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20 Questions



A self-serving survey of sorts (#alliteration), these are musically related questions for those with an interest in songwriting.
The article is set up in a self-interview format, with me being the first respondent. Ideally this will become an interactive survey, with readers adding their own responses to various questions. All comments & responses are welcome. Questions are bolded in black…my personal responses are listed in dark blue. Where things go from here is entirely up to you!


1) Do you need inspiration to write a song?
No! It certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s not an essential element.


2) Which do you write first…lyrics or melody?
The overwhelming majority of the time, I create melody first. I may refine it a bit as the lyric develops, but the basic melodic structure is written first.


3) How do you decide when a work-in-progress has become a finished song?
Tough to give a definitive answer to this one, but I consider a number of factors:

  • my available time
  • what I had originally envisioned the song to be
  • intended use (specific or not)
  • externally imposed deadlines (work-for-hire, contest, publisher call-out)
  • when I can honestly view the finished product as “reasonable quality”
  • when I have no more brilliant ideas on how to improve it :yes:

4) Do you worry whether others will like what you’ve written?
In part, that depends on “why” I’ve written it. In the case of “The Ballad of John & Rosemary”, yeah! It was written specifically for them, so I’d better worry a little. But under normal conditions, NO…it’s not a concern. I think everyone prefers to be liked, but it not something that consciously guides my typical creative process.


5) As a songwriter, do you live in constant fear of your material being stolen?
No! I keep accurate…organized records, file for an official copyright through the Library of Congress and relax.


6) Do you avoid placing your songs online because they may be stolen?
No! If you’re primarily a hobbyist songwriter (as I am) ask yourself something. What else do you think you’re going to do with them? Seriously….what? If you don’t make them accessible online, you may as well shove them in a drawer because odds are….they will never be heard. Music’s not good for much if no one ever hears it.


7) Do you attempt to sell your music?
No….not in any form (downloads or CDs)!


8) If so, what’s your primary motivation in doing that? In other words….are you hoping to earn a living, supplement your existing income, prove to yourself that you can, fulfill a person goal?


9) If not, why not?
I get asked this question a lot. Usually I’m evasive, but I figured I’d take a shot at answering honestly:

  • I’ve been an active participant in music for 30+ years now….online & otherwise. Based on what I’ve learned through participation in online communities, research, contact with publishers/song libraries, the experiences of others + simple observation….I see absolutely no upside in trying to sell it. If I did, I would.
  • My personal self-worth is in no way tied to whether others are willing to pay for what I’ve created. Good material does NOT = $ earned!
  • As much as I love our digital age & the advantages it offers to writers like myself, I do NOT care for the indie business model. It does not exist for the benefit of those creating the material. It exists to support the financial interests of business entities servicing those creators (artists). Virtually everyone, except the creators of content, is paid up front. CD Baby, iTunes, demo studios, professional recording studios, mastering houses, website design, SEO entities, song-pluggers (Taxi), many music libraries, label/artwork design folks & so on. They all get at least a portion of their revenue up-front. The creating artists however, are asked again & again to wait. “Be patient”, “invest in your future”, “believe in your material”, “have faith”! When it comes to physical CDs, I know artists who’ve spent a little & artists who’ve spent a lot, but they all have one thing in common. None of them ever made money on their CD projects! They all spent more up-front, than they were able to recover in sales. Bottom line – if your reasons for selling are income related, you may want to think twice. I did! BTW– most of these artists were not regularly performing acts. There is a case to be made for sale of music/merchandise in conjunction with frequent live performance.
  • The prevalence of digital piracy & illegal file-sharing in today’s market. Like it or not, it is, what it is!
  • I like my family and friends! Don’t kid yourself….if you think for one minute that those closest to you won’t mind being subjected to a constant barrage of “please share”, “please buy”, “please like”, “help support independent music”….you are sadly mistaken. It gets incredibly old, incredibly fast….even for those who genuinely care about you.

10) What do you think of the Internet Radio concept?
Honestly, my opinion is changing as the concept continues to evolve. Like most of today’s “Indie” platforms, it exists to support the business interests of those who service music creators…NOT the creators themselves. In other words, it’s not about making money for songwriters! For hobbyists like myself, it’s another no-cost means of exposure. As an earnings platform for budding songwriters, it leaves much to be desired.


11) Do you participate in large-scale songwriting competitions?
From 2003 – 2011 I did! Typically, I’d enter a few each year, but never really viewed them as serious opportunities. More like cheap entertainment & self-challenge. Again…these contests do NOT exist to benefit songwriters! They exist to benefit the hosting business entity. As long as you recognize that, participation is fairly harmless.


12) Are you still writing new songs/music?
Not for the past year or two….for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of available time
  • Overall life circumstances
  • With those 2 reasons in mind, I asked myself a question. What could I do with a bunch of new songs that I can’t already do with the ones I have? Simply put…NOTHING! So for now at least, I work on refining & utilizing my existing catalog. That being said, I hope to return to writing at some point in the future, if circumstances allow.

13) Should every aspiring songwriter learn to play a musical instrument?
Absolutely! 20 years ago, this would have been an irrelevant question. But in todays “shortcut society”, that’s not the case. My advice…if you’re serious about your involvement in music, learn to play at least one instrument competently.


14) Do you have to be “musically talented” to learn an instrument?
No! You need a genuine desire, dedication & the basic physical capabilities required for that particular instrument. Personally, I think inborn talent has more impact in advanced stages of skill development.


15) Have you been in a band, or bands?



16) If yes, did you like it?

Definitely! As with everything in life, there was a mix of good & bad. But overall….absolutely!


17) For those who have already, would you like to be part of a band again?
Yes! Although, at this point in my life, I’d want to gig less frequently…..maybe once or twice per month.


18) When you look back at all of your experiences & achievements as a participant in music, how do you feel?
This is an easy one for me….”extremely grateful”!


19) If you could change one thing about today’s musical priorities, what would it be?
I’d like to see more emphasis on music….less on stardom & making a quick buck.


20) Should two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note, except in the case of a triplet? Does that make sense to you? It never did to me….which is why I dedicated a blog article to the question!

For anyone interested, here’s the article link http://forums.songstuff.com/blog/75/entry-1283-is-it-time-for-a-12th-note/


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile

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