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Mary's Musings: Advice for the Independent Songwriter

Mary Dawson By Mary Dawson

© 1998-2009, Mary Dawson. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission (Please do not reprint without asking permission!)

I am an obsessive-compulsive songwriter! I can no more stop writing songs than I can stop breathing. I have often been discouraged, rejected, discounted, "chewed up and spit out" by critiques and by so-called "music professionals." But somehow in the midst of my despair, I hear a great hook and I am off again! In my obsession to "just write a couple of songs" I have somehow ended up as a music publisher, the president of an independent record label, a songwriting consultant and even the host of a radio talk show on the craft and business of songwriting! I sometimes turn around and look at the road I've been traveling and wonder how the heck I ever got HERE! But here I am!

Since I have never been able to pick up stakes and move to LA, New York, or Nashville, much of what I have learned about the craft and business of songwriting has been through the Little Red Hen Principle.You remember her, don't you? She's the fairy tale character who tried to get the other farm animals to help her plant the wheat, harvest the wheat, and make the bread. But none of the animals would help, so she had to do it herself.

In this section of The Muse's Muse we will examine many and varied aspects of the craft and business of songwriting -- especially from the "independent songwriter's perspective." I will try to pass on some of the things I have been learning over the last decade and a half in this business which will hopefully help you to avoid some of the "potholes on the road to success" and to find your place of maximum contribution as a songwriter.

