One common bit of wisdom I’ve heard with respect to the music industry is that, given two equally talented people, the difference between the one who makes it and the one who doesn’t often comes down to perseverance. This industry is full of rejection, and rejection is discouraging. If you stick with it long enough, however, and assuming you have some modicum of talent, you are bound to see some successes sooner or later. Those successes may be minor, in terms of how people in general tend to measure music business success, or success in any business for that matter — i.e. in financial terms. Nevertheless, they can help break a pattern which is overwhelmingly tilted toward rejection, and give at least some temporary encouragement.
Keep in mind, too, that even the most successful songwriters out there have almost certainly had more rejection than acceptance for their songs — I’ve heard some place the ratio as high as 100 to 1 for rejections versus acceptances. I don’t know of many other businesses that have such a high rejection rate — maybe telemarketing?
Over the years since I started semi-seriously approaching the music business, then dedicating all my career-oriented efforts towards it, I’ve seen many people, some extremely talented, come and go. There are two particularly common scenarios I’ve seen:
The first is with highly talented young people, generally of high school age and with at least somewhat supportive, but often driven, parents. All things are going on overdrive for a few years, typically until high school graduation, almost like there is a deadline in the sand to become a star by graduation date. Graduation day arrives, the talented teen isn’t a star yet, so college or a job takes over, and that’s often the end of the story.
The second situation is with adults who have been out there in the working world, or perhaps are just out of college, and are nearing some sort of life milestone, such as a major birthday or a biological clock’s alarm ringing. The individual often feels he or she missed a big opportunity earlier in life — in fact, it could even be that this person was one of those talented teens who suddenly stopped pursuing their talent-related goals when graduation day came around — and it is now or never to reach for his or her dreams. However, then life gets in the way — e.g. they get married or the kids get sick or … — and rejection happens. Then priorities get called into question, and probabilities of actually succeeding at a major level, which never really changed all that much (e.g. I’ve heard it said that you have better odds of being struck by lightning than having a number one song), seem more real.
In either of these scenarios, the risk is just too great, so the individual makes the “smart” choice. In case you haven’t already figured it out, that isn’t pursuing something as risky as the music business. Whatever the risks, though, the bottom line is that we will never get to know whether that individual had the talent to succeed at a major league level. We will only know that he or she didn’t have the perseverance to do that.
I’ve also encountered a few talented people who’ve gone against the odds, and seen significant success. The first was a case of a high school age country singer up in Michigan, who I encountered back in early 1998 when his father was helping him look for original songs to perform on the Michigan fair circuit and to record for a demo. At one point I was told he planned to record one of my songs on his demo, and was planning to do the song on the fair circuit that summer, though I’m not sure at this point if he ever did either. A number of years later, though, I was watching American Idol and there was this young marine and country singer whose name I thought sounded awfully familiar. When they mentioned his father’s name, I knew for sure it was the same Josh Gracin. Josh didn’t win American Idol that year (I think he came in fourth place), but he did get a major label record deal not too long afterward, and he has since had several hits on the country charts.
The second case was with another young country singer, this time female and from Oklahoma. Back in early 1999, someone who was acting as her manager or booking agent at the time signed my web site’s guest book, inviting me to visit a web site which featured the young country singer. I heard her demo tape a few weeks later, and was extremely impressed. I don’t remember for sure at this point, but I think the singer was 14 or 15 years old. I also sent the manager some songs for the singer, and the manager liked them enough to pass them on to the singer. However, the singer already had some interest from people I’d heard of out in Nashville at that point, and I don’t recall having ever heard back on any specific interest in my songs. Cut to early 2005, again watching American Idol, and very early in the auditioning process I heard a name that I thought sounded extremely familiar, “Carrie Underwood.” Sure enough, I dug out that old cassette demo that I’d been sent — I’d held onto it because she was truly talented, even back in 1999 — and it was the same name I thought I’d remembered. While I had nothing to do with it, Carrie’s first place finish that season gave me a feeling of one of those temporary high points, not only because I’d been rooting for her since way back when, but also because it felt like an affirmation of my own instincts for spotting talent early.
