Lots of ways.
Cuts? That’s a biggie. Pro songwriting gets competitive. You need traction to attract a publisher and you need cuts to keep one. Above all you need cuts to earn income to actually BE a pro songwriter.
Awards? Depends. It’s a measure but not one everyone uses or pays attention to. I’ll give you my own example. My frequent co-writer Kye Fleming at one time was the most awarded female songwriter in country music. She’s in the hall of fame, writer of the year 5 times both in country and pop. I’ve never seen a single award in her homes over the years. I wrote with Graham Lyle years back at his home in England. The Grammy for Song of the Year (What’s Love Got to Do With It) was not only a doorstop to his studio, but was broken! As for me, I have a bunch of framed awards on the wall of my studio, always have. What’s the difference? Kye felt seeing all that stuff would make her lazy. I like to see the awards to remind myself I have done it and can do it again. Graham, dunno, might just need a good doorstop!
Contests? I’m judge for a few of the biggest and I think the value in competing and winning is you have some measure of progress based on all the other entries. This is one imperfect process but it’s one any songwriter has access to and the two takeaways are traction and affirmation here. Affirmation is huge and can be the very thing you need when things go quiet and they will from time to time.
The Magic Trick
These 3 are probably the ones most talked about but I want to talk about maybe the most important one. Communication. We all start out writing to communicate something inside. I saw Bruce Springsteen on Broadway last week and it was truly awesome. He can communicate like an evangelist, powerful stuff. But something I went away with was in the very first couple of minutes he described his songwriting as “a magic trick”. And it’s a hell of a 2 hour magic trick he pulls off every night. There’s so much power in a well written song. Power to touch, power to teach, power to share, power to reach into someone else’s soul and show something they might not even know was hiding there until they connect with the emotion in a great song.
I don’t think it gets any better than that; when you’ve honed your skill to the point you can move someone. I’ve worked with some great writers and artists and it seems to be a common trait. Communication.
I want to share a story from someone I coached last week. She was a bit discouraged with her writing and maybe her perception of success. We dug into this for a good while until she talked about having played a song we had worked on for her Mom. It was a beautiful love letter to her aging Mom and when she played it for her they were both in tears. It said what couldn’t be said in conversation and to the person who doesn’t write, it can seem like a magic trick, pulled out of thin air. Believe me, it does to the writer too more often than not.
This same writer was asked to take a poem a friend had written to her husband, set it to music so she could give it to him as a gift. Just the poem was a good idea but the finished song was something else. Again, moved her friend’s husband big time.
I call that songwriting success. I call the rest . . . the music business.
P. S. On the same trip to NYC last week I spent time at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park. Lennon was a hero of mine and one of the rawest communicators I’ve ever heard, especially in his solo work. Emotional for sure but there was another level. A group of school kids, of every nationality had rehearsed a beautiful and complex arrangement of Imagine. The power of that song, in that setting was impossible to describe. One songwriter’s magic trick for the ages. No matter how you measure it.
Shout out to one of my oldest friends John Cooper. Johns been mixing Bruce Springsteen for over 15 years and the acoustic guitar sounds were just incredible!
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN.