Getting your songs “out there”
I received a snarky email the other day that made me sad for a minute. Here’s what happened. I send out a lot of value-oriented content to our email community. Often I’ll invite our followers to consider joining our 8-week online NCS Coaching program, a truly transformative experience for aspiring Christian songwriters.
Out of the thousands of people who received a particular email recently, one guy shot back a one-phrase snark bomb wanting to know how much money we’re “raking in” for offering a high quality song coaching program.
No questions from him about why we do what we do. No genuine interest in our program and how it could help him level up his songwriting to reach his songwriting goals. Nothing but a mean-spirited jab intended to demean and wound us somehow while hiding behind his computer.
This kind of disturbing thing happens from time to time. I was once called “Satan” on one of our Facebook ad threads. Over the six years we’ve been offering coaching, a small handful of what I’m sure are usually genuinely loving Christian people have accused us of being charlatans in the music business. Not one of these brothers and sisters have called me personally or checked deeply into the results we bring to our songwriting clients.
Apart from hurting my feelings, my heart breaks for these people, honestly. Their cynicism could be causing them to miss out on the very opportunity that God might use to empower them to make a positive difference in the world.
How to make it in the Christian music business
I’ve enjoyed almost 35 years of songwriting, publishing, producing, recording, and traveling the world leading worship and teaching songwriting. I’m blown away when I look back to see that God answered my prayers to use my gifts for Him in a big way.
But I didn’t get there on my own. I had a lot of help. I prayed, absolutely. But I aggressively sought mentoring and coaching to improve as quickly as I could. That was over 400 published songs ago, so I think it worked out okay.
Let me share with you three things that have helped me make it in the Christian music business. That is, if you don’t think I’m actually Satan.
Identify your best gifts. When I’m interviewing a songwriter for our online coaching, I look for a teachable attitude over everything else. I can’t help anyone who doesn’t believe they need help. If you don’t need help, don’t apply. Simple. But having an open mind about what you don’t know you don’t know is vital to growing up as a songwriter. It also makes life better for the folks around you. Try opening your mind a little. Learning more about the craft of songwriting is a good thing.
Begin looking for the qualities that make you unique and that would make anyone pay attention to you. Wanting to be a compelling songwriter isn’t enough to make you one. You have to have something that’s unique and special enough that you stand out from the millions of other aspiring writers and artists. What are your best gifts? Once you know, invest heavily in what could help you win.
Be audience focused. Even if you have a specific testimony you want to share, make your songs about the people who need to hear them instead of about yourself. Your audience will grow miraculously. It’s astounding how hard this is to do for mostly self-focused creative people. There are ways to focus your songs on your potential audience, if you’ll dedicate yourself to learning how. All Sons & Daughters (David Leonard and Leslie Jordan) were always masterful in the way they made highly personal and even intimate lyrics feel universally applicable (see Brokenness Aside).
Your story can be told in ways that make it approachable by a larger audience than only the people who’ve experienced exactly what you have. One publisher I know always says, “Paint the feeling, not the details.” Writing with your audience singing in your ears is challenging, but one of the greatest ways to actually connect with more people. What do they need from your story? How will they receive it? What emotional language hooks them into your song?
Investing in yourself is investing in your potential audience. Coaching is the new college. Instead of diving hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt at the university, the world is hiring coaches and doing online courses instead. Grand Slam tennis players like Naomi Osaka have multiple coaches to help them be the champions they are.
Losing the notion that God’s supposed to just drop songs on you will open you up to getting the actual skills you need to be a great songwriter. Then you’ll be able to capture the inspiration from God in amazing songs. The songwriters sitting around waiting for inspiration have tons of unfinished songs because they don’t have the skills to finish them well. You don’t have to be one of them.
It’s not humble to refuse to invest in yourself. It’s actually short-sighted. Any amount of time, effort, and money you invest in your songwriting isn’t selfish or self-centered. It’s an investment in the people who need to hear what God wants to say through you and your songs.
Investing in yourself and the people who need to hear what you have to say is where successful songwriting starts. To think that iconic songs are going to drop out of the sky on your head like ripe apples off a tree is wishful thinking.
Free Online Songwriter Training
Internet trolls have existed since the advent of the “inter-webs,” but I’ve never gotten used to the barbs they sometimes hurl. It says a lot to me about the character of a person who can sling some mud on the end of an email thread, but who never bothers to find out for themselves who we are or what we really do.
And, sadly, many of these are the same people who want everything for free. I call them “freoples” because they would never consider making a significant investment in themselves or in their potential audience. The term “free online songwriter training” is a highly searched phrase for this very reason.
Writing songs for and about Jesus is a ministry first. It can become a career for a few, but not for those who are unwilling to invest their time, money, and serious effort into getting really good at it.
Getting your songs “out there” starts “in here” first. It all starts with the willingness to humble yourself, invest in yourself, and take songwriting seriously. Being snarky and mean won’t help you make it in any profession except politics, maybe, much less be a shining example of Christ to the world.
NOTE: If you’d like to sample some of the results we’re getting with the songwriters we’re working with, check out our Songwriter of the Month feature and be sure to browse their songs in our SoundCloud player on the NCS homepage.