The Hero’s Journey as a Songwriter or Artist (aka Growth is What Happens Between Your Sessions)

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

If the title of this article caught your attention…then, fantastic. You’re in for a journey… the “hero’s journey” that is. And who exactly is that hero? That hero is you.

Make no doubt, your “music heroes” and icons who’ve come before you – the ones you admire and want to be just as good as – were on the journey too. You’re going to follow their path.

“The Hero’s Journey” (coined by author, Joseph Campbell) involves the following: an unbelievable challenge, an epic amount of training/practice and then crucially, a guru / master or coach to illuminate the path to success and victory. There’s more steps along the way but for our dialogue – these are the 3 key elements.

To give an epic and fictional sense of the “hero’s journey,” let’s take look at some fictional examples of this noble walk: Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Star Wars), Beatrix Kiddo & Pai Mei (Kill Bill), Neo & Morpheus (The Matrix), or even Po & Shifu (Kung Fu Panda).

Make no doubt though, this can apply to music icons if it’s Elton John and Dick James (music publisher), Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy and all of Motown.

Consequently, we also witness those “students” emerge as champions and overcome all odds and obstacles. (And hopefully your coach is much kinder than Pai Me).

Pai Me

So how does this relate to you as a songwriter or artist?

Quite simply – do you believe you are on your own “hero’s journey?”

I hope so.

Most recently, I’ve really been thinking about the path of a songwriter and artist, and equating the “hero’s journey” in this exact same way.

As it relates to the “hero’s journey” – your unbelievable epic challenge for you is…what? It’s having a huge career as a songwriter or artist. This is a path that many attempt yet few conquer. So, let’s talk about what you’ll need on your “hero’s journey” – namely practice and training and finding your mentor.

Note: this is all counter to what I call “L.A. Session Culture” (meaning more sessions – should = more hits). Wrong.

Along with the “hero’s journey,” concept, I’m going to compare the pinnacles of songwriting to other individual careers like athletics or entrepreneurship.

You see – in the arts to athletics, to even being an entrepreneur, these career fields all require individual perseverance, drive, beliefs, talent and huge dreams. However, unlike say athletics, where you need to have constant training and coaching – I find those in the arts these days – how can I say it … they just simply don’t have the ongoing training / practice and what I call “a curriculum.” This a plan for growth and study – note this also involves having a coach (the other massive secret component for success).

So, let’s take a look. But first – let me emphasize a key mindset framework for you to immediately incorporate:

Your growth as a songwriter or artist is not just what happens when you sit down to write. Your growth is actually – what happens IN BETWEEN the songwriting sessions (with yourself or others).

As mentioned – I’m going to use athletics and entrepreneurship to frame this conversation. And we might even slide Yoda into the DMs. By the end of the post – I think you’ll have some epiphanies.

First, as mentioned, you would have to agree that peak performers of all types – from gold medal olympians and champions, and even the world’s best CEOs have 2 things in common. First, they put in massive amounts of training and practice. Second, they usually have a pivotal coach or mentor.

PRACTICE AND TRAINING

When it comes to practice and training – and how it relates to your music career – let’s look at an Olympian athlete looking to get the gold – or even a football team, aspiring to win the Superbowl.

Imagine you’re that Olympic athlete. Assuming you’re uniquely talented and are also, ridiculously good to begin with, let me ask you this question:

Would you just go from tournament to tournament without practice, training and coaching and just “show up” and “hope for the best?” Because – hey, you’re really pretty good!

Let’s look at this another way.

If you’re on a football team and you want that Super Bowl ring, would you just go from one game to the next and you know…just play? And further – what would happen if the football coach said, “Hey everyone – listen up! There’s a new plan for this season. No practice! And as far as myself, I’ll just be in the stands watching. That’s right, no coaching from moi!

And lastly, let’s look at an even more extreme metaphor. A huge challenge that literally involves life or death – yes, I’m talking about climbing Mt. Everest. If you wanted to make it to the summit, would you just, you know, show up at base camp and “take your best shot?

Mt. Everest

Photo by Somnath Ghosh on Unsplash

In either of these cases – the answer would be: “No Hella Friggin Way.”

In fact – in all of those examples above – well, to me – they all sound like instant fails.

No one in their right mind would expect a victory. Right?

But what about those that do win…those that do summit Mt. Everest, those that do conquer those obstacles and emerge as champions? What do those heroes do? What happens in between the matches, tournaments or games, or even before running the marathon?

Yes – you got it. These people are practicing and training their asses off. A lot.

