Getting by on writing love songs

How writing love songs has sustained my music career

It was February 1. Winter is always a hard time in our household — my husband and I are both musicians, and living in Canada, it’s hard to travel in the winter, so we don’t gig as much. The bottom of my bank account was approaching quickly, and I needed to find a way to make money — fast. I printed copies of my resume, but dreaded the thought of working another day job. With Valentine’s Day just 13 days away, I decided instead: I should offer to write custom love songs for couples. I picked up my guitar, strummed a few chords, sang some arbitrary lines about an imagined love. Simple. I could do this.

Nevermind the fact that I’d only written about 3 songs in the past two years. I’d written many in the years before, but I was in a slump. This would be a fun, creative challenge. And maybe nobody would bite anyway.

Fast-forward to two weeks later: I had written, recorded, and delivered 12 original love songs; I had been interviewed on the airwaves of two local radio stations, my story was broadcast across the country on CBC TV, and the accompanying online article broke the record for the most page views on a Sunday. My inbox was flooded with requests for love songs from people across the country. Needless to say, I didn’t send out those resumes.

What began as a last-ditch effort at keeping the roof over my head turned into a year-round, make-work opportunity. I’ve completed 32 love songs by request, for all different kinds of love. In doing so, I kick-started my songwriting in a way that completely eluded me before. I learned patterns in my writing process that made it easier to do the work. I gained confidence in my ability to write a good song in one sitting — no longer getting bored and distracted so quickly, I had a purpose for my writing, and I worked towards the euphoric high that comes with finishing a song. And I learned to loosen my hold on perfectionism, adopting the mantra “done is better than perfect” while still creating work that I was deeply proud of.

As any independent artist knows, your best bet to staying afloat in this unpredictable industry is having many revenue streams — CD sales, performance fees, royalties, licensing, and so on. Songwriting by request is the most financially and spiritually beneficial revenue stream that I’ve ever known in the entire realm of music business. I urge every songwriter to please — go ahead — steal my idea. It’s an incredible way to hone your craft, support your career, and give an unbelievably precious gift to people. It’s the kind of transaction everyone can feel good about. Your customer is supporting an independent artist, and you’re giving them the most memorable, unique, heartfelt gift, that their loved one will treasure always.

Besides all these benefits, I created an entire catalogue of original love songs, enough for several albums. I play my favourites at every gig. And no longer do I worry about having enough appropriate songs to play at weddings — I have an entire book of them. And the majority of the song requests I receive are from people who are new fans discovering my work for the first time.

The way you do it is up to you. I personally set up a part of my website with a questionnaire that forms the lyrics for the song — how did you meet? What special moments have you shared? What does this person mean to you? When the song is completed, I deliver it digitally with a simple Dropbox link. I’ve upgraded things over time — my website now has examples of completed songs and testimonials, I’ve updated my entire recording set-up with better software and equipment (and took free classes on how to use them), and I also send the finished songs by mail on custom CDs. What you charge, how long you take, and what you’ll write about is all up to you.

You might not feel like you can do this — I didn’t think I could either. But when the bottom of your bank account approaches and you can’t quite bring yourself to hand out resumes, please, steal my idea. You and your listeners will be glad you did.

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