by Marti Jane Dodson
Apr 1, 2017
SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE–A Cheerleader’s Lament
I am not generally a peppy individual. I don’t like things like “exercise” and “being in shape,” nor do I care about literally any sport other than college football. Actually, if we’re sitting in the real Tree Of Truth here… most of my passion for college football has more to do with grilled meats and socially acceptable morning drinking than it does with touchdowns and tight ends. I have zero affinity for group dance moves, a low tolerance for matching hair ribbons, and my physical coordination skills fall comfortably between “newborn calf” and “guy working on his third 40 before noon.”
So obviously it makes perfect sense that I’ve always felt I missed my calling as a cheerleader. As an elementary school cheerleader, I was the one slouching in every picture and visibly daydreaming about snacks. Flubbing every move, but tolerated by the coach because I was friendly and my mom always brought me to practice. When I cruised on up to ninth grade, merely signing up for cheerleading became a thing of the past and we had to audition. I was deeply heartbroken that I didn’t make the squad (I believe I was “third alternate”-which is a pleasant way of saying “in the event that the 12 actual cheerleaders plus two other people who are better than you mysteriously perish in a chemistry class accident, MARTI-YOU’RE IN!”) I realize now that what I was attracted to about cheerleading (besides the mini skirts which my mother had forbidden under any other circumstance) was the-somewhat misguided-notion that through my support and encouragement, someone else could be really great at something. THIS-this is a thing I can do. I can’t do a split, but I can tell you when you’re struggling to *KEEP IT UP, KEEP IT UP, BOBCATS-err, songwriters-KEEP IT UP.* And this is a thing I enjoy very much about being part of the SongTown community. In a business that hands out a whole lot of hard knocks, there is always room for the cheerleaders and the champions.
That’s why I hate to say, that just for today and just for this blog… I resign as Head Cheerleader.
Here’s a hard truth. We’re all a little bit blind to our own weaknesses when it comes to our songs. Because music is subject to the opinion of the listener, it’s easy to hear things on the radio and say “I write better songs than that’. It’s easy to fall for our cheerleading squad-our family members and friends who tell us everything we do is earth-shattering and magical and we are special unicorns and the world just hasn’t recognized our talent yet. It’s easy to plant ourselves among a crowd of people who are newer than we are to our craft, and convince ourselves that we’re amazing because our songs outshine their songs in some way.
And yes, in truth, the business of music will whip most of our egos into shape in short order.
But for some of us, and trust me, I have been guilty of this too, we might feel a little sorry for ourselves. We might think the people who critique us are wrong. We might think they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they only made it so far because they knew the right people. And guess what? In a handful of cases, these things are true. But here’s another truth bomb-just like everything else in life, the music business isn’t fair. (please stick around for my 10:00 show, Water Is Wet).
So really, the only way to win is to put aside your ego and do the work to become a better writer.
I can’t say this enough. Do the work. Do the work. DO. THE. WORK. Become the undeniable best. Write a song that your grandma believes is an amazing song (as soon as you burn it onto a compact disc and stop trying to make her understand what an mp3 is)….but let it be so amazing that it also stops a stranger driving next to you on the freeway from flipping past the station it’s playing on. One piece of advice I got from my first manager has always stuck with me. When we first started working together, my band at the time was very much focused on trying to be the most popular band in our hometown. We didn’t look at the bigger picture. In one talk, our manager said “Don’t you know you’re not competing to be the best band in your town? Those bands are not your competition. Turn on the tv, turn on the radio. THAT’S your competition. You need to be as good or better than every band with a record deal, with a million fans, with everything you want that you don’t have.”
I am not the world’s best songwriter.
I do not have the world’s best songs. What I DO have, is a small amount of natural-born talent, that I’ve nurtured over many years by learning at the feet of people who are more skilled than me. What I DO have, is too much tenacity and courage (tempered with a touch of stupidity) to give up. What I DO have, is the *desire* to be the best. If there’s an Olympics of songwriting, I want to make the team. And when I say I want to be the best, it is with the understanding that I want to be my personal best.
My barometer that I choose to measure myself by-it’s my songwriting heroes, it’s the songs I wish I’d written-those are what I need to consider my competition, in order to reach my personal best.
Those are my starting points. They are no different than yours. Study great songs. Read books on songwriting. My end game is no different than yours either. I want to win at this. You do too, or you wouldn’t be here reading these words. We have to understand that to do so, we cannot be complacent, we cannot be egotistical, we cannot worry about the odds that are stacked against us. We can only stop the whining, suck it up, and do the work.
(Okay, that was tough guy me. I think I grew a beard while I was writing that. Anyway, I’m off to collect my pom poms and I’ll be back soon with your regularly scheduled gentle hugs and loving encouragement!)
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