by Marty Dodson
May 5, 2019
Almost all of the people I write with are trying to get their songs recorded and make a living by doing so. It is easy to get so caught up in the pursuit of something commercial that I lose sight of the reasons one started writing songs in the first place. Those reasons, if lost and forgotten, take away the very foundation of any commercial success you might have. So, I wanted to share my original reasons for writing songs and to challenge you to consider your own and to keep them at the forefront of your writing instead of making the “holy grail” some form of commercial success. Here are my foundations:
Writing Songs Helped Me Say What I Couldn’t Say
Lee Ralston lived up the street. We met in kindergarten and were friends all through elementary and middle school. I thought she was really cute, but I was scared to death of her because she was, you know, a girl. I never could find the words to tell her that I really thought she was beautiful and that I wished I could be her boyfriend. But, sitting in the stairwell at my parent’s house with my guitar in hand, the words came out. No one ever heard them unless my mom was eavesdropping through the kitchen door. But I poured out my heart to Lee Ralston and others I crushed on after her. On those steps, I was not an awkward teenager who was scared to death of rejection and girls. I was a smooth-tongued poet who could put words and music together in a way that REALLY spoke what was on my heart.
Writing Songs Helped Me Make Sense of Life
My dad was a drug addict. That was the “family secret” for my first 35 years of life. I didn’t know anyone else who had a drug addict dad. I guess they kept their secrets as well. So, the walls of that house on Colemont Drive were the keepers of the really difficult story of the Dodson family. Outside those walls, we never spoke of it. But on those steps with my trusty Ovation 12 string, I could be angry. REALLY angry!!! I could be hurt and I could ask the questions that you couldn’t ask in real life like “Why are you choosing that over us?” Those songs gave me power and a voice in an out-of-control situation. They were healing. Again, no one ever heard them, but they were my lifeline in a crazy time of my life.
Writing Songs Felt Good
Even when I wasn’t struggling and hurting over something, it just felt GOOD to pick up that guitar and make something up. That became happy pursuit. It gave me joy to create something that never existed before and to be proud of it. It also gave me joy to share my songs with people. I was (and am) happy when I write songs.
It Helped Me Find My Tribe
At some point in high school, I mentioned to a friend that I wrote songs. She said “We should write one sometime.” We did and we formed a band. Writing with someone was a whole new experience. One member of that band was SongTown’s own Conner Sweet’s mother. Again, it just felt good to write a song with someone and to share that experience with a friend. No motives. No concerns about “Who might cut this?” We just wanted to create something beautiful. It wasn’t great, but it was ours and we loved it. In those early co-writes, I found tribe – my people. People who understood trying to create words and music that mattered. People who got what it was like to pour your heart out in a song and have it rejected.
So What About You?
What made you want to write songs in the beginning? If you can stay grounded to THOSE motivations, your chances of commercial success increase greatly. People who chase money often come up empty-handed. Those who chase beauty, art, and meaning often find those things and financial rewards as well. Don’t chase the golden ring. Follow your heart. If any of the following fit you, the world NEEDS you to write your songs and get them heard.
You feel like you have something to say.
Many people write because they have a message they want to share with the world. Sometimes the message is religious or moral. Sometimes it’s an attempt to share something positive with the world – to spread a little light and love. Other times, the writer is promoting an idea or cause they believe in.
You’re “inspired” to write.
I have had many people tell me that they just “woke up with this song in their head” or that they were “given” a song and didn’t really know where it came from. Sometimes inspiration just strikes and it seems as if we are simply writing it down as it comes to us. Those inspired messages need to be honed, crafted and played for people.
You Enjoy Performing and Want To Put Your Own Personal Stamp On Your Music.
Some people love to perform, but they aren’t into performing cover songs. So, they write their own material. Often these people are trying to define themselves as performers. If you enjoy letting your audience get to know you better through your original songs, that can be a great motivation to write.
Writing is therapy.
Many people write simply because it feels good to bleed on paper and get it all out. In most of those instances, they have no intention of trying to get someone to record the song or even for anyone else to hear it. They just want to get stuff off their chest. Writing to process life is a great reason to write.
You Simply Love The Process of Writing.
These writers just like to write. So they do. Not for anyone else. Not to get something worked out. Just for the satisfaction of having written.
Discovering your true motivation and reasons for songwriting can help you figure out how and what to write. If you write for yourself, you write differently than if you are writing for others to perform. Writing for therapy is completely different than just writing to write. Many of us write for all of these reasons at one time or another. Give it some thought. Figure out what causes you to write songs and feed that reason.
Hanging on to your original motivations for writing can help you stay focused and grounded to things that really matter to you. There is no substitute for making YOURSELF happy with your writing.
If you’re happy and YOU love what you write, your chances of success go way up.
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