Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Professional Songwriter

Joseph Capalbo, professional songwriter at work

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By Joseph Capalbo

The journey to becoming a professional songwriter can yield many twists and turns. It isn’t always easy to pursue our big musical dreams, but learning from the experiences of other musicians that are on a similar path can potentially help you to reach success much faster and smoother.

Here are some of things that I’ve learned along the way in my own career that I wish I knew before I started.

Anyone Can Do It

I used to believe that it was all about who you knew. In my personal journey, I’ve learned that it’s more about the quality of the music you write, the consistency of putting it out, and putting yourself in the networks of other music industry folks as you’re releasing your music. It doesn’t matter if you have connections, if you live in a major music hub, or if you’ve auditioned for America’s Got Talent before. Anyone can do it (believe me).

You’re Going to Write a lot of Bad Songs (Before You Write Good Ones)

Music is subjective, so good versus bad will always be different for everyone. But as musicians, we learn a lot of songwriting best practices by studying the trends from other songs and learning to apply them into our own songs. On top of that, we truly are our own worst critics.

Getting song feedback is an essential part to growing as a songwriter and making sure we are progressing. Friends or family members are always great to ask for their opinions, but asking a professional songwriter that will give you unbiased feedback (such as one of Soundfly’s mentors) can really help to level up your writing.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Words Matter: How to Ask and Give Advice With Respect.”

It Might Take Time to Get There

Success in the songwriting world typically doesn’t come overnight. You have to write a lot of songs and develop the strategy to get them in front of someone or promote them. Like most big goals, songwriting takes a lot of consistent hard work and patience to balance you out along the way.

Music Education Isn’t Mandatory (But It Helps Remarkably)

My favorite part about music theory is how well it can translate into assisting songwriters with their craft. Basic chord theory, like you’ll find in Soundfly’s courses, Unlocking the Emotional Power of Chords and The Creative Power of Advanced Harmony, tells you which chords work well together. Knowledge of scales on an instrument can help you construct melodies. Music theory steps into the process when your creative side might be lacking in any particular area.

Many of the songwriters that I work with didn’t graduate from a music academy but are very competent and successful with their craft. So, you don’t need to know all the bells and whistles of music theory to be successful as a songwriter, but it will surely help you to develop a consistent and a streamlined process for how you approach your songs.

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Inspiration Can Strike at any Point (and You Should Be Ready for It)

Songwriters seek every last drop of inspiration to apply into our songs. Although we’re grateful when inspiration strikes, it doesn’t always come to us at the most opportune moments. Song ideas may come to you in the middle of the night, on the commute to work, or in any situation where we aren’t at our normal writing environment. Having an accessible app like voice memos, “notes,” or a physical notepad can help you quickly get your ideas down while you still have them fresh in your mind.

You Don’t Have to Do It All (but You Can if You Want)

There’s a surplus of independent musicians who wear every hat in the entire process of writing to releasing and promoting original music. Building the self-awareness of your strengths so that you can outsource your weaknesses will make you stronger than any songwriter that tries to juggle doing everything themselves.

Co-writers help to fill in any weaknesses in song construction. Music producers can turn the composition of a song into a reality. Music publishers can put your songs in front of clients that you may not have the access to. If you’re the type of person that likes to juggle multiple tasks and have full creative control then that option may be for you. If not, it’s okay to not do it all.

Working All the Time Doesn’t Correlate to Success

The scarcity of work in the beginning of the journey trains musicians to always say “Yes” to opportunities. We might even feel guilty if we have to let go of an opportunity, even if it was because we had so many other things going on.

Taking breaks is a necessary part of the journey to allow us to recharge our creative energy. Working all the time can wear you down quickly and potentially cause you to burn out, which is sometimes more detrimental than saying no in the first place. Determine whether or not the project is realistic and worthy of your time and make the decision from there.

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You Shouldn’t Use Every Songwriting Trick Just for the Sake of It

It’s very tempting to apply music theory concepts into our songs as soon as we learn them. We should always use the tools that the song calls for when needed, rather than putting them in to showcase our musical knowledge and acumen. It’s easy to fall into the trap of showing off, but audiences can tell when complexity feels forced for no reason.

You Typically Don’t Get Paid Right Away

Writing songs solely for the income might be a bit of a letdown as you’re just getting started out. That’s why I would recommend having a flexible job that will keep you afloat as you are writing songs, scheduling co-writes, taking mentorship sessions, and pitching or promoting your music.

Sometimes it takes nine months up to a year for your Performing Rights Organization to pay you any royalties for your music. Flexibility or a cushion of income will allow you to focus more on your music and still be able to take care of your mental and physical health.

Most People Won’t Understand What You Actually Do for a Living

Others may understand that you write songs, but a lot of the behind the scenes work falls beneath the surface. And that’s okay. I’ve learned that we don’t have to convince others of what we do, but rather have our work be what showcases our career. Songwriting is a bit of a niche career that has a lot of different tasks involved, so only you and your team may be the only ones that truly understand.

Some of Your Songs Can Be Just For You

Remember the main reason why you started writing songs. I can be hard when working on a handful of projects at any given time, but every song we write doesn’t have to be professional and ready to be pitched to clients — some can simply be for us, for fun, or anything outside of our path to becoming professional songwriters.

You may be more efficient in your path to becoming a professional songwriter if you plan around some of these things that I’ve learned in my own career. Not everyone will have the same path but there is a lot of crossover from songwriter to songwriter. Good luck on your musical journey and remember that Soundfly’s personal mentorship is here to help you along the way.

Joseph Capalbo is a Soundfly Mentor. Click here to work with him to achieve your next musical goal.

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