The biggest mistake isn’t giving up on a dream. The biggest mistake is not having a dream.
In 1995, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee with five hundred dollars in my pocket and my car packed with stuff. I slept on a friends’ sofa for a month and then I moved into a small, studio apartment on the south side of Nashville. I was chasing my dream of being a singer-songwriter, and it was exciting. I played all of the open mic nights for songwriters including the world famous Bluebird Cafe and Tootsies.
I got a job at BMI, a performance rights organization for songwriters located on Music Row. Nashville was a smaller town back then, and you could walk into a bar on Music Row and see legendary songwriter Harlan Howard sitting on a bar stool along with many other high-end music industry people. I met newcomers to town like Blake Shelton and the Warren Brothers, who were all just broke dreamers chasing a dream like me. Opportunities were all around me
I wrote and sang my songs. I pitched them to publishers. I did some of the things you need to do, and I came up short. I never had any of my songs recorded, so they never became hits. Looking back, I can see some of the mistakes I made and tried to learn from them.
1.) Not Connecting
When I moved to town, I made a few friends who were also songwriters. They told me to be like a politician: shake hands and kiss babies. When I look at the people who made it in the music industry, I notice that they always have a ton of connections. The Warren Brothers, who write hit songs for artists like Tim McGraw and Martina McBride, used to host a songwriters night. That is where songwriters take turns performing the songs they wrote.
This is a terrific way to meet people in Nashville. Sometimes someone famous or a big wig might stop in, but usually, it’s just a bunch of dreamers that moved to town on a shoestring. However, in meeting all of these people, you also connect to the people they know. And in Nashville, someone that slept in their car this year might have a number one hit next year. You are investing in people and investments pay off over time.
2.) Not Doing The Best With What I Had
Every songwriter and singer in Nashville would like professionally recorded songs, photographs, and marketing. But those are luxuries. Meeting other songwriters, co-writing songs with them and working on the craft of writing a song is much, much more important.
Instead, I traded time for dollars and broke the golden rule that Chad Jeffers, guitarist for Carrie Underwood, says his dad taught him: If you want to be a musician, don’t get a job with benefits. The reason is that people tend to get comfortable with a good job and focus on doing things that are not a priority instead of getting better at the craft of songwriting.
Songwriter Don Schlitz, who wrote The Gambler and many, many hit songs, would record his songs on a cassette tape player with just him and his guitar and then play them for publishers. This was after he had a lot of success. If the song is great, that’s all you need. If the song isn’t great, no amount of money will make it great. As Zig Ziglar says, “Do the best with what you have and what you have will expand.”
3.) Focus–With a Big Goal, Everything Needs To Revolve Around That Goal
I had a big goal, but I was distracted by drinking and women but mainly drinking. I felt positive I could have written with Blake Shelton, the Warren Brothers and many others if I would have asked them to when I first moved to town. They were just like me and looked to connect with people and hone their craft. I didn’t because I was afraid, I didn’t think I was good enough (I was, at that time we were all just getting started) and it was easier to sit at home in my trailer after a full day of work and get drunk.
4.) Know When It’s ‘Time to Fold ’em”
A young girl moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. She worked as a waitress to support herself, lived as frugally as she could so she could spend her time developing her craft instead of waiting tables. After three years of getting better, but also being rejected, she finally got so frustrated that she sold her one and only guitar and started painting. She got married, had a baby and kept on painting.
Eventually, her paintings began to sell. In a few years, her paintings were selling like hot-cakes for thousands of dollars. Looking back, she realized that she is living her dream, the dream of having a loving family and being able to create art, not with music, but with paint. As my friend Og Mandino would say, “Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
Doing these things would not have guaranteed me success–though it would have increased my chances considerably. The problem is a chance or opportunity is a gift, and I wasted the gift. It’s been twenty-one years since I moved to Nashville and I’m now forty-eight years old. That dream and opportunity has left and will never come back. Life goes on. I am left with the lessons learned and a new dream. That dream is to encourage other dreamers, like me, and help them avoid the mistakes I’ve made; to be the person I wish I had in my corner, giving good advice on how to best take advantage of an opportunity.
After all, the biggest mistake isn’t giving up on a dream. The biggest mistake is not having a dream.
Photo: Flickr/ Ali Eminov