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Equilibrium and Songwriting
By Mary Dawson - 05/28/2007 - 11:18 PM EDT

Several years ago I attended a week-long music conference which held several different competitions for musicians and songwriters. The prizes were enticing and held the possibility of real discovery and success for the hundreds of aspiring artists who entered. To my surprise, however, I noticed as I flipped through my conference booklet that there were sessions available for contestants to meet with trained psychiatrists at various points throughout the week. Curious, I asked one of the conference staff about these counseling sessions. I was told that in previous competitions several of the "non-winners" ("loser" is such a harsh word) had become so depressed about not winning the coveted prize that several had actually attempted suicide!

I know of no other industries where expectations are so high and where fantasy dominates so completely as in the Entertainment and Music Industries. How did Hal David put it?

LA is a great big freeway -- put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week -- maybe two -- they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years -- how quick they pass
And all the stars who never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas 1

It's certainly not hard to understand how a series of shattered hopes and expectations could lead to major depression and a sense of abysmal failure. What happens if you have an incredible talent that is never nationally or internationally recognized? Is your life over and your talent a waste? My answer to that one is: You are only a failure if YOU think you are.

Webster defines "equilibrium" as a state of balance or adjustment between opposing or divergent influences or elements. For anyone who has begun the journey into the Music Industry or for anyone who is even contemplating it, equilibrium is an essential if you ever hope to come out alive. There are many opposing forces that you must keep in balance for mental/emotional health and, in my opinion, for ultimate success. Here are a few:

Being Serious About the Craft but Light-Hearted About the Results:
I can't tell you how many songwriters and artists I meet who have this balance reversed by 180 degrees. They dabble at their craft but expect international recognition. This will never work! In my opinion, anyone who hopes to achieve any measure of true success -- and satisfaction -- in this industry must be head-over-heels in love with Music and be ultimately motivated by that love alone! Such people do their best work every day and keep stretching and growing in their craft until the day they die -- whether they ever become rich and famous or not. They know themselves and the principles of songwriting so well that they know when they have created true art. Focusing on the results is called obsession. Focusing on the process is called excellence. Be sure you don't get these two elements transposed. It will only lead to heartbreak.

Differentiating Between Dabbling and Commitment:
I have been a jogger for over twenty years. I jog 5-6 times a week -- three miles a day. Every year on the first of January I meet a whole host of new faces on the track -- all sporting their new Christmas gifts of running shoes and co-ordinated running gear. By the middle of February most of the new faces are gone. Were those new people sincere in their intentions? Absolutely! The missing ingredient is something called "commitment." I often counsel aspiring writers that if they are not willing invest at least fourteen hours a week into their Music goals, they really are not committed -- only dabbling at an enjoyable hobby. When you have a "day gig," fourteen hours a week may seem like a Herculean undertaking -- and it is! But it is the least you can invest if you hope to become knowledgeable about the business and excellent in the craft of Songwriting. Let me hasten to say that there is nothing wrong with "dabbling." I dabble at a lot of things that I enjoy but don't want to give my life to. Only you can decide if you want to dabble or commit yourself to your craft for the long haul. If you decide on commitment, be consistent.

Setting Short-Term AND Long-Term Goals:
Long term goals are the stuff of fantasy, and unfortunately, that is where most aspiring songwriters and artists focus their attention. "If only" and "Someday" permeate their thoughts and speech. They dream of becoming "overnight successes" and when -- as Huey Lewis commented -- it turns out to be "a hell of a long night," they lose heart.

While it is certainly important to have long-range goals, it is also absolutely imperative to have more achievable short-range goals as well. If you are a gifted songwriter or artist, there are places of contribution and growth right under your nose. Are you…..

  • an active part of your hometown music community?
  • writing songs for local and regional artists? for your neighborhood summer theater program? for your church Christmas pageant?

If not, you are definitely missing some of the most motivating "perks" of this whole business. Success hasn't been likened to a ladder for no reason. Most of the time success is achieved one rung at a time. If you start where you are with what you have, you will be amazed at how one success builds into another. Each one will motivate and reward you and lift you a little higher above the crowds of "wanna-be" musicians. Never underestimate the importance of the rungs -- otherwise known as short-range goals!

Equilibrium in songwriting is a lot like the balance we must find as parents. Our songs are our babies. We need to love them, nurture them, give them the very best we have. And then we have to let them go and just watch them find their place in this world. Great songs -- like great kids -- will never disappoint us.

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