I founded NYC’s largest rock and roll summer camp. While some of our students have gone on to get signed to major labels, tour with cool bands, and become professional musicians, most just had fun playing in bands, made music and friends, and went on non-musical endeavors while continuing to enjoy music as a hobby.
Both routes are awesome!
Ultimately, we aren’t trying to help kids be stars–we’re trying to help them have fun, be social, and get better at writing and playing music. But lately I’ve noticed a couple trends in original teen songwriters that I think deserve some discussion, because they are interfering with fun, confidence and skill development in our teens.
I call the first one “Must Release-itis”, the overwhelming feeling that you must release your music publicly. I call the other one “Can’t Release-itis”, which is the feeling that your music can never be good enough to share. These both have the same root cause–comparing ourselves to others.
Let’s break them down.
MUST RELEASE-ITIS: The overwhelming feeling that you must share your music publicly.
A few decades ago, the only way to record music was to book an expensive professional studio. But now, anybody with a laptop can easily record and share music. And they do! In 2021 over 60,000 tracks a day were uploaded to Spotify alone. Millions more were added to Soundcloud, Audiomack, YouTube, Bandcamp and other sites.
So it is no wonder that when a teen writes a song, a well meaning parent or friend will say “hey–you should release that. Like so-and-so from your school did.”
Cue comparison anxiety.
Unfortunately, that can instantly throw a teen into a state of comparison. Instead of staying in the fun and creativity of writing and learning, now they are thinking about how many “likes” their song will get, whether people will criticize them, or are even wondering if their song will become a viral sensation–even if it’s one of their very first songs or tracks.
There is Nothing Wrong with Being a Beginner
Give yourself a chance to be a beginner if that is what you are! Don’t worry, 60,000 original songs are going to be uploaded to the internet today, yours will not be missed! Instead, just have fun playing and practicing. Both will bring you pleasure–and skill.
And when a friend or parent says “you should release that”, just laugh and say “maybe later. Right now I’m just learning and having fun.”
(Don’t worry, the internet will still be there later when you change your mind.)
Now, on to the flip side of the comparison trap.
CAN’T RELEASE-ITIS: The overwhelming feeling that your music is not good enough to share.
The ease of uploading music ironically also discourages experienced young songwriters and producers from releasing music even when they are more than ready.
I know a skilled teenage songwriter who has written dozens of great songs and has extensive production skills, but even after weeks or months of recording and mixing isn’t able to say “good enough”. This student may endlessly tweak the EQ on a snare, modify the side chain compression on the vocal track, or repeatedly rewrite a lyric–all to avoid actually releasing a song.
There are Valid Reasons to Be Afraid of Sharing Your Song
That student isn’t crazy. Often, teenagers who put a lot of time into playing, writing and producing music have developed an ear which allows them to hear the difference between their work and that of The Weeknd, Billie Eilish, Ghost or one thousand other pro artists, and they can be very hard on themselves for the difference.
They are also all too aware of how many other songs are being released, and are afraid that their song won’t receive positive attention (the dreaded “under 1,000 plays”) or will even get negative attention–criticism.
They are right on all counts.
Share Your Songs Anyway, Repeatedly
Research shows over and over again that the best way to get better at any creative art is through repetition. After all, the artists you admire most typically wrote and produced scores or even hundreds of tracks before becoming famous–or are working with producers or songwriters who did the same.
Perfection is literally unattainable. You CAN’T write a perfect song or record a perfect track. But you can only approach it with lots of practice! Here’s a great quote to remember:
“Don’t Be Afraid Of Perfection–You Will Never Attain It” — Salvador Dali
So instead of trying to release one perfect song over six months, instead write 24–then record 12 and release 6. Or more!
Every song will increase your capabilities. Those extra songs also increase your odds of getting more listeners–and some of them will be better than that original song you were stuck on.
Don’t Worry, You Can’t Run Out Of Creativity
You’ve heard the quote that “the more love you give the more you have.”
The same is true of creativity. The more you create, the more creativity you have! You have an infinite number of songs inside you. So don’t hold back–because the only thing that stops creativity is stopping.
What About the Criticism?
I’m sorry to report what you already know: you can’t please everyone.
Luckily, success in music has more to do with connecting with people who enjoy what you do than with placating critics. In the meantime, one of your best moves is to connect with other songwriters, who can give you honest and supportive feedback as you improve–and remind you that you are the one who is creating and putting something out into the world, not the critics!
Write. Share. Repeat.
Music is a tough game to be commercially successful at. For example, just 1 out of 140 artists on Spotify makes more than $10,000 in royalties a year. But that still means there are tens of thousands of people who are having fun and making a career in music. And if music is your hobby, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making, because you’re doing it for fun.
Either way, as an aspiring pro or a happy amateur, the same strategy applies: Finish good work, share it, and then go on to more good work!
Let’s Make Some Music
Picking up your guitar or opening your Digital Audio Workstation is a great way to experience joy and to express your feelings–and making music with another person is an incredible way to connect with others. Recognizing that outside forces can make us feel pressure to release music, to not release music–or both– gives us the opportunity to set that pressure aside, and just make some music!
Camp at NYC Guitar School
Our summer camp program is designed so that campers grow as musicians and as people in our time together. Playing music with others and performing on stage is one of the most exciting and transformative experiences for a young musician (or any musician!)
We empower campers by challenging them to collaborate, compromise, and overcome obstacles as they play music together, build their skills, and prepare for an EPIC show. Check out our programs and how you, too, can join in on a summer of fun!