The Top Ten FAQs On The Business Of Songwriting #2

by Mary Dawson

QUESTION 2: I know I have talent, but I have no contacts in the Music Business and no money. How can I get discovered?

It's all Walt Disney's fault!

Because of old Walt, most of us grew up watching animations of stories like Cinderella and Snow White where the beautiful, but poor and mistreated maiden, is discovered and swept away by the handsome Prince. And we took as Gospel the lines from that Cinderella song that say "the dream that you wish will come true!" 1

We all grow up and somewhere along the line, we acknowledge that these are just fairy tales. But it is my belief that somewhere way back in our brain development, these magical stories have permanently programmed our hard drives. We may not still be waiting for a handsome Prince in the literal sense, but we tend to cling tenaciously to the idea that if we just dream something long enough and hard enough, Destiny or Fate will find us and make the dream a reality.

Nowhere is this fantasy more active than in the world of aspiring songwriters and artists. I think it may be because the Entertainment Industry is what gave us Cinderella in the first place. Subconsciously, we think that the rules which apply to success in other industries do NOT apply in the world of Entertainment.

Think about it: if we aspire to become a lawyer, we automatically realize that the field of Law will require lots of hard work and preparation -- and a sizable financial investment -- to bring us to the place where we can actually "hang out our shingle" and be acknowledged as an accredited member of the legal community. The same is true for almost any other career field we should choose -- from Medicine to Mechanics. But ... when we think about success in the Entertainment Industry, we immediately step into Fantasyland. Subconsciously, we believe that everything about the business of Entertainment is larger than life -- like the movies, concerts and theater productions we have seen over the years. All our lives we have associated the concept of Music or Entertainment with relaxation and fun, so it's easy to make the mental leap to the assumption that success in the business should be magical and fun as well.

This fantasy is fueled by stories we hear about artists and musicians who have become "overnight sensations" -- living out of their cars one day and making millions of dollars the next. While such stories may have some truth in them, the reality is much more like what Huey Lewis said when a reporter asked him how it felt to be an "overnight success." Huey replied: "Sure was a hell of a long night!"

Not a day goes by that I don't receive letters and emails from aspiring artists and songwriters who are literally begging me for a "chance" to make it in the Music Business. A typical letter goes something like this:
Dear CQK Music:
I am a young songwriter (singer, artist, musician) and I know I am meant to be a star, but I have no money to do a demo and I have no contacts in the Music Business. I just need someone who will believe in me and help to promote me. All I need is a chance. Please help me…..I KNOW you will not be disappointed.

Helen Hopeful

The really sad part of letters like this is the simple fact that most of these aspiring artists ARE truly very talented -- and they are also savvy enough to know that they have a gift that should be used. But, at this point the Cinderella Fantasy starts kicking in, convincing them that unless an individual or a company with lots of money and connections comes along to discover and promote them, they will never succeed. They wait expectantly for their dream to come true -- instead often waking up to disillusionment and depression. Rather than enjoying their gift and sharing it with others, they literally become "victims of their own fantasy," usually burning out, becoming cynical and giving up altogether!

I would like to suggest a different perspective. While it is not nearly as magical as the Cinderella Fantasy, it is definitely more practical and realistic -- and, most importantly, it works. The basic premise is simply to take off the rose-colored glasses and start approaching the Music and Entertainment Industries as you would approach any other business or career choice. Here are a few points to consider:
  1. Becoming a credible and recognized member of the Music or Entertainment Industry will take as much study and preparation as any other career. Believe it or not, there are rules to this game that must be understood and applied before you can become recognized as a professional songwriter or artist. Many songwriters who contact me definitely have talent, but they write songs from inspiration only! They have never studied the craft of songwriting and they don't have a clue that there are crafting techniques such as song form, cadence, prosody, rhyme scheme, and hook placement which are as essential to effective communication in music as proper grammar is to effective speech. Many don't even know that there are books and seminars -- and even correspondence and internet courses -- on the subject of songwriting that can provide instruction and turn a writer's "natural talent" into a real skill.

    Think about it this way! What if you have just told your friend that you are scheduled to have surgery soon. Your friend is incredibly talented with her hands -- has amazing manual dexterity -- and is also wonderful at taking things apart and putting them back together. She is intelligent, creative and very good at reading and understanding "how-to" manuals. However, your friend has never had the time or the discipline to go to medical school. When she hears that you need surgery, she graciously volunteers to do it for you for free! She is sure that she will intuitively know how to perform your operation and will be guided by the inspiration of her heart. How would you feel about such a person cutting on you? If you are anything like I am, you would politely tell her, "No thanks," while internally thinking, "...she must be nuts!"