And they’re also receiving the best coaching in the world. You see, the actual time spent practicing is 5-10x more than the time they actually spent on actual “game day.” Additionally, these athletes push themselves to the edge, work on their skills, and level themselves up – not just physically, but mentally as well. Yes,I said mentally.

Practice + Practice + Practice = Game Day!!!

I’ve previously mentioned that athletes and aspiring Olympians are great examples. They show up for training at 6am (or earlier), and practice relentlessly for hours every day with their coach.

In other words – they don’t roll out of their beds at 11:30, grab a coffee and rush to the next session, see what happens, and hope for the best.

Importantly, please note that an athlete’s “game day” is metaphorically your “session day.”

IT’S ALSO A MENTAL GAME

Those on their hero’s journey also work on their mental game. Now, I also mentioned “mental” mindset and practice. That’s right.. How many times have you heard of an athlete “visualizing” themselves crossing the finish line in first place, or taking a 3 pointer basketball shot with “nothing but net.”

women running a race

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

In fact, there’s a great story of Tony Robbins (world coach / self development guru) who worked with one of the best basketball players in the world. Tony was setting up visualizations and NLP (neuro linguistic programming) anchors for this player. In doing so, Tony totally changed this super star athlete’s “game” (no pun intended, see what I did there?).

And of course, Neo in The Matrix had to get in tune with himself and focus his mind to effectively “see the Matrix.”

So, check this out. Can you imagine what would happen – that while you were “practicing and training” that you were also working on your own self development, visualizations (seeing yourself succeeding), your beliefs and personal identity and how this would ultimately affect your songwriting / artist career?

And then…and then, show up to your songwriting or recording session.

To add to this “hero’s journey” metaphor, it’s not a mistake that the best high performers in the world … not only do they train relentlessly…but they almost always have the best coaches.

Who is The Coach on Your “Hero’s Journey?”

Let’s talk about your coach. And if you don’t have one – who could that be? Make no mistake – the coach / mentor / guide is a crucial part of your hero’s journey. Yoda was a pretty good coach, wouldn’t you say? Could Luke Skywalker defeat the empire on some basic skill and talent alone? No way. Luke needed to train and be coached and guided by a jedi mentor.

And to use our Mt. Everest analogy – you want the very best guide, someone who’s been up and down the mountain like a hundred times. Yes, you want that guide, where summiting Mt. Everest is a cakewalk. Yes! In fact – they do it all the time! Otherwise – surely there’s a crevasse waiting for you, where you’ll never be heard from again (get the career metaphor?).

I also previously mentioned CEOs and entrepreneurs. Hmm – they don’t need coaches, do they? Steve Jobs just intuitively knew exactly what he was doing!

Au contraire!

If you’re a silicon valley CEO ala a Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Larry Page & Sergey Brin (founders of Google) or 50 other Billionaire CEO’s – you might just happen to have had the same entrepreneurial coach. What?!? That’s right. I’m talking about none other than Bill Campbell (RIP).

Hmm let me get this right. There’s one coach who’s nurtured and guided so many CEOs that he was referred to as the “trillionaire coach?!” Is that just a coincidence?

images of CEOs and their coaches

What I’m ultimately getting at here – is that for some reason…for some peculiar reason – professional songwriters and artists, in my experience, just don’t really approach their hero’s journey within these parameters. They often don’t have this type of training mentality, coaching or self development work in place. Nor do they really care to seek it out. (Note: click this link to help with that missing element for your hero’s journey: https://benjamingroff.teachable.com/p/hit-songwriter-accelerator)

And hey – not saying that hits and great pieces of music don’t happen without this context. Clearly – it happens all the time. But personally, I see the “real icons” and “towering pieces of songwriting,” emerging less and less – and that’s pretty sad.

As a coach to my own clients, I not only need to support and guide – ultimately I want to guarantee their success. And the more I do this, the more I understand that the REAL GROWTH for songwriters and artists is what happens between the sessions.

Your Personal Growth Curriculum

For most songwriters and artists – as I mentioned, there is usually very little of this type of intentional work. Tell me if I’m wrong, but for most songwriters, the strategy of hoping to write a hit is usually the following.

Assuming a songwriter or artist is pretty good to begin with – they usually go from session to session to session to session with the hopes of “leveling up.” To put this in our metaphorical perspective, this is literally the same idea of an athlete going from “game day” to “game day” or “tournament” to “tournament” with no work or coaching done in between those events.

For songwriters and artists – once they reach a certain point, in my view, there’s very little to no practice done in between the sessions.

Check this slide below.

Graph showing effort/grind to results for most writers/artists

In this above scenario, perhaps we see some light growth, certainly not equating to the immense level of grind and effort put into all those writing sessions throughout the year.

