When parents ask me how they can help their child be a songwriter, I pause. I don't want to hurt their feelings. Sometimes I'm afraid to tell them what I think. It may not be what they want to hear.
When I was a kid I was on my own private autopilot. The extent of the help I received from my parents in the 'getting started arena' consisted of a plastic guitar for Chanukah and a used upright piano for my birthday. As I tickled away on the ivories mimicking the chord progression of "What The World Needs Now Is Love" and writing my own 'topline' atop it, my mother would call down from the kitchen, "Sounds great baby!" and my Dad would shout, "Play it again, I love that 'number.'" Biased, they were. They were supposed to be. And that perhaps, was enough.
My daughter doesn't want to be in the music business. And quite frankly, I'm not unhappy about that. What used to be hard is harder. Having said that, if she changed her mind I wouldn't discourage her. After all, we just want our children to be happy. Even if it means doing something hard.
It's not so easy for me either these days. But I'm a big girl. I can tell myself: "Buck up," or "Don't be a whiner" or "Go read some Bob Lefsetz and get a reality check." I never started out writing songs for the money. It was always a "choiceless" road. But these are our children. We don't want to offer warnings or lower their expectations. If they want something we want to help them get it. It's only natural.
Thing is, the best thing we can do for them is not too much. What I would ask parents is this: If you weren't there to help your child, would they do it anyway? Would they never take no for an answer? With the internet at their fingertips kids have a DIY advantage. Workshops and mentors and collaborators are a stroke and a click away. And trust me, if they have the right stuff they will find what they need.
And I would also suggest this: There are few things our young aspirers will have control over. They won't be able to control the number of songwriters presently at large. Everyone has the right to be one so they're going to have competition. They won't be able to magically beam themselves into the office of an influential publisher and they won't be able to force their lucky break before its time. But there is something they can do: They can control the quality of the song they write.
So, if you, as a parent, are pretty sure your son or daughter has the right stuff and there's no chance they will back down the best thing you can do is be there. Song after song. Listen to them if they want you to. Enable them with a plastic guitar or a used piano. Don't find them a programmer. Or book a studio. Or call a management company. Let them do it themselves. Or at least let them come up with the idea before you pick up the phone. If they don't drive and need a ride to get there, by all means, drive them. But then stand back. If you feel the need to hold onto the bicycle seat for fear they may fall if you let go, let go anyway. If it turns out they don't have the right stuff, it's not the end of the world. It may be a beginning of a new one. If you're going to help them do anything, help them find a safe place to improve their craft. So when the day comes that the stars collide and they get a lucky break they'll be standing under those stars with an excellent song in their hands...
A song that is unique and resonates in some universal way. A song that doesn't fall thru the cracks, doesn't sound like all the others, is remembered in five years, 10 years, 20. The song that everyone is talking about."Happy", "Royals", "I Hope You Dance" are songs that found their way -- all the way -- even with all the obstacles along the way because they were that good. A songwriter can live on a song like that. It's their ticket.
As my dear friend and colleague (publishing veteran) Suzan Koc explains: "Kids need you to take pressure off, not put it on. Let them be resourceful, make their own connections, their own mistakes. It's part of the path. And it's the only way for them to see how much they want it. The struggle is part of the training."
Thanks, as always, for reading. Please visit me on my Serial Songwriter Facebook Page. It won't surprise you to know that Suzan offers a songwriting workshop, The Songwriters Rendezvous, for all ages. That's her below, bottom row, second from left. Feel free to visit her Website as well. Or give your child the link. :)