Aspiring artists and songwriters listen up. YOU CAN’T TEACH TALENT! Either you have it or you don’t.
I have been increasingly frustrated at the number of “Professionals” I have seen on Social Media lately offering their “Song Camps” and “Critique Sessions”. For the low low cost of up to several thousands of dollars, you get to go hang out with them for a few days, play your songs and they will critique them and tell you where you are going wrong and set you on the right path. It all sounds great, in theory, but here’s my take.
I don’t believe that you can teach someone to have a talent. You either have the talent or you don’t. Songwriting is a craft that is never perfected. Songs and their greatness or marketplace worthiness are subject to each individual person hearing them. There is no rule, subject matter, right way or wrong way to write a song.
In my opinion, these are money grabs by people who, most of the time, aren’t even relevant in the music business anymore. Sure, they may have worked at a label or publishing company when a particular artist or writer broke thru, but they were in no way single handedly responsible for that artists’ success and they certainly didn’t write the songs themselves. They are simply trying to cash in on the association and are preying on young artists and songwriters dreams to be successful in a very difficult business, for nothing more than pure profit and personal gain.
I never had someone teach me how to write a song. Even after much success, I still continue to learn from others by getting in the trenches every single day and actually doing the job. Every single song that I have ever written that was commercially successful, I was told more than once by a publisher that it wasn’t a hit or had a label pass on it cause it wasn’t a hit. So do they really know what they are talking about? Not really.
Want to be a better writer? Listen to records, learn structure, learn melodies, learn to play and instrument or two, learn alternate tunings and do the research yourself and save your money. You are not going to “Get Discovered” at one of these retreats, mainly because that’s not what they are there for. They are there to cash your check or run your credit card to sell you the dream, PERIOD. If you want to learn how to be a better writer, listen to music you love, read books, write more, it’s all there for you already.
If you listen to the radio for 30 minutes, you’ll understand that there is no one structure or right or wrong when it comes to songwriting and ultimately someone at the label said, “This is the single” and I think we can all agree that there is no shortage of stupid, shitty songs on the radio that are not great songs. All of which are written by so-called “Hit” songwriters. So do these peoples opinion of your song really matter, they don’t know good or great when it slaps them in the face. They only know what that can sell.
So, to all of you young artists and songwriters, please do not waste your money having people who are no longer relevant in the business critique your songs. Money is a very important factor in developing yourself and there are things that you will have to be paid for, save that money for the studio developing your craft or a trip to Nashville or LA to write and really learn how to hone your craft from people who are actively engaged in writing the type of songs that you want to write. Just because someone worked at a publishing company that Katy Perry was signed to, doesn’t mean they were responsible for Katy Perry becoming who she has become. That would be like taking golf lessons from the valet just because he works at the country club. I know you all want to get better and break thru, but please be smart with your time and your resources and honestly, be smart with your passion. We are each only given a finite amount. Don’t waste any of yours on people who can’t really help you and NEVER EVER waste your resources on getting someone’s opinion of your art, it’s too subjective and open to personal preference and different interpretations. Surround yourself with people who are passionate for what you are currently doing and also realize, you may just not be a great songwriter and there’s no amount of money to fix that.
Remember this. Nothing the writer does makes a song a hit. A hit is born because of the success of a song at radio and/or on the sales chart and those are only achieved by the record label spending millions of dollars marketing the song, paying consultants to put it on playlists at large and major market radio stations so that it achieves a high chart position and utilizes social platforms and there huge reach to get a song heard by millions of people, of only about 3% actually purchase it. So paying someone to tell you how to write a hit is pointless, because making it a hit is ultimately out of their control.
I will say, there are organizations, services and companies that exist for aspiring artists and songwriters that actually offer resources for you to get better at your craft. They are both affordable and informative and in the case of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), they fight for the rights and fair treatment of the creators. Songtown is another example, yes, you pay to be a member and have access to the content and that’s a fair trade, but the mentors and those teaching are actual successful songwriters still having success and are engaged daily with the business. They can actually give you resources, tips and tricks that will help you on your journey in the music business. I am not a part of Songtown in any way, shape or form, so I have no dog in this hunt or reason for steering you in that direction other than wanting to give you an example of a resource that is out there that is worth your time and financial investment. They are relevant and have a wealth of ongoing and growing content for you to be apart of and learn from. This is a relationship business, so the basis of services like these is to grow your base, have a forum to learn and start to build relationships in the business. It’s more about music business education than it is teaching you how to be a great songwriter.
Do your homework. Don’t just read a tagline where someone worked with Sheryl Crow or Gavin Degraw and be deceived into thinking that person can automatically help you achieve that level of success or have any legitimate claim to be able to tell you anything about the quality of your songs.
Bottom line, BE SMART. Most of the people who attend these clinics or retreats often say they had an amazing time, but that’s not because of what they learned from the people they paid to be there, it’s because they spent 3-5 days surrounded by other people just like them who share their passion for music and songwriting. Passion is infectious and the music business is a drug. Make sure you don’t get hooked on the wrong one.
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