A short bio


  • Musicianaries: Songwriters with a Message and a Mission - Throughout history great songs and songwriters have sparked the conscience of their nations. But to effectively write songs about sensitive social issues requires great skill and sensitivity. In this article, Mary Dawson gives some thought-provoking suggestions for writers who feel moved to craft songs to touch the issues of our day.
  • New Year's Resolutions for Songwriters - It's almost time to make our New Year's resolutions for 2009. Are you ready for the New Year? Will your resolutions collapse by February? Or will you actually make some progress this year? Mary's article will help you make a New Year's plan that works.
  • Quality Versus Quantity - A reality check for those who love the songwriting process but have not identified their writing goals nor mastered the Language of Songwriting that produces Hits.
  • Comfort Zone: Enter at Your Own Risk - Most songwriters live in fear of the dreaded disease known as Writer's Block. But there is an even more dangerous condition that can attack the creative soul. It's called the Comfort Zone. Mary Dawson identifies the symptoms and offers some remedies.
  • Stories Behind the Christmas Carols - They are so familiar that we scarcely pause to think about where they came from! They are the Christmas carols we love to sing and play every year. But there were songwriters behind the scenes that created these wonderful songs. When you hear the stories behind the carols, you will appreciate them even more.
  • Perseverance: the Key to the Doors of Success - The Doors of Success in Music (or in Life) are 'Excellence' and "Credibility.' You must be Excellent -- world-class in your craft, and then, you must be Credible -- reliable, believable, able to be depended upon to offer consistent excellence day in and day out. Both doors have one 'skeleton key' called Perseverance. In the first of her two-part series, Mary examines this essential key in bringing you to the next level of your music career.
  • Perseverance: the Key to the Doors of Success -- Part 2 - Credibility is as important to long-term success in music as Excellence is. In the second of her two-part series, Mary Dawson shows how the Key of Perseverance can also open to door to Credibility in developing your professional reputation.
  • The Power of Principles: Part 1 / Master's Maxim - Do you ever feel a bit discouraged as a songwriter -- like you are just treading water and never reaching the "shore of success?" Perhaps this new series will stimulate your creativity and introduce some new thoughts to energize your craft. The first principle, Master's Maxim, is one you can begin to apply TODAY! Join us for some foundational songwriting principles that can get you started or keep you going as a writer.
  • The Power of Principles: Part 2 / The Greer Guideline - Like any other art or skill, songwriting involves a LOT of behind-the-scenes discipline, practice and study in order to make the songs we write appear smooth an spontaneous. The Greer Guideline -- the second principle in our series -- focuses on the fact that there is no substitute for excellence if we hope to really communicate our musical message to millions of listeners.
  • The Power of Principles: Part 3 / The Credibility Factor - In the competitive World of Music, every attribute (musical or otherwise) that a songwriter can bring to the table enhances his/her chances of ultimate success. The third principle in our Power of Principles series concerns the importance of the songwriter's "total personality and talent profile." Learn how to develop your own Success Resume and utilize all your gifts and skills to achieve your songwriting goals.
  • The Power of Principles: Part 4 / Jacobson's Integrity Principle - There are so many things in the Music Business that are out of our control as songwriters and musicians. We may not have the right industry "connections." We may not be able to re-locate to a major music capitol. We may not be the "right age" or have a knockout appearance. But we do have control over the reputation that we create every day by the way we live our lives and do our music. To learn more of the important "integrity principle" passed on through attorney, Jeffrey Jacobson, please read on....
  • Principle 5: The Theory of Scarcity vs. the Theory of Abundance - This final segment of The Power of Principles is one of the most important of all. We have all been conditioned by the Theory of Scarcity in various aspects of our lives, but there is another more powerful principle that overrides anything that may have limited you before. It's called the Theory of Abundance. Learn how it can empower you to find your most fulfilling place in music -- wherever you live!
  • Finishing Touches - If we were building a house instead of a song, we would be almost ready to move in by now! We've been careful to lay a strong foundation comprised of our Great Idea and the Hook. We have carefully planned and constructed the framework of the Lyrics and the Melody. We have used crafting tools like Cadence and Rhyme to make the rooms fresh and interesting without sacrificing comfort and familiarity. It's time now for the wallpaper and the curtains. This is the fun stuff….so read on!
  • The Emergence of Verses - Effective verses immediately engage the listener's mind and clearly "arrive" or "pay off" in the chorus. Join Mary as she explores some ideas for creating verses that will spotlight and set up your Great Hook.
  • Tips for Tunesmiths - Some suggestions on how to write music for memorable songs.
  • Creating Hit Melodies - Writing hit melodies is not as daunting a challenge as it may seem! Some of the greatest melody writers of all time have not been able to either read or write music. Join us for this glimpse into the art form that can turn you lyric into a blockbuster HIT!
  • Cadence and the Beginning of Melody - Cadence is one of the most crucial -- but often one of the least understood -- elements in crafting a hit. It is the place where melody and lyrics fuse to form a completely new creation called a "song." Join us for a look into this very important concept.
  • Freeflow - When we have found that Great Idea for a song, a Great Hook to hang the idea on and have strategically placed the hook so that it is the focus and arrival point of the song, we are ready to explore the concept of freeflow. Grab your pencil and paper and let's get started.
  • Destination Songwriting - Whether you are planning a road trip or writing a song, you have to have a destination! Learn how to place your Great Hook strategically so that it becomes the Arrival Point -- the Payoff -- of your song!
  • The Hook: the RNA of a Hit Song - You have a "killer idea" for a hit song. The next step is to find a "killer hook" to hang that idea on.
    If the Great Idea is the DNA of a Hit, the Great Hook is the RNA. What are the characteristics of a
    Great Hook? How can you develop it successfully as you craft your song? Read on.....the answers lie just inside this article!
  • The Great Idea: the DNA of a Hit Song - Before the Words or the Music, there is one essential ingredient that is as fundamental to a Hit Song as DNA is to the human gene -- that essential is the Great Idea. Where do Great Ideas come from? How can you find them? This article will get you started in your quest!
  • Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form - Introduction - The start of a new series!
  • Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form - The "AAA" Song - More about song format.
  • Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: The Verse-Chorus Song - An examination of the Verse-Chorus Song Form which has dominated American Music for most of the Twentieth Century.
  • Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: The AABA Song - Meet the AABA Song -- the Elegant, Sophisticated Member of the Song Form Family
  • Just Write a New "White Christmas" - "Just go home and write another White Christmas," he said. Yeah….Right!
  • Equilibrium and Songwriting - I know of no other industries where expectations are so high and where fantasy dominates so completely as in the Entertainment and Music Industries.  You are only a failure if YOU think you are.
  • Excellence and Songwriting - So…you are getting in touch with your emotions and you are beginning to educate yourself in the craft of songwriting . You are now ready to wow the world with your songs, right? Maybe not quite!
  • Enrolling in Songwriting University - Songwriting is definitely a science as well as an art. After the Muse has dropped the inspiration upon you and flown out the window on his way to inspire someone else, you are left with the reality that you must know the principles of songcrafting in order to polish that lovely inspiration into a truly great song.
  • Enrolling in Songwriting University: Radio Listening 101 - In every city and hamlet across the country, commercial radio is broadcasting commercial songs -- 24 hours a day! Almost every great songwriter I have ever met has testified unequivocally that they have learned most of what they know about writing hits from listening to the radio.
  • Songs: Emotional Dynamite - This article will begin a new series in "Mary's Musings." Since in recent articles we have been covering some of the "business" aspects of promoting songs on radio, we will now focus for a while on the more "creative" aspects of songwriting -- basics for approaching the craft with understanding.
  • Mary's Musings: The Realities of Radio (Part 1) - Writing from the listener's point of view.
  • Mary's Musings: The Realities of Radio (Part 2) - The mystery of the listener's mind.
  • Mary's Musings: The Realities of Radio (Part 3) - Capturing the listener.
  • Mary's Musings: The Realities of Radio (Part 4) - Corporate radio.


A short bio:
Mary Dawson is a prolific, published songwriter and president of CQK Records and Music of Dallas, Texas. She is also the author of the book, "How to Get Somewhere in the Music Business from Nowhere with Nothing," and an instructor of songwriting and commercial music at Southern Methodist University. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has made her a popular seminar speaker at songwriting events around the country.

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