How to make yourself heard as a songwriter

Singer songwriter Emily TeagueIn today’s guest post, singer-songwriter Emily Teague offers her tips for making it happen.

Most of my early childhood memories were musical ones. When I listened to music I would always imagine what the songs were about in my head. I had a keen sense of how music could convey feelings and I liked that too.

I think what most drew me was that I liked the idea that you could say something really personal without having to actually say it. You could communicate with people in a unique way. I liked the feeling of making something out of thin air too I think. My father used to call me the enigma, songwriting was a way of unveiling myself.Remember that everyone has to start somewhere

The first song I ever wrote was called ‘weatherman’. I wrote it with my best friend who was also very musical. It was about being in love at a school dance! Although I had absolutely no idea what being in love was all about as I was about 10 years old!

Find your own way of writing

There are generally three ways I write. Sometimes everything spontaeously happens all at once. People say the best songs write themselves and I would agree. they usually happen in a very short space of time. I can’t take responsibility for them. They just happen. Sometimes I’ll have a melody for a while but not be ready to write anything and other times it is the opposite. But I would say the conditions have to be just right to write. My best writing happens very late, I usually start around 10 and continue into the wee hours.

Persevere

In terms of songwriting I guess you have to stick with it. Always write, If you want to be good at something you have to work at it constantly but to be honest I don’t see that as a challenge because for me songwriting is a gift. I think if I struggled with it I would wonder what the point of it was.

Of course you go through dry spells where you’re writing less but it’s always there below the surface. You have to be able to be real and commit yourself to the moment. Sometimes to be honest with yourself can be a challenge, but the pay off for honesty is great music. Also it is very important to seize upon moments of inspiration. When that happens you have to go with it.

Ride the waves

It is a thrill to write when you’re in the flow of it. It’s how I imagine surfing feels – when you’re riding a wave. That feeling is very special – when a song is new and you feel that it is good and you can’t wait to play it. Also when you’ve written something for someone that you know will make them smile or feel something special, i love that feeling too.

And I love looking back and having this musical diary of my life, I can look back on things and work out what was going on. They’re like photographs of feelings.

Know when you were ready to make an album

You come to a point when you just need to draw a line around the songs you’ve written and get them out there! It’s a way of moving forward. I write a great deal so I’ve had to stop and say ‘right, these songs need to be framed’. I’ve been playing them live for a long time and people seem to like them. They also bookmark an incredibly important time in my life. I had to distance myself from that moment before I could put the album together.

Be aware of changes in the music industry

Since I started songwriting the music industry has been in a state of flux. Things like mp3 downloading, youtube, myspace, file sharing have changed the way people access music, which has had a knock on effect on the industry. I think the older I’ve got the more accessable it has become. The industry now is saturated with unsigned musicians plugging their own stuff.

When I was a little kid I never thought I’d be able to self release an album when I grew up. I thought to be a musician you had to get signed by a record label and become famous; some sort of nod of a approval from an insider. But this obviously is not the case. You can carve your own path and see where it leads, I think that is pretty exciting.

Remember that writing is a very different experience to performing

Writing is a completely different process to performing. It’s very anti social! You write to make sense of things; to let out whatever it is that wants to be let out. Performing is about presenting I think. You bring an idea to people to see what they are going to make of it. I feel a sense of elation when I’ve finished a new song. It is a different buzz to the one you get at a gig. Perhaps it’s a personal thing. It’s likely to be similar to the same feeling you get when you’ve finished knitting a scarf. Performing is when you get to where the scarf out in public – you get to show it off a little.

Embrace your nervousness

Nerves are interesting. I feel more a sense of excitement when I perform a new song. My performance nerves are dependent on my audience and the atmosphere I’m playing in.

You do get the nervous energy but that transfers into anticipation and excitement for me. I have a lot of faith that when I play that everything is going to be all right and only good things will come from it.

I’m not special enough to get nervous about performing new songs. I’m just one tiny spec of many specs scattered across the globe.

Be professional to build up your reputation 

I try to be someone who doesn’t suck at performing. I try to be reliable and approachable. I think as you grow older your style matures and hopefully people hear that. My confidence has grown more and more. I slowly feel more and more that I have a place in the Bristol scene, but I’ve got a way to go. I like to be sincere and I like people to feel the experience of listening to my music as personal. I hope people can tell I write from the heart and that I will carry this music around with me till the day I die.

Choose your unpaid gigs with care

I always will take on a gig that I believe is going to be a good laugh. I think it’s respectful to pay musicians for their time, even if it’s not a great deal of money, especially if someone somewhere is going to be making money out of it. Music should be accessable always but by making it completely free, I think you’re in danger of devaluing it. In an ideal world every gig would be a paid one but sometimes you have to let it go. It’s more about respect than anything else.

Relish the good audiences

I played a show at Bristol’s Colston Hall this year, which was awesome. We sold out and everyone sang along to my song Absolutely Yes. Having said, I recently played a gig in Sweden to a bunch of Human Rights MA students in their halls of residence and it was amazing. People from all over the world responding to my songs and I can’t remember the last time I had such a captive audience. That was a gift.

Finally…

Know your limits and be realistic about what it is you want to do with it. Be prepared to make sacrifices to make it work. Take it as far as you can and keep it as real as possible. Know yourself and have an abundance of faith!!!