i write but usually not on demand but more accidental or a fluke. I wish i could be successful writing on demand but when i try to write on purpose the flow is hard to come by. I have wrote at least 100 songs they are in different stages of completion over many years, I would love to have a writing partner a guitar player would be great as i play bass, Guitar input would be great.
Melissa Lee - October 13, 2021
Great thoughts, Patrick! I was fortunate a couple years ago to be able to go “full time” as a songwriter (I also sing and do gigs now and then, too). I’ve been writing music since my teens, and have self-produced several albums of original music over the years, but it was always only one of those “hobby” things I did and I mostly gave them away as Christmas or birthday gifts. I Now I have an established ‘business’ (Melissa Lee Productions) and besides working on my own material, I also do collaboration writing, consulting, arranging and offer demo services with a pro mix sound. Being female, playing keyboard and composing music that is sometimes ‘off the beaten path’ of mainstream genres, I feel like a bit of an anomaly in this industry that is very male and guitar-dominated. That being said, I have traveled nationally and found my music to be well-received , and I’ve been nominated for multiple Josie Awards and even won an award from the Tennessee Songwriters Assoc in early 2021 for one of my songs. I am always searching for great lyricists and co-writers, or artists looking for new music. So, songwriting has ‘literally’ become my job, but after 26 years of accounting, I finally have a career I enjoy and find 100% fulfilling, and the rewards never stop.