    If you hope to be taken seriously as a music professional, you must be prepared to do some in-depth study and lots of songwriting exercises before you can legitimately call yourself a real songwriter or artist.

  2. Be prepared to make wise but considerable financial investments in your songwriting. While I certainly empathize with songwriters who work a full-time "day-gig" and have little disposable income, I also believe that you can and will find money for the things that are really important to you. Developing a music career will require that you place consistent priority on experiences and tools that will advance your efforts -- and that means budgeting money to invest in those things.

    I'm not suggesting that you become foolish or extravagant in what you spend. On the contrary, I am of the firm opinion that if you are wise and learn to know your own music community, you can develop yourself and your career in a very affordable way. (See FAQ 8 on how to do a professional demo of your songs without breaking the bank.)

    The name of the game here is balance and common sense. Unfortunately, aspiring songwriters often end up at one of two extremes:
    • Either they spend far too much on their songwriting -- often becoming victims of overpriced and unscrupulous song sharks...
    • Or, they refuse to spend anything at all, choosing instead to wait for "their Prince to come" in the form of a record company with unlimited cash and unlimited willingness to invest it all in them. (Incidentally, in case anyone should still be fantasizing...there ain't no Record Company Prince. But that's the subject of another article.)

    OK! You may be asking, "What exactly are some legitimate expenditures for the aspiring songwriter?" I would suggest that your first investment should be in educational tools -- books and seminars on the craft and business of songwriting and membership fees to your local songwriters' association. These are invaluable resources to equip you with knowledge about music and songwriting in general, and about your own music community in particular. Even if you live in Boondocks, Montana -- or somewhere in the unpopulated reaches of Alaska or Asia -- you have access to songwriting communities and books through the internet. If you are reading this article online, you have NO excuse for remaining alone and helpless!

    Next, I would suggest that you budget money for professional critiques of your songs -- BEFORE you invest in demo production. There are many good critiquing services -- including my own (please indulge a little shameless self-promotion here!) For more information on my song critiquing services, please visit CQK Music.

    The next necessary expenditure will be for demo production of your songs. Demo recordings are the essential "calling card" of the songwriter. These days, especially, you MUST have clear and well-produced demos in order for your songs to be seriously considered by publishers or music industry professionals. Shop around for the best prices -- you don't have to spend a fortune, but you should be aware that demo production can range from $150-500 per song and you should budget accordingly.

  3. Remember that the Music Industry is not so much looking for talent as it is looking for success -- Talent is certainly a necessary part of long-term achievement in music, but it is usually not enough! What draws the attention of Music Industry "movers and shakers" is to see talented people creating a buzz where they are -- with what they have! Don't sit around waiting for Destiny to find you...go out and create your own Destiny! Bloom where you are planted. Sharpen and hone your talent and your skills as you share your music locally. Like ripples on a pond, the word about your music will spread and your fan base will grow. One day as you are busy, satisfied and succeeding in your songwriting and performing, you may find that you are "discovered" after all.
Hey, Listen! I don't hate Walt Disney. Who can hate Mickey Mouse's Dad? I LOVE Cinderella and I wish I had written A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes. But when it comes to success in the Music Industry, I think it's far more profitable to remember what Nobel Prize winning cholesterol researchers, Brown and Goldstein, say about success. When asked by a reporter how they had been able to achieve such amazing results in their research, they said: "You know, it's the funniest thing...the harder we work, the luckier we get!"

Your dreams can come true. You just have to buckle down and make them happen!

1 A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes
Words and Music by David Mack, Al Hoffman & Jerry Livingstone
©Disney Music Publishing/ASCAP

**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is also the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 25 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. "I Write the Songs" is broadcast over the Internet. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer on songwriting. She is a regular columnist for Independent Songwriter Web Magazine. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has given her extensive experience in song analysis through adjudicating songwriting competitions and conducting songwriting workshops across the country and around the world. Because of her role as president of an independent music company, she is also well qualified to instruct aspiring songwriters on the various business aspects of the music industry. She is married and a mother of four. She resides in the Dallas area.

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