The Perils of Being a Singer-Songwriter


When I started out, I just wrote songs for myself in my bedroom. It was one of those ‘I’m ridiculously in love with this girl, but don’t know how to tell her, so I’ll write a sad song about it’ affairs. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a greater sense of relief than after writing that first song. I’d taken all of that anguish and managed to translate it into a couple of chords and some words. I never intended to share it with any one, but after I’d written the song, it was just sort of doing nothing. It felt pointless. So, in cringe-making fashion, I swallowed down my nerves and played the song to the girl who I’d been yearning after for so long (I was 14 at the time… don’t look at me like that, ok?!). She loved the song (or so she told me), but she didn’t love me (boo hoo). Anyway, that left me feeling 2 things. 1: I’m ok at this song writing thing – I should write another one. 2: I’m sad now – I should write a song about. And thus a vicious cycle of self-pitying music making was created.

Once I’d written a few more songs, I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit pointless. I thought writing a song about how I felt would make me feel better, but it didn’t. In fact, writing about how I felt seemed to make me feel worse, because it just reminded me how shitty I felt. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. I was creating something and that was great, even if I was still a lonely kid in my room screaming out for someone to love me. That was what would make feel better: if someone loved me, but I needed to share my music with more people to make them love me!

A few weeks later, I played my first solo gig (I’d done bands and stuff before). That was the greatest act of narcissism of my life so far. No one had asked me to play – there was no demand for my music. I just got up on the stage and begged for attention. I played to around 10 people, but it didn’t matter, because I’d achieved what I’d wanted to. I’d shared my music. I’d probably have retired gracefully after that first night, on a high note, if a total stranger hadn’t told me they’d enjoyed the show.

Unfortunately, that single compliment was the only encouragement I needed to convince me to carry on with it all. So, the circle of song-writing and occasional gigging began. It was fun too, to begin with. When a gig went well, I felt great. However, as soon as you get serious about gigging, it all goes downhill. Your expectations get raised. You want to play to more and more people, but, at the same time, venues start to charge entry fees to your friends. It’s pretty difficult for bands to get interest in their gigs, but as a solo artist, convincing someone to come out and pay to see a show that would sound the same in their living room is nigh on impossible. So, friends sporadically came to see me one week (they’re a flaky lot and often promise to come, but never do), but then wouldn’t come back the next. Every now and then I’d support a good band and they’d bring loads of fans, but they rarely got in early enough to see me (as acoustic acts are almost exclusively given the first support slot regardless of how good they are). So, I’d turn up to gigs expecting to play to hundreds and end up playing to less than I would at an open mic.

Maybe things would be easier if I was in a band. Say there were four people in the band and we each brought ten friends, well then that’s 40 people. That’s worth getting on stage for. Even if we didn’t have so many people in the audience, at least I wouldn’t feel so exposed on stage with a band around me. But, alas, my music feels too personal for me to trust anyone else with it, so I go on alone and it sucks. I’m sick of playing to rooms of empty people knowing that 60 people clicked attending on a Facebook event. If you’re not going, don’t pretend you are! And if you did come to the gig, don’t talk over someone’s set. As Owen puts it in ‘Curtain Call’ – ‘I’m tired of speaking up and speaking clearly so the idiot at the back can hear me’. I appreciate that a musician should win the respect of their audience, but it’s hard to do that when they don’t give you a chance by talking over you.

So many times, I’ve tried to jack it all in. I gave up music for a good year once. But every now and then a new fan will add my Facebook music page, or a promoter will email me saying that they enjoyed my set and want to book me again. And every time I book another show and embrace the disappointment all over again. The truth is, when I’m not playing music, I miss it. I’m still that 14 year old screaming out for people to love me – all musicians are. I love writing and I love playing and every now (though rarely) and then I play a gig to a great crowd of people and it does all feel worth it.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to achieve by writing this. I suppose I just want to show that being a singer-songwriter isn’t all sex and drugs and rock & roll; it’s a damn lonely business. So, if you have a friend who likes to write and gig: maybe see them once in a while. Or, if you don’t want to see them, don’t lie and pretend you will.

Oh, and once last thing. If you’re a 14 year old boy: DON’T DO IT! DON’T PICK UP THAT GUITAR!!!


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