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Excellence And Songwriting By Mary Dawson
1998-2000, CQK Music. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.

So…you are getting in touch with your emotions and you are beginning to educate yourself in the craft of songwriting . You are now ready to wow the world with your songs, right? Maybe not quite!

As I have mentioned before, the Music Business can be an extremely difficult business to break into -- especially if you don't live in one of the major music cities and you don't have "inside connections." Even if you don't intend to compete in the national Music Industry, you may find some pretty fragile egos in whatever artistic community you intend to join. A gifted but over-confident newcomer may not be as eagerly received by other artists as he/she might hope. Believe me, I am not being cynical -- that's just the way things are!

To prove that I am really an optimist at heart, I will tell you that I truly believe it is possible for ANYONE to achieve whatever their musical goals may be -- if they are determined to become a Master at their craft. For the writer or artist with lots of talent but limited funds and no inside connections -- there is one narrow, rocky road to success and it's called Excellence.

I often tell my songwriting seminars that writing a great song is a lot like putting up a chain-link fence. First the workers put up the posts around the perimeter. Then they sort of stand the chain-link up around the posts. At first, the chain-link is just barely standing -- it bends and sags and wobbles. But then the workers start to tighten that chain-link around the posts. The tighter it gets, the more erect the fence becomes. The workers keep tightening and tightening and tightening until it can't be tightened any more -- and then they keep tightening. When they are finished, that once wobbly, saggy fence can support the weight of a man without the slightest tremble. A well-erected chain-link fence will "stand on its own" (excuse the pun) against any other chain-link fence in the world. The same is true of songwriting. If you are unwilling to stop tightening and tweaking your song until it is the best it can possibly be, it will stand on its own -- no matter what the competition or standard of evaluation.

A Spirit of Excellence starts with humility! You have to be so eager to improve that you are willing to accept criticism with grace and even gratitude. If your goal is to have your ego stroked, you can play your songs only for your Grandma and your Mom. They will love whatever you write. But if you really want to improve, you must open yourself up to objective criticism. You may want to join a songwriters organization in your community where you can bring your songs to critiquing sessions and hear other writers make comments and suggestions about your work. Or you can seek out an experienced consultant who can evaluate your songs and find those areas where the "chain link" still needs tightening. You may have to pay a few dollars for this service, but it is far better to tweak and improve your song before you go to the trouble and expense of a demo. Be sure that your song is the best you can make it before you consider it done. Of course, you don't have to make every change that is suggested -- it is your song, after all. You can "take what you like and leave the rest." For myself, however, I am eternally grateful to an early mentor of mine who believed I was capable of A+ songs and would not let me get by with B+ or even A-. He convinced me that great songs are not written -- they are re-written.

One songwriter I correspond with was so eager to have her song heard and evaluated objectively that she took a tape recorder out to the mall and did a survey of 100 people. She stopped complete strangers and asked them to listen to her song and fill out an evaluation sheet. Now that's what I call striving for excellence!

Of course, criticism can sting! But, as far as I can see, there are only two ways to separate yourself from that sting. The first is to remain in a small enough pond where you can always be the biggest and the prettiest fish. To change the analogy, you can separate yourself by building walls around a comfort zone where you can do your music without being stretched or challenged. You will be protected from criticism, but chances are that 20 years from now you will still be writing at your present level.

The second option is to separate yourself by excellence. On July 18, 1976, a young gymnast named Nadia Comenci separated herself from a field of the world's best competitors in the Uneven Parallel Bars by scoring the first "Perfect Ten" ever recorded in Olympic Competition. In other words, all the judges agreed there was nothing that could be improved about her performance. She was beyond criticism because she was the best a gymnast could be. She had started out much like other young gymnasts -- attempting, failing, improving, and attempting again. She had been criticized many times by earlier panels of professionals who could see areas in her performance that needed improvement. But she refused quit. She kept learning and practicing until it made absolutely no difference what kind of competition she faced. Nadia never had to tell people how good she was. She was obviously and unquestionably the best!

I grew up on a dairy farm and I learned early that after you milk the cows and put the milk in the cooler, the cream ALWAYS rises to the top. Excellence quietly and eloquently ALWAYS speaks for itself!

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