“Do I Have What It Takes?” The Songwriter’s Million Dollar Question

by Marty Dodson
Aug 10, 2022

The biggest songwriting question that every songwriter I know struggles with is “Do I have what it takes?”  I’ve asked myself that one hundreds of times.  So have Clay and every other pro songwriter I know.

So, if you’ve ever looked in the mirror and asked that hopeful songwriter staring back at you that question, we feel your pain.  I spend a lot of time in mentoring sessions helping people process that one.

First let me tell you how I CAN’T tell you if you have what it takes.  I can’t listen to your 5 best songs and give you a thumbs up or thumbs down. The songs you are writing right now (or the best five you’ve ever written) are only a tiny piece of the puzzle. They give me a glimpse through the window of possibility and let me know a little bit about where you are.

But, I’ve discovered that knowing where you are isn’t a huge predictor of success.

When we started SongTown, there were some writers that I thought had great potential.  They had several songs that were really, really good.  As time went by, I began to see that they weren’t growing at all.  In fact, they were spending most of their time entering the same one or two songs in contests, pitch-to-publisher events, etc.

I learned that I have to watch a songwriter over time to even begin to see if they have what it takes to succeed.

On the other side of the coin, I mentored a young writer several years ago. He was trying to build his own tracks and they weren’t good or competitive at all. And his songs weren’t great either. I gave him a list of the top track people in town and told him to go study their work.

A year later, this writer booked another mentoring session with me. He played me the tracks he was doing then. They were almost indistinguishable from the top tracks hit writers were building. And his songs were much better. He had listened and he had worked on the things I told him to work on.

We looked at some areas that still needed work with his writing and I suggested that he work to find some co-writers that were stronger than he was lyrically. Within six months, I had two different pro writers say “Dude, have you written with this track guy? He’s awesome!!” Guess who it was?

He had been spending his time networking and building up his circle of writers. By the next time we met, he was writing with a full slate of pro writers. He has what it takes to succeed? How do I know?

1. He listened

2. He learned

3. He worked hard

4. He dropped his ego and admitted where he needed help

When I mentor songwriters, I look for those 4 factors. And they have to be proven over time. That’s why we at SongTown don’t advertise things like “Get your songs in front of major producers TODAY!” If you were ready for success today, you wouldn’t need us. Our approach is to get to know you and your music, to follow your learning trajectory and to help you steer the car back on to the road when you head for the ditch.

If you listen, learn, work hard and let go of your ego, there’s no stopping you.

The writers we see doing those 4 things are the ones we see getting record deals, writing deals and cuts. The writers who keep submitting the same song year after year are stuck in the ditch with the wheels spinning. Going nowhere fast.

So, don’t ask someone if you have what it takes from just listening to a few of your songs. SHOW them you have what it takes by DOING what it takes to succeed. That’s the golden ticket!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing


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