"Several years ago, I attended my son’s freshman orientation at Belmont University. He was headed into the Music Business program. During the parent’s session, one mother raised her hand and asked (In all seriousness) “So, if my daughter gets a songwriting degree from Belmont, she is pretty much guaranteed a slot on Music Row, right?” The Dean of the School of Music stood in stunned silence for a moment. Then, he said “No, getting a degree in songwriting doesn’t mean you are a great songwriter any more than a degree in art says that you are a great artist.” The woman then commented under her breath, “$120,000 is a lot to pay with no guarantees”.
I’d like to reinforce the concept of asymmetric risk that songwriting or pretty much any other artistic pursuit brings – the relative number of hits to misses is astronomical. A particular song’s or artist’s ‘success’ is massively unpredictable. A so-called ‘normal’ job has one very appealing feature: your effort is directly proportionate to the reward you receive. If you’re a plumber, the more taps you fix, the more cash you earn. The flipside is that there’s a limit to how much money you can make - you can only fix so many taps in a day. You have to physically be there to fix the taps, but also, no one is really going to argue too much about the right way to fix a tap, or what a great tap is, or how great taps have influenced you since your adolescence or what tap was pouring when you had your first kiss! Taps and their repair are clearly definable. A tap works or doesn't so once taught, most anyone could fix a tap who completes the training.
A particularly great tap
This is what risk analyst and author Nassim Taleb calls a ‘non-scalable’ career. Richard Meadows outlines this clearly in his article The Barbell Strategy: How Not to Be a Starving Artist. Here, he explains, a baker can only bake so many loaves of bread on a particular shift. Artists, including songwriters, have no such upper bounds. Something idea-based can be sold over and over again with almost no extra time or effort. It can potentially be 'infinitely scalable.' Your debut album might sell 10 copies (three of which your mum bought) or 10 million, but the amount of work that went into recording may be just the same. Unlike getting a medical degree or a plumber’s trade certificate, there’s no set career pathway to a stable lifelong income guaranteed by learning about anything about songwriting.
So, just being musically literate and knowledgable about songwriting won’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to write a sure fire hit each week. This is why these dream crusher sentences fall out of your parents’ or partners’ mouths when you say you want to pursue songwriting more intensively: ‘what’s your back up plan?’, ‘make sure you have a second string to your bow’, ‘don’t give up your day job’ etc etc etc. I’m sure there are many more you’ve come across!
However, maintaining a positive approach, spending time doing what you love and developing your own creative plans and goals will certainly help you bring your songs to life. As does enjoying the company and support of like-minded souls, rather than feeling like you’re working in isolation. Figuring out your own ‘risk level’ will help you move forward with your songs at a pace you determine.
Talk more soon
ps download my free article here on more ways to mitigate the dream crusher vibe!
pps if you want to get started moving with your songs, come to this workshop May 17-19
Hi, I'm Charlotte Yates and I can help you get better at writing songs.