Having been Membership Director of NSAI from 1992-1996 gives me a unique perspective as I look at my own efforts in becoming a full-time staff writer. Over the four years I worked with, talked to and counseled NSAI members I began to recognize certain similarities between those songwriters who continually realized their goals and those who didn’t. In this article I want to share some of the strategies that have worked for me and seem to be common among other songwriter friends of mine who are new staff writers.
Find your team
From the day we make the decision to pursue our dream of becoming a professional songwriter we're beginning a long and often frustrating journey. Like Dorothy on her way to Oz, we need help reaching our destination. At first, our family and friends may be the ones to give us the emotional support we need to keep going. Eventually, however, we must expand our team of supporters to include industry professionals who can keep us moving in the right direction. Performing Rights Organization representatives (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC), publishers, professional songwriters, even producers and major label recording artists, all may eventually become part of our team - but this takes time. By continually improving our songwriting craft and expanding our knowledge of the industry we let our potential team know that we're serious and motivated. By having the patience to form honest relationships and showing appreciation when someone helps us, we earn the trust and respect that we need to add members to our team little by little. Luckily, we don't need everybody in town to like our songs, but we do need a strong team who does.
Most of the songwriters I've met actually begin with some kind of plan. For some, it is to take frequent trips from their hometown to Nashville in order to write and establish relationships. For others, it is to move to Nashville and find an alternate means of income until the ship carrying their hit song comes in. But the plan can't end there. Even if we're living in Nashville, it's easy to get side-tracked or discouraged if things aren't happening as quickly as we might have hoped. Organization and goal setting are key ingredients to persevering and moving forward on our journey. Several years ago, I began (and still continue) a ritual of having weekly goal setting meetings. Every week I list my "successes" for the week, no matter how insignificant they seem. I also list the phone calls and appointments I need to make, and my songwriting goals for the week. I keep track of long range goals for three months, six months and a year away. Over the years some of the ideas that have come out of those meetings are: I will take guitar lessons, I will host a show at the Bluebird Café, I will meet with five publisher(s) this month, I will write everyday, I will save enough money to demo ten songs this year. Only when I began to really focus on each little goal did I find new doors opening to me.
I've heard it said that it's better to take a risk and fail, then fail to take a risk. In an industry as competitive as this one, we can not afford to let our fears of failure hold us back. Challenge yourself. To "take a chance" means something different for everyone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and different "comfort zones." What might feel like a risk to one person, might be a piece of cake to another. For example, I get very nervous when I have to talk on the phone about anything relating to my own career, even to people I know well. Over the years I've had to force myself to make business phone calls every day. You're the only one who knows what's scary to you. As my favorite T-shirt says, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." So keep in mind that if you're not writing a song today, someone else is. If you're not calling a certain publisher, someone else is. If you're not booking a gig - well, you get the point. If we never step outside of what feels comfortable to us and risk rejection or failure, we can't learn the skills we need to succeed (namely to accept rejection and failure and keep going in spite of it).
You've already taken a huge step, just by allowing yourself to pursue your dream. It's not an easy thing to do, but don't let yourself give up too easily. Have no fear!
You can do it!
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About Sara Light
Sara Light is a hit songwriter who holds a Master's degree from Rutgers University in English Education. After moving to Nashville in 1992 to pursue songwriting, she served as the Nashville Songwriter's Association International (NSAI) membership director until 1996 when she became a full-time staff songwriter. In addition to being a guest speaker at the Nashville NSAI Workshop, Belmont University and Vanderbilt University, she has also taught at regional songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad. She has developed songwriting lessons to be used by over 3000 members of the NSAI regional workshops worldwide and her articles for American Songwriter Magazine, Musesmuse and Just Plain Folks have reached over 20,000 songwriters. She has been a keynote speaker for the NSAI Symposium, served as a judge in several national songwriting competitions and mentors for various songwriting organizations. She is the co-author of the audio songwriters reference series entitled "The Songwriters Survival Kit." She has worked as a staff songwriter for for Zamalama Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. Among her songwriting credits is the John Michael Montgomery title track and hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award and was named 2000 SESAC Country Song of the Year for having garnered over 2 million spins on radio. She wrote several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score. She is also the co-founder and president of www.SongU.com, songwriting courses online.
Contributor to and owner of both Songu.com and craftofsongwriting.com