My 7 tips for new Singer-Songwriters (like me). Or, Seven things I've learnt by trying to make music.
1: Make music for its own sake.
Don't think about 'where your music could take you.’ Enjoy where you are.
Music is amazing. It is life changing and I believe it's deeply spiritual too. Most importantly: music is an end unto itself. If you're making music for any other reason than to bring more music into the world then please stop. I’m serious, stop, now.
2: Don't settle. Make the best music you can.
Keep improving. Keep tweaking those songs, listen to feedback and act on it. Sometimes the ‘easy road' can be very alluring, but wouldn't you rather push on and discover what you are truly capable of? I intend to keep working until I produce music I’m truly proud of, not just ‘happy with’ (I have not done this yet). I want to make music I can listen to and think “yes, that’s the best I can do. That’s my music on display for everyone to see”. Even when (and if) I get to that point, I intend to keep striving to improve.
3: If anyone at all likes your music. That's a big deal!
People generally don't care about music these days. Sad but true (though I understand that if you’re reading this blog you probably do care about music, but I would say that people like us are the minority these days). Now combine that fact with a culture that generally defines success in terms of numbers (how many people come to your shows? How much money do you make? How many ‘likes’ do you have on Facebook etc) and you have a recipe for a lot of depressed artists playing to empty rooms and feeling like failures.
Now, just think about how much music we’re exposed to on TV, radio and films these days. Now think about how rarely that music moves you enough to go and tell the person making it how much it moved you.
So if anyone has responded to your music, then that's amazing. Even if it’s just one person. If they’ve taken the time and made the effort to encourage you, then you’re onto something special!
Remember all the nice things people say to you. (I even write them down!) Keep them in your mind and reflect on them often. Take any and all encouragement. There are a lot of singer-songwriters out there and most of them (in my experience) are really good! So if people like your stuff, if you stand out among all that talent, even if it's just to one person then that's huge. Hold onto that with both hands.
Please don't worry about 'big crowds'. I’m yet to see a ‘big crowd’ watching any unsigned talent, no matter how amazing they are. Big crowds go and see One Direction. People love the Transformers movies. Popularity means nothing. Crowds go where the advertising is, not necessarily where the talent is.
Which brings me on to my next point…
3: Don't worry about the people who don't like your music.
Ok, take a deep calming breath.
Now, let me break this to you right now. If you're any good at all there will be people who can't stand your music. There will even be people who say they hate you're music!
Anyone who is making strong enough, non-beige, heartfelt music will encounter some people who hate it. That's fine, I would say good even! I always say that the ‘best' songs are loved by around 60% of people and hated by 40% of people. I believe that a song that 100% of people think is just 'ok' is weaker than a song that 10% fall in love with.
So don't worry about everyone’s opinion, you can’t please everyone. Trying to please everyone is a fast track to nowhere. You can run on that treadmill until you die and you'll still never move an inch. After all there are people who hate the Beatles!
Don't try and make music for these people. Make music that is genuine and speaks to YOURSELF. Remember everyone hates a fake. Also there's no better feeling than finding out that your art has resonated with someone who is going through the same things you are.
4: If you like someone else's music, tell them!
I've learnt in the last year and a half that a lot of super talented people, who appear on the outside to be mega confident natural born performers, are actually struggling with deep self doubt and anxiety. Your words could mean the world to them. It could even be what keeps them making the amazing music they're making. So don't keep it bottled up, tell them.
If, like me, you’re often too embarrassed to walk up to them at a gig and tell them how much you enjoyed their set, then send them an email or a message on Facebook or something. You never know how much of a difference it could make.
Also if you’re playing a gig or an open mic where there’s lots of other acts playing then please stay around and watch everyone else.* There’s nothing worse than people who show no interest in other people’s music. After all, you never know what amazing talent you could be missing out on due to leaving after you’ve played.
5: Try not to get too jealous.
I really struggle with this one!
There are a lot of amazing talents out there! But there’s only one person who sounds like you.
This is the reason I don't like music ‘competitions’. Music is subjective, it is art, who's to say whats ‘good’ or ‘bad’? And anyway, unless you're Paul Simon there will always be someone ‘better’ than you! (If you are Paul Simon, thanks for reading Paul, errr, I mean Mr Simon. Ps can I support you next time you come to the UK?)
Try not to compare yourself to other Singer-Songwriters (and if you figure out a way to do this then please let me know). There’s only one person with your voice, your story and your unique set of challenges. So there’s only one person you should compete with, and that person is you.
6: You have to promote your music.
For me this is the worst part of being an independent Singer-Songwriter. A real ‘necessary evil’. However in the end it comes down to this: How are people going to hear your music is they don't know it exists?
I despise putting all those photos of myself playing at gigs on Facebook, I hate the fact that my twitter feed is one long list of the gigs I’m playing. Worst of all, it makes my skin crawl when I share the good reviews people have written about my music. But this is a real quote from a person who attended one of my shows recently “To be honest I had no idea who you are, but when I read the reviews of your music I thought, ‘here’s a musician I need to listen to’, I’m so happy I did!”
If I hadn't promoted my music then that person (and the friends they brought) would have never connected with my stuff. For me, making connections with people and sharing songs that resonate with them is what it’s all about.
7: Enjoy it.
This time will never come again and we never know how long anything will last.
*due to my health problems I often have to leave events early, so I could appear a bit of a hypocrite on this point. But please know, I always stay when I possibly can!
Author: Keith Sadler
I want to share my music-making journey with you, as well as my experience of the amazing local music scene here in Suffolk.