Let me ask you. Is that someone you want to take a bet on? Someone that is a future hero or icon who can change the world? Maybe.

And also – God. Think of all that work and unnecessary grind.

But hey, maybe we do get lucky with a hit? Woo hoo!

You see, in my experience, the thing that usually happens is the following: Writers go from one co-write to the next (even if this is writing by yourself on your own computer or keyboard / guitar) pretty much showing up as relatively the same person every time.

In fact, I’m going to say it here and lay all my cards on the table.

A DIFFERENT SESSION BUT STILL THE SAME PERSON

Most songwriters and artists are showing up to their next session as generally THE SAME PERSON as they did 10, 25, 100 or 200 sessions ago. I mean sure, there will be some light growth through repetition and picking up insight from your other co-writers, but not as much as there should be.

In my opinion, the “practice” and “coaching” that happens in the music industry is laughably non-existent, compared to other professions (i.e. athletics).

Oops. Did I just trigger you? I hope so because I really want to stress the importance of this.

What I’m getting at is – if Serena Williams decided early in her career, with her intrinsically raw talent – to just go from tennis tournament to tennis tournament without any real continued practice and no coaching, where would she be? Probably nowhere! You can guess what those results might look like.

endless cycle of practice -> practice -> game day

Are you with me still?

So, here’s my question.

Why is it that most artists and songwriters – get a “pass” in this area – or don’t put focus here?

I think it’s generally because we’re in an “inspiration” business. And sometimes the hit songs might just show up in a dream, while you’re in the shower, and of course, in your songwriting sessions.

This resistance to these ideas might sound something like this:

“Nah man, I don’t need to do any of the work … I just need “inspiration” but hey, thanks bruh.”

We’re also in a climate that’s completely different than 30 + years ago – where I dare say the best artists, writers and songs (and hits!) showed up. This is based on the simple premise that – back then, to even get into the recording studio – someone had to green light the song and the costs.

This is versus today of course where anyone can make anything on a laptop – and also bypass any quality control. Now – that might be a great thing in many cases. But on the other hand – look where we are with our current music icons and songs that will stand the test of time…versus say, classics from 30 + years ago.

There’s also a false premise that if I, as a songwriter/artist, just do this long enough, that that hit or career defining song should show up. Eventually.

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And you know what – sometimes it does.

However, I daresay that this is mostly an illusion. In short, the real musical icons who’ve come before you, are mostly always in training mode and being coached by the best (i.e. their A&R, manager, publisher, producer).

They’ve completed their own epic journey.

The other fallacy I see with songwriters and artists goes something like this:

“I just need to get in better songwriting rooms/sessions”

“If I could just get in the room with artist x, y, or z, they’d know I’d be the perfect co-writer for them!”

“If only I got that meeting, this A&R person would see my brilliance.”

Perhaps. But this strategy and entitlement, doesn’t do you any good if you’re not ready. You’re just coming in several levels below where you actually need to be. On that note – I hear it all the time with songwriters that “they just need to get in better rooms.” But really they should be asking themselves “how can I make myself worthy to be in those rooms in the first place?!” Do that…the rest will follow.

Damn – this is really ruffling some feathers. But, so be it.

I mean, let me ask you, and let’s be real. If Taylor Swift or Kendrick Lamar called you today for a co-write at 1pm…or let’s say you’re an artist and Rick Rubin wants to do a Zoom call tonight to hear your new material in 30 minutes, would you truly be ready or … would you be sh*tting your pants?

When a writer or an artist has done the work and then I hear the following request: “Benjamin – get me that session with that artist! Get me that opportunity. I’m 1000% ready. I’m sooooo ready.”

Damn right, you are…because you created a “curriculum” for yourself. You’re training! You’re growing all the time. You’ve sought out a coach. You’re growing 1% better each day! And then when that opportunity comes – you CRUSH IT.

Session 8/Session 158: They are the same picture

I just need to repeat this again because this is so important.

Without that curriculum and growth mindset, most artists, writers and producers go from session to session to session, essentially showing up as mostly the same person, with the same skills, identity, beliefs and mindset as they did from 100 sessions ago.

Literally.

And then they expect superstar results.

To think this is going to play out in your favor – especially, within the context of that athletics or Mt. Everest metaphor – it just doesn’t make sense!

HOW TO DO “THE WORK”

So how do we do this? How do we level up ourselves “in between” the sessions? How do we get 1% better every day?

I have some answers for you.

Are you ready for it?

As mentioned – as part of the “hero’s journey” – you need to be training.

YOU NEED A CURRICULUM.

That’s right. A calculated and intentional way you’re going to practice and train. You’re going to install a songwriter / artist plan, similar to what an aspiring Olympian would have to win the gold. This includes practice, growing and having clear goals. This also includes finding your coach / mentor.

