Whilst not all songwriters play a musical instrument or sing, many do. Often playing an instrument is an effective way to communicate songwriting ideas. Songwriters might spend 5-10 years attending piano, guitar, singing lessons. They practice each day to become proficient at expressing themselves musically.
Developing these skills costs money, takes time and persistent effort.
We feel that if more people understood the years and heart and soul that goes into writing songs, the value and appreciation for songwriters in the world would be higher. If you knew how long it took to become a great songwriter, would you do the work so that you could become one?
Many songwriters want to become great songwriters. They want to hear their songs on the radio, but do they know what’s actually involved? How long will it take them to become a great songwriter? How many songs do they have to write before writing great songs?
So, how long is a piece of string?
For curiosity sake, let’s take a snapshot view at a very different creative process parallel to the song making process. I often find comparing a process that one has no attachment to or expectation around can help us understand our songwriting journey in a more prosperous way.
I’m going to use the analogy of wine-making for song-making. Have you ever made wine? Bet you’ve tasted a great wine before. But have you thought about how long it takes to create that great bottle of wine? What went into the process to get to that point where you’re sitting around the table with your friends talking about how great this bottle of wine is?
Great songwriters like great winemakers…
I recently went on a grape-picking adventure at a small boutique vineyard in the Granite Belt region, South East Queensland. The vineyard was planted in 1999. Since then, it has been lovingly growing each year, cycling the annual season of budburst and leaf growth, flowering and fruit set, the ripening process and then the harvest before the winter dormancy phase.
The wine-making process starts with the harvest and, in this instance, hand-selecting, perfect bunches of Cabernet grapes from what has grown despite the heavy rain.
Last year, raging fires burnt so much of the crop around this area of the world. Trailing behind us on the ground are the abandoned rotten fruit caused by pesky birds that peck through the nets. These rotten fruits aren’t used to make the wine but simply go back into the earth to nourish new growth.
Most of the small groups I’m picking with are first-timers. They are here because they are wine lovers. We talk as we pick. Before picking today, they had no idea how wine was made. Most wine consumers don’t. It’s a big job. Not many vineyards pick by hand. This is a boutique winery. Bigger wineries would likely use a machine (and those machines would also collect those rotten fruits).
The next day…
We crushed the four bins of grapes we picked the day before. A simple crushing machine removes the stalks, crushes the skin and starts the juice extraction process.
Because half of these Cabernet grapes will make a Rosé, we press the grapes straight away. This requires a light-footed Lucille Ball ‘dance’ in a bin of crushed grapes before the juice is siphoned into the fermenter. The other half of the Cabernet will sit in a barrel for six months to a year to age before bottling.
This is a tiny glimpse into the winemaking process. This often unseen process of the vineyard lifecycle, the picking, crushing, pressing, fermenting, bottling, labelling, etc. This reminded me of the songwriting journey as there are many parts that the final consumer often never sees or perhaps even considers.
When you drink wine, you are experiencing the final product. You might be considering the taste, the mouthfeel, the bouquet, the label, the ratings and reviews, where it sat on the shelf at the shop. But have you considered what goes into the making of that great $25 bottle of wine? What happens before the wine makes it into that bottle before you buy it and enjoy it with a group of friends around a dinner table?
Becoming a great songwriter is much like producing fine wine
When music consumers listen to a great song, they might consider how the song makes them feel, the sonic landscape of the music, perhaps the genre, instrumentation, mood, tempo, etc. However, rarely does the consumer consider what went into the making of the song, what constitutes the songwriting process, or what went into the making of that one song that they are listening to.
Was the song created in a moment of catharsis, a stream of consciousness, or in a crafted, collaborative or solo write? Did it take years to write, or was it written in an hour? How many songs does it take to write this one great song? What made this one stand out amongst the others? What did the first draft of the song sound like? Did the songwriter perform, produce and promote it themselves?
Often these songs we hear on the radio are ‘hit songs’, songs by established great songwriters. But what really went on for all those years behind the scenes to write that song? Most people don’t know. Even songwriters don’t know how long it takes to become a great songwriter and write great songs.
It’s so easy to experience (read: judge) a song solely based on the final product. And unfortunately, most commonly, that final product didn’t cost a cent to the consumer. It was completely free. How many people buy music?
There have been many articles shared in the media recently about the plight of songwriters to be paid fairly for their work. Some articles interviewed songwriters now working as Uber drivers to pay the bills.
The path to becoming a great songwriter
There are many many benefits to valuing more highly our music-makers (and our small winemakers) and understanding why songwriting is essential (though we might keep some of that for another day).
It is for the benefit of our wellness, our connectedness and our community. Perhaps if we appreciated the creation process of the things we hold so dear to our everyday lives, the makers of those things would be able to continue to sustain the process of creation, to begin with.
If you’re a songwriter who wants to be a great songwriter, check out how I Heart Songwriting Club can help you here.
You can also check out ‘Part 2’ of this blog, which offers some more things to consider about becoming a great songwriter, here.