I’d be surprised if either Josh or Carrie would even recognize my name these days. Not only were they pretty young at the time, but I never communicated directly with them anyway. The time frames of their seeming overnight successes, though — and keep in mind neither of them was a novice when I first encountered them — may give some idea of what persevering in this business really means.
For my own part, I think I’m pretty good at sticking with things for the long haul. Heck, I am still driving my 1991 Volvo, and my wife and I have been married for over 23 years. As for the music, I’ve been playing piano pretty much every day ever since I can remember (I started playing piano when I was four years old, and I’m 45 now), and I’ve been plugging away at trying to get something going in the music business, with a number of minor successes, for close to a decade now — more if you count some of my earlier efforts “on the side” while I was working full time in the computer industry and had a few publishers demonstrate some initial interest in my songs, albeit with nothing ever coming of that early interest. So, if perseverance counts, maybe there’s still some hope for me.
If you’ve gotten this far, you may be wondering where the “moving on” part comes in since all I’ve talked about thus far is perseverance. Well, here it is:
Sometimes too much perseverance can also be stagnation. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. When it comes to a songwriter trying to get songs out into the world, that doesn’t necessarily apply, as you can pitch the same song a hundred times, and ninety-nine people might not see a fit, while one person does. However, in the music industry, one success out of a hundred attempts can still end up being a big time success. Thus, you almost have to keep doing the same thing over and over to get to the one time where the fit is right. Nevertheless, there are also some times when it is important to move on in order to keep on keeping on. This is one of those times.
After just shy of 10 years of having my songs out there on the web in one location, focused primarily toward singers searching for songs to record and perform, I’m moving on. No, I’m not going away or giving up on the music business. I’m simply moving to a new web address, and one which has a lot more capacity, thus allowing me to do things I haven’t been able to do on the old site. I’m also augmenting the kinds of efforts I’ve been making in the past with some new efforts, aimed at more directly getting my songs out there to the listening public.
My new web site can be found at http://www.rickpaulmusic.com/ (NOTE: updated May 2020 to reflect the discontinuation of an older web address). While most of the old content is there, the site has had a major overhaul on the visual side, near total rebuilding on the internal formatting side to ease ongoing maintenance, some restructuring to make certain information easier to find, and the addition of some new capabilities tied to a somewhat larger scope. There will be more coming in that last category in the future. For anyone who may have visited my site in the past, I’d love to hear what you think of the changes. For any new visitors, welcome, and please be invited to come back regularly and to provide any feedback you might have on the site, songs, and anything else.
As for the augmented efforts, I’ve spent the last decade or two focusing primarily on writing songs for other people to sing. However, I have always enjoyed singing and performing myself, and I initially started writing songs in order to have original songs to sing. Thus, in a manner of speaking, I am returning to my roots by releasing one of my own recordings, “The Lord’s Prayer”, as a single for digital downloads via iTunes, Rhapsody, and other sites, with the intent to release additional recordings in the future.
As it turns out, my choice of an initial single, while not made specifically for this reason, actually represents a high degree of perseverance. See, I initially wrote this song back when I was in college, back in the early 1980s. This song was sung once at a Catholic church where I sang at the folk mass at the time, then again by my brother at my wife’s and my wedding in 1983, then it wasn’t performed in public again until a few years back, after the most recent Iraq war started. I was playing a Borders show, and, even though I didn’t really see this as the type of song to play in that environment, I somehow decided it would be fitting for that night. As it turned out, it went over extremely well, and I’ve been performing it quite a bit since then, though it took some additional encouragement from my wife to actually record it, initially a few years back, with a very recent remix for the release. Thus, you could say this is a song I’ve persevered with for over two decades, and I suppose that makes it particularly fitting as my first release.