One of the first things I did when I began to seriously pursue a career in writing was to attend NSAI's Song Camp. It was an eye opening experience in every way.
I got to meet a number of writers who had written some of my favorite songs. Hugh Prestwood was at the top of that list. He wrote "That's That," "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder" and "The Song Remembers When," among many other great songs.
Also eye opening was the speed at which the pros seemed to work. They thought so quickly on their feet and flew through writing exercises.
One of the exercises was to write a song with the title "The Grip." We were given two hours to write by ourselves and then everyone came back together to play our songs for the group.
I came back into the room smugly, thinking I was going to blow the group away with my song. I had come up with a unique angle and I thought I had some great lines in my song.
I was discouraged that several other people in the class came up with the same "unique" angle that I had taken. I did get some positive feedback from other amateur writers, so I couldn't wait to hear what the teacher had to say.
He got up and said "Well, I've been trying to give all of you the tools you would need to take my job, but I don't think I have anything to worry about." He proceeded to tell us all how bad our songs were and then he played his song that he had written with the same title.
It blew me away. I knew in that moment that I was NOT writing at a pro level. After the class, I went up to him and thanked him for the class. Then, I asked him "Do you think my song was even CLOSE to something someone might cut?"
He then said one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. "You're not even in the ballpark." He was very kind and looked like it hurt him to tell me that, but his honesty changed my life.
He could have told me I was awesome and I would have left on top of the world. And I would have likely become one of those people that is always complaining about "My songs are as good as the ones on the radio." I don't know if I would have ever gotten a cut if he had not told me the truth.
Hearing the truth was devastating, but it let me know that I was going to have to bust my butt and to up my game if I was ever going to have a CHANCE at a cut.
After I recovered, I resolved to figure out what I needed to do to get "in the ballpark." His words were a continual reminder that I had LOTS of work left to do. Those words still motivate me to this day. And, I have surpassed that teacher in the number of cuts we have, so I guess I did, in a sense, "take his job."
It's easy to just search around and find a songwriting organization that will tell you that you're awesome. There are lots of them out there. Some offer publishing deals at the drop of a hat. Others will even help you demo your "amazing" songs for $2500 a pop. If you aren't getting industry attention with your songs and someone offers to "help" you for a price, beware.
Songtown is built on truth. We don't ever tell people their songs are great unless they really are. We don't tell our publishers to take some songs at a pitch-to-publisher just to make people feel good. We want you to learn to write GREAT songs and the truth is the ONLY thing that will set you free!
Marty Dodson is a songwriter, corporate trainer and entrepreneur. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and The Plain White T’s. He once bumped Psy out of the #1 spot on the K-Pop charts but that’s another story for another day. Marty plays Taylor and Batson guitars. Follow him here: www.facebook.com/songtownusa, at www.facebook.com/martydodsonsongwriter and at Twitter @SongTownUSA or visit martydodson.com