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 I started writing songs in the first place. Those reasons, if lost and forgotten, take away the very foundation of any commercial success I 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 a, you know, 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 who came later. 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. 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. It was a happy pursuit. 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. That first co-write was with 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.
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.