Over my time spent as a songwriter, I’ve thought a lot about how other people write. Do they wait until they’re inspired? Or do they treat it like a 9 to 5 job, hammering out song after song hoping for a gem along the way? I’ve also thought about what they write. Pop songs, ballads, two-parters, songs with bridges, songs with five verses (ahem - James Taylor). I’ve even spent some time thinking about where and when others write. Home studio? Out in nature? On the subway ride? 3 am in the morning? In the evenings after a long day at work? But one thing I’ve never really considered is why do people write songs? I know for me it’s a variety of different reasons but let’s analyze a few motivating factors to find out why people write.
Let’s begin with the reason people will be least likely to admit is motivating them:
Ahh yes. Money, fame, praise. You’ve seen the music videos: fast cars, girls, “bling bling” and all that. These are things we see being experienced by some of the world’s top songwriters, especially those that are also artists. From the outside, it looks like they’re living the dream. Making ridiculous amounts of money doing what they love, everyone knows their name wherever they go and they receive endless streams of praise. But how many songwriters started out for those reasons? I’d be willing to bet very few.
As I see it you simply won’t last very long if you have those things as your motivating factors. If you’re looking to make a career out of being a songwriter the mountain is steep and without something more substantial, more visceral as your focus, you’re likely to burn out and change paths long before making it to the peak. Or if you do make it to the peak just for the gold and treasures, you… well… peak.
Catharsis - “I can’t not write”
This brings me to my second thought about why people write. And that’s simply because they can’t NOT. Just like eating and breathing, songwriting is an intrinsic part of who they are. I myself have felt this fire countless times. Regardless of whether what I write is any good, just the sheer act of releasing pent-up creative energy can be the most satisfying feeling in the world and is absolutely necessary at times. I don’t notice it as much these days since I’m always around music whether it be performing, creating content about songwriting or in close enough proximity to a musical instrument that it doesn’t become an issue. But those times that I’m not in my usual habitat, for instance when I’m traveling and my schedule is quite different, that fire soon starts to burn up again. If I don’t release the steam pump I become short-tempered and can’t function at 100%. So for this group songwriting is not only a passion but a necessity of life.
And then there’s the third factor: “I write because it’s fun. I’m not looking for a platinum hit, I’m not looking to make songwriting my main source of income, I just love to do it on the side.” For these folks, it’s a hobby like sports or scrapbooking. It’s something to do on the weekends or after a long day’s grind at a job that might not have many opportunities for creative expression.
I’d assume that this would be present in all songwriters to some degree. After all, why do it if it’s not fun? Songwriting definitely doesn’t promise a guaranteed path to success. But that feeling of creating something that didn’t exist before, of expressing what might otherwise go hidden beneath the surface, of emotionally moving an audience or listener, those are the true fruits of the labor.
What do you think? If you’re a songwriter do you fit into one of these categories? Are there other reasons people write? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time,