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The Emerging Artist
Three Key Questions for Every Songwriter
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin

2001, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

Perhaps you are just getting started as a songwriter. If so, then you've most likely dealt with these questions, at least subconsciously. So, without further ado, here they are:

  • Why do you write?
  • What do you write about?
  • Who's going to listen?

Why do you write?

Why do songwriters write? The old "Tin Pan Alley songwriters," writers such as the Gershwins, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, wrote most often because they had an assignment. Hollywood needed another song for the picture, Broadway needed another song for the musical, Sinatra was recording a new album and needed some songs (he recorded 87 songs by Sammy Cahn alone!). Most performing songwriters today are not in that position.

Why do performing songwriters write? Having worked with dozens of songwriters over the last 10 years, we've learned some of their reasons.

Some write for recognition. They see the success of other musicians and say to themselves, "Why not me? I'm a writer, I'm a singer. I want to get out there and do what they're doing."

Ever hear this variation of an old joke? "How many musicians does it take to change a light bulb?" "Fifteen. One to change the bulb, and the other fourteen to say 'I can do that too!'"

Many songwriters crave attention and approval. Some almost seem to be shouting, "Listen to me! Listen to me! I'm a songwriter over here!"

Some take their thirst for recognition one step further and harbor a not-so-secret desire to become "rich and famous." They want more than anything else to "make it."

We know of artists who have spent tens of thousands of dollars in hot pursuit of fame and fortune. They make demo after demo, shooting them off to countless record companies in the hopes of being discovered. They record ambitious and expensive custom albums, hoping to catch the attention of some record executive looking for the next big thing. They talk constantly about what their life will be like when they "make it." They're never satisfied with where they are, as they always look ahead to that big break they believe is bound to come their way. They can't understand that they have a better chance of winning the lottery than of becoming a singing star.

Some songwriters want to send a message through their songs. They understand the power of music and words to communicate concepts. They write their songs hoping to make their audience nod in agreement as they recognize a universal truth, or see something of themselves in the song. These songwriters try to write about common feeling and experiences. They want to help people cope with life, deal with problems, and not feel alone. They long to comfort, inspire, challenge, and emotionally move their listeners.

Some songwriters use their art as self-therapy. You can always tell what they are going through by examining their most recent lyrics. Their current mood is reflected in the tempo and key of their latest song. Sometimes it can be almost painfully revealing and personal.

Some songwriters write for the sheer joy of creation. To start with a blank sheet of paper, and create something that didn't exist before still amazes them. They love to write a song, put it on tape, listen to it and marvel, "I wrote that!"

Maybe you've seen a little of yourself in most of these reasons for writing. That's OK. They can all play a part in your life as an artist.

Personally, we love working with writers who have a strong sense of purpose behind what they do. They have thought through their reasons for writing and performing, and know where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. They don't necessarily want to be famous (although numerous sincere songwriters have gone on to achieve a measure of fame??) but they have thoughtful and meaningful songs that they want to present to the public. They have a love for their art and for the creative process.

Continue on to What do you write about?

A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at

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