Songwriting Is Not An Overnight Success Business

tim_hicks- not overnight songwriting success

“I worked 17 years for overnight songwriting success.”  – Tim Hicks


There’s often a misconception when someone in the music business succeeds. It’s easy to think that an artist became and instant sensation or overnight songwriting success. So, I thought I’d share a story of how it most often happens here in the real world…

Several years ago, at our publishing company’s Christmas dinner, I ran into an old friend, Denny Carr who told me an amazing story. Four years prior, he and I were in Hamilton, Ontario Canada for the Canadian Country Music Awards. While we were there, Neil Sanderson from the rock band “Three Days Grace” called Denny and told him he needed to go to a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar to hear a great performer.

Denny didn’t really want to go hear an unknown artist, the cab fare to see the show was going to be $35 and he was really tired…

But something inside him said he should give it a try. So he paid the cab fare and went to the show. When he got to the bar, the performer was stuck way over in the corner on a tiny stage.

Denny watched the show and was blown away!

After the show, he approached the singer to find out his story. The performer, Tim Hicks, had been playing at this bar non-stop for 17 years. You read that correctly. 17 Years! Also, he only made $300 per night. And his wife was expecting a baby. They were barely getting by and he’d lost all hope of making it in the music business as a singer songwriter. Incredibly, he was 33 years old and way past “music business” prime.

Denny asked Tim if he would be interested in coming to Nashville to talk to the label that he worked with…

Tim accepted and the rest is history. Last year, Tim was the biggest selling country artist in Canada. He makes more than his previous record yearly salary EVERY night that he plays a show. Denny says that he likes to jokingly remind Tim that he was one $35 cab ride away from making $300 a night.

The moral of the story?

In this business we are ALL “one $35 cab ride away” from something good happening with our music. If we don’t give up. If we keep on putting out good work and getting better at what we do, someone will notice someday. I believe that.

Will you become an overnight songwriting success?

Not usually. But, don’t be discouraged. You could be one listen away from that first cut. One phone call away from your big break and perceived overnight success. It happens to real people. We’ve had SongTown members work hard and land major artist cuts, chart hits, staffwriter deals, and sync placements. It can happen to you. Keep believing. Keep doing your best work. And keep getting better. Your best chance is to buckle down and write on.  ~Marty




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

26 thoughts on “Songwriting Is Not An Overnight Success Business

  1. Fantastic story. Great inspiration. It just shows that you never know when that right door will open. Just have to keep on keeping on. only have fourteen more years to go.

  2. Love this story and ones like it. I remember about 11 years ago hearing Jason Blume say when he arrived in LA that he knew in one year he’d have a house in Beverly Hills and a Mercedes Benz in the driveway…. long story short, Jason got his first hit 16 years later!
    Last week I had my first artist cut hit the airwaves throughout the country, so I can now proudly say that I am an overnight success that took 11 years to get there! Haha, I truly believe if we do what we love and remain teachable and do what mentors suggest that all the rest will take care of itself when the time is right.

  3. Same theme in other words: “Success is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”
    The Tim Hicks story suggests that Neil Sanderson stumbled into the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ bar quite without expectations, and heard ‘product’ performed at a caliber a cut above the usual.
    It may have been Song-Writing better than usual.
    It may have been performance better than usual.
    Something happened in that accidental encounter to motivate Sanderson to call Denny Carr, and something motivated Denny to take a chance on a costly cab ride, and resist the urge to lay it all down for the day, and go.
    “Go.” Is that a key concept?
    Tim Hicks ‘went’ for 17 years on a regular schedule, and probably made enough money to keep him ‘Go-ing’. He could have ‘Go-ne’ elsewhere perhaps, and made more money, or even made the contacts to step into a higher rate of earnings. But he kept ‘Go-ing’ for seventeen years to the same place, and it worked out in the end.
    The lesson: Keep Going. If you’re creating good product, writing ‘good’ Songs, and are able to perform them so other people can make that judgment call, that it truly is ‘good’ product, the only other factor is that you keep ‘Go-ing’.
    Where you ‘Go’ is of strategic importance. In the early 21st Century your product can ‘Go’ places you may never ‘Go’, traveling around planet Earth electronically. Being able to make Broadcast Ready recordings enables you to enter the marketplace and, if your product truly qualifies as ‘good’, word-of-mouth advertising can live up to its reputation and draw ‘con$umers’ to your ‘virtual door’.
    So…keep Go-ing!

  4. Marty,

    I love this story. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Denny recently and he has been so kind to me. He has set up a co-write with one of his artists and I am beyond thrilled. We all need champions in our lives to keep us going. I’ve been so blessed to have Clay Myers, Ronna Reeves, Clay and yourself as mentors. I want you to know how much I appreciate it. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.

    Jude Toy

  5. Thanks for the the encouragement and the interesting story. One question – how did Denny know to go to that club to hear that artist? I wonder if that’s one of the ingredients we struggling musicians need to pay attention to. Are we playing in placing that attract people who can “discover” us? How do we get the word out that we’re there? Any thoughts are welcome.

  6. Bravo Marty….Great informational value bomb! Many songwriters spend decades waiting for success, for example: Leonard Cohen was in his 50’s when he finally had success. This business of songwriting is not for the faint of heart, weak in the knees or thin skinned. W rite On…!

    1. Oh on..pray that s not me…faint of heart..weak in the knees…think skinned…but also have. Great songs.. is there any hope?!

    2. Thanks Marty, it’s true lightning can strike anytime, although I have only been seriously writing lyrics for about 2 years, I feel I’m making in roads, thanks to Song Town, and getting some great feedback from pro writers too. A blog post like this is always inspiring. Thank you.

  7. For years I had the Abraham Lincoln quote on my wall “I will prepare and my opportunity will come.”

    I can’t tell you how many times that quote turned out to be true.

    Being willing to prepare…building your skills and your contacts really is where it’s at in every field.

    When the opportunity comes it can only help you if you’re truly ready for it.

  8. Wow! Marty, not only do I love this story, but it has tripped a song idea! ! ! Thanks soooooooooooo much!

  9. This is a great story thanks Marty.
    I was an opening act for Tim Hicks 2013 in my town at the beginning of the end of this story you’re telling and one that I didn’t know about until now.
    Very cool.
    Thanks Marty!!!

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