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Letter to Emerging Songwriters From a Songwriting Coach

April 4, 2015

James Linderman is one of the passionate coaches who helped nurture our 120+ community of songwriters who participated in this year’s S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge.  As the challenge wrapped up he summarized some words of wisdom which he has agreed to share with us here.  Thanks to Debra Alexander, our other passionate coach, for transcribing James’ video.

by James Linderman

Be Wary of The Critique.
As you have your work critiqued, remember that you are winning over—or not winning over—one single listener with a perceived importance. Credentials can be a bit of a mirage. The hit song someone has had doesn’t necessarily give them that much information to pass along to you as to how to produce a hit song of your own.

The material that you need to produce a song that you can love comes from:

1) your own personal tastes—deciding what you like and don’t like about other people’s work
2) transferring those personal tastes onto your own work
3) and hard work— the diligence of building skills, so that you can flesh out ideas so that they become, not just imagined, but real

Gaining a true perspective on the value of your work doesn’t necessarily come from the approval of a celebrity. Deciding what music is “consumable” is not determined by celebrities, academics, or any particular segment of society. We all, as “folks,” get to decide what music we like…and that is what makes “folk music.”

Be Wary of the Idea of One Big Break. 
People who get their music moved forward have generally worked very hard to get their music moved forward. Forwards are based on the personal tastes of reviewers, as well as a few rules…but remember that personal biases are always a factor, because listeners are flawed human beings.

Getting your music forwarded is a terrific thing to have happen, but consider the break in getting your music forwarded as only part of a series of small steps. Most peoples’ careers are not based on a single piece of good luck or good fortune or one single break. Once you get a break, you have to produce more and more work to show you deserve to have a place at the table. Also it is very difficult to get peoples’ attention, and it is even harder to hold that attention.

Move forward by getting one piece of music recognized, and then another piece of music, and then another… take small steps; back up “breaks”  by more hard work in order to obtain longevity.

Build Community.
Karma is a ruthless and fairly relentless piece of social equipment. Karma looks after the things that we generally don’t. Be good to one another. Build relationships with people. Move one another forward and make an effort to have each other’s backs. If you’re doing this right, you’ll have a lot more rejections than you’ll have things go through, and it’s good to have people around you to help you get through the discouraging times, and also to help you have more opportunities and broaden your chances so you can continue to have hope.

Create Your Own Luck.
If you want to have success that is built on making contemporary music, get a radio (!) and put your ear to the ground so you can meet the criteria of contemporary listeners. If you want to be in that part of the music industry, listen carefully to understand what makes contemporary popular music successful, and produce the same kind of music.

If you don’t want to make that kind of music, you can still find success in other parts of the music world. Find other listeners who like whatever kind of music you want to make. Making music only for money is perhaps a hollow pursuit if it is not a reflection of what you truly desire to express.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Success.
More people are afraid of success than of failure. Failure can feel very comforting. Because there are so many rejections compared to successes, you’ll find lots of people who will sympathize with you, people who are in the same boat as you, people who will come to your rescue. On the other hand, when you’re successful it can be very isolating. Lots of people will be jealous of your success; people will be critical of it, and feel you didn’t deserve it because their vision is based on what they put into their own art and they are not willing to see the value in the work you do. Be aware of people who only like you for your accomplishments, and what they think you can offer them. Cultivate relationships with people who understand who you really are, as your achievements are not really you.

Learn How To Shut The World Out.
Mostly, you need to put your head down and work hard at your craft:
-Practice your songs in front of a mirror
-Know what you look like
-Know what you sound like
-Record everything
-Become a great archivist of your image in terms of your art
-Know what it is you want to produce
-Know what it is you DO produce
-Know where you are in the continuum of your career

Your Listeners Deserve Your Work.
Take the opportunity to play your music because you have every right to do so, and you deserve to play it, and your audience can enjoy it whether or not you think you’re on a ‘professional’ level.

Your Listeners Deserve Your Work.

Take the opportunity to play your music because you have every right to do so, and you deserve to play it, and your audience can enjoy it whether or not you think you’re on a ‘professional’ level.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2015 11:32 am

    This is great information. I needed to hear some of the thoughts … and several other ideas were things I’ve wondered about, but didn’t have answers to. Thank you, James, for providing this information.

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