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.
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.