I am a failed singer-songwriter... what does that mean?

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There are hundreds of thousands out there in every corner of the earth who either apply this tag to themselves or who have it applied to them.

What it used to mean, broadly, is that you spent your youth playing an instrument and writing words and music about your desperate inside feelings then sang them. Then at some later date you got a job doing something else, or you became a bum, or you drank and smoked yourself to an early grave... or as often as not you found another niche in the world of music for which you got paid... worked for a record company or became a manager or publisher, learned to engineer or produce or arrange music... I did all of the above... or maybe you got out of music altogether and retrained as a lawyer or a double glazing salesperson... but the music never got out of you.

This is the heart of the matter. Most of these thousands, however old, however long since they touched their guitar or keyboard, feel a number of things in common... disappointment, resentment, envy, vague hope that something or someone will come along and your one great tune will be recognised as the work of genius that it is.

I’m not going to offer any pearls of wisdom about all this except for one thing:

The phrase 'the exception that proves the rule' is nonsense and has always been nonsense. By definition any exception immediately disproves a rule. A rule has no exceptions... so let's take a look at the so-called truisms of pop and rock and apply the test shall we?

  1. "You have to pay your dues to be successful in music." No you don't. Adele spent a bit of time at the Brit school, played a few tunes to industry insiders, got a record deal at 17, made an album, won a Mercury prize and is now No 1 all over the world, feted and respected and a multi-millionaire at 22.
  2. "You failed because you just weren't good enough". Not true. The best six records I ever produced never came out. Either the person who signed the act got fired as we were finishing the record and the way record company pay works is that the new person needed to sign their own acts because they didn't get bonuses for working acts already signed... or the artist didn't fit into the narrow profile of Radio 1 playability so the marketing dept refused to spend money on it - or any one of a dozen other reasons.
  3. "You are past your sell by date". There are no rules and there is no such thing as a sell by date. Billy Joel took 11 years to get a record deal and another 4 years to break through and he is the most successful living American songwriter.

The unique change now is that you can afford to make your own records at home and you can put them out yourself... but that's about as likely to get you a Maserati as trying to become a Formula 1 driver... so does that mean you shouldn’t do it?

What this all boils down to is that either you are a singer-songwriter or you're not. Either you will make it a living or you won't. The two are not connected and you need to lose that connection in your mind. Remember most poets die poor and clean abbatoirs for a living. It doesn't make them bad poets.

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