Chart showing success of people with no goals, people with goals in their heads and people with written goals

Image via Naveen Raju on YouTube

Yes! This is a process where the daily result is you showing up as “a different person” than you were previously. This is about leveling yourself up. You’re going to show up to the world as “YOU 2.14” or “YOU 3.05” or “YOU 7.2” vs just the same PREDICTABLE old you.

Look at it this way. We get an iPhone or Android update every few months – or even weeks, right? So, what are you doing to “update” yourself (your beliefs, your mindset, your identity, your skills)?

Here’s my question. Can you imagine that instead of just “showing up to game day” i.e. your next songwriting session … that instead – you’ve been practicing, elevating your skills, increasing your songwriting vocabulary (read this article to learn how to do that), learning the songs of the greats, what makes them tick, and modeling those hits and also visualizing your success and working on your mindset, beliefs and identity!

Not just doing the above a few times per month. But 3-5 days a week! Now – imagine what this looks like when you get to the the end of the year or songwriting session #221 from whence you started?!

Boom!

Chart showing effort to results for 10x career growth writers/artists

This is where you manifest your future and bring it into reality today.

THE COACH

Lastly, as previously mentioned the remaining crucial part of the equation is finding: the guru, the coach, the mentor – your yoda!

That’s right. Luke Skywalker can’t face Darth Vader without learning the skills of the Jedi, from Master Jedi, Yoda. Rocky can’t defeat Apollo Creed without the tutelage of his trainer, Mickey. And Wonder Woman can’t save the world without received training from her aunt Antiope, General of the Amazons.

Yoda

Of course – the above is literally science fiction. But just think of your favorite artists and best performers out there – it’s likely they had a coach. This is someone who will be your guide, hold you accountable, level you up, illuminate your blind spots, give you objectivity, and overall illuminate the path.

Ideally, this person should also be someone who’s achieved success, previously with other talents. They already have proven results.

This could be a great publisher, a great manager, a producer (if you’re an artist), A&R person, teacher / professor or a performance coach.

And that, my friends, is the difference in everything.

And do I have a coach? Damn, right. Personally, I gladly spend a lot for my own personal coaches and advisors. Why? Because I don’t want to make all those mistakes myself. I want and need someone to illuminate the path and get to my destination – maybe even in half the time as others.

When it comes to coaches, if I can find someone to shortcut everything and 10x my skills – I’m going to surround my world with those people. Full stop.

So, if you liked this article – and this resonated – there’s more I can help you with in the following articles:

The Songwriting Vocabulary Expander
https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/songwriting-vocabulary-expander-how-to-become-one-of-the-best

Create Success Through Mindset Belief and Identity w/Nick Cownie
https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/how-to-create-mindset-belief-and-identity-for-your-career-success

Goal Setting + Using Your Publisher as a GPS
https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/using-your-music-publisher-as-a-hit-song-gps-navigator

I’ve also compiled so much of this knowledge in my new Hit Songwriter Accelerator course. It’s in this course where, along with advanced hit songwriting concepts and epiphanies, we work on your goals and curriculum, your personal growth – not just as a songwriter / artist but also, how you show up as a person and present yourself to the world. In the course I unveil and unpack virtually all the advanced concepts I’ve learned in my 30 year career, helping you to unlock your greatest potential.

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YOU ARE THE HERO

As we wrap up this article, don’t forget – YOU are indeed “the hero” and on the “hero’s journey.”

Be the hero for yourself and others.

That’s right – you are THE HERO here!

For you to be on that journey – it requires training, practice and mentorship.

Treat it as such.

And if you’re on the hero’s journey, you have my utmost admiration and respect.

Remember, the real work and growth is done in between the writing sessions.

I’ll see you at the top of Mt. Everest.

Your coach,

Benjamin.

About the Author

The Author of “How Do I Get A Record Deal? Sign Yourself!”

My career in music publishing extends over 25 years, including BMG Music (bought by Universal) and EMI Music Publishing (bought by Sony), as well as the 1st U.S. employee of Kobalt Music Publishing, where he helped build the roster over 10 years as Executive VP of Creative.

Benjamin is currently heading up his own publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music filter, We Are: The Guard. Benjamin’s signings range from Ryan Tedder, Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, Grimes, Savan Kotecha, OneRepublic, SOPHIE, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Tiesto, Kid Cudi, TOKiMONSTA, TR/ST, Cut Copy, Big Freedia, Lindy Robbins, Peaches and yes, even Steel Panther. His specialty in the music business is early artist, writer and writer/producer development.

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