Transforming Musicians into Songwriters

Fearless Songwriting

Fearless Songwriting... how your life could be different without fear! How to challenge yourself despite the fear so you get everything you want out of life!
Fearless Songwriting, border collie with a ball

Table of Contents

A mentor asked me a question that I couldn’t immediately answer… or ignore: “How would your life be different without fear?”

Here’s how you can answer that question for yourself!

Fear Can Be Fun

Last year, I was dared to try a Polar Bear Dip, jumping into freezing water. Standing on the pier staring 4 meters down at deep green ocean water with chunks of floating ice. I could lean forward or step back…

Balancing on the edge, adrenaline kicked in, my pulse racing and blood was whooshing in my ears… I’m pretty sure my heart was trying to climb up my throat. I hesitated again then restarted the mental countdown… 

The only thing I remember on the way down was the thought: “so that’s what fear feels like…” 

I didn’t feel cold until I put my hands on the ladder rungs to climb out. My hands felt like they were freezing to the metal.

Physical fear jumpstarts our adrenal system, time slows and senses are heightened. You can feel the fear through your whole body… it’s kind of fun (afterwards)….

It’s also confusing because “excitement” and “fear” feel the same, both trigger the same physiological sensations in our bodies!

Avoidance Means Missed Opportunities

I was in a practice room during my first year of University when I heard a knock on the door “Jam session tonight… be there!” I found out the “where and when”, but after a busy day I almost forgot about it. After supper I thought a dozen reasons outloud, why I shouldn’t go. Finally I decided I was studying to learn how to play anywhere and anytime, so I grabbed my tenor sax and headed for the bar.

I’m glad I did, I was the only horn player that showed up, and I was hired and paid to play every week for the rest of the school year… I learned more on that regular gig than in any class or practice room that year!

Fearless Songwriting, Danger Sign

Become Fearless

  • Recognizing Fear
  • Reducing Fear
  • Acting With Fear
  • Losing Fear

Recognizing Fear

  • What is fear?
  • Fear Sounds Like…Excuses!
  • Avoiding Fear
  • You might be afraid of….
  • Possible Songwriting Fears
  • Fear Loves Insecurity

What is Fear?

Fear is a warning… it’s danger, or the possibility of physical or emotional danger. The hesitation before I jumped into an almost frozen icy ocean was from physical danger… it’s a good thing. Confronting and defeating physical fears gives you an adrenaline rush!

Social fear is less obvious and harder to defeat. Nobody wants to look or feel like a fool. So we’re afraid to break social conventions or behave awkwardly.

By avoiding “dangerous” situations… we miss opportunities.

Fear Sounds Like…Excuses! 

You think of a way to get around fear, usually by avoiding it. Then you rationalize your behaviour by making up reasons to justify your actions or inaction:

  • You might choose to stay in, instead of going out to a live show, because it might be boring or expensive or (insert random excuse).
  • You might avoid introducing yourself to another musician, because they are better than you or not as good as you or (insert random excuse).
  • You might hold off on posting the performance video of your latest song because the vocal isn’t perfect, or the song isn’t perfect or the lighting isn’t great, or (insert random excuse).

Avoiding Fear

The typical response to fear is avoidance. Fear is scary. Fear is bad. To feel better, humans find ways to avoid confronting fear. You don’t notice your fear, instead you keep away from situations where the fear is lurking. 

You get to feel safe, except for the rare moments where that little uncomfortable feeling takes hold… that’s fear. 

You Might Be Afraid Of (add your favourites in the comments!)

  • Failure
  • Success
  • Change
  • Doing something new
  • Nobody noticing you (or your music)
  • Being embarrassed
  • Wasting your time
  • Doing it wrong
  • Doing it poorly
  • Making a fool of yourself
  • Being criticised
  • Being critiqued
  • Being corrected
  • Being wrong
  • Sounding bad

Possible Songwriting Fears (add your favourites in the comments!)

What if:

  • My song is terrible?
  • Nobody likes my song?
  • I don’t like my own song?
  • I sound like an amateur?
  • I write it the wrong way?
  • Someone steals my song?
  • I sing it wrong?
  • I forget my own lyrics?
  • I record it poorly?
  • I spend money on a recording studio and it sounds terrible?
  • I post my song and nobody listens?
  • I post my song and people hate it?
  • I’m wasting my time trying to write songs?
  • I finally figure out how to write decent songs and they are still terrible because I’m not built to be a songwriter?
Songs are delicate be gentle while you're writing them, dandelion seeds, songwriting meme

Fear Loves Insecurity

It’s not that you don’t want to do cool things, it’s just that it’s safer not to…. There is often more than one reason, but some of the big ones include:

1. I need for acceptance

  • Humans are social, we crave acceptance from others… and avoid situations where we could jeopardize our social standing or acceptance

2. I’m unsure of my own abilities

  • Not confident in myself or my musical abilities
  • Still learning, so I don’t know much yet
  • Not confident because not that good at it yet

3. Emotional Damage from negative people or negative feedback

  • Negative experiences… what “mistakes” have you made in performance: 
  • I’ve forgotten lyrics, since first year university, didn’t prepare stage announcements for recital, forgotten lyrics to my own songs… all kinds of mistakes!
  • I was told I had a bad singing voice by many people. I didn’t like to sing as a kid… I remember pretending to sing songs I didn’t like in elementary school. As a teenager, I was told my singing was horrible (while singing with earphones, so I wasn’t listening to my own pitch). This is part of the reason I liked playing instruments, unconsciously they are a shield against the world & from criticism… “it’s not me, it’s the instrument!”

4. What Criticisms Do You Remember?

  • Journal this, it’s amazing what you don’t consciously remember until you start digging through your own past

5. My Negative Attitude 

  • I don’t have a negative attitude = I’m showing my negative attitude
  • A negative attitude, focusing on the negatives in every situation can be a result of bad experiences or modeling your behaviours and beliefs on someone with a negative attitude.
  • Murphy’s Attitude… Murphy’s Law will get you because: believing it will go wrong, gets you what you want!

Learn to channel your negative emotions into positive results in: Solving Songwriter Envy.

Picture of rubble...The last thing I remember is someone asking "What's the worst thing that could happen?"

Reducing Fear

  • Emotional Strategies to Reduce Fear
  • Rational Strategies to Reduce Fear
  • Fear Fighting Rituals

Fear is emotional, so rational strategies are ineffective. Start with emotional strategies to defeat fear and use rational strategies to remember to use your emotional strategies.

Emotional Strategies to Reduce Fear

  • Stay in the moment. If you’re focused on what you’re doing (especially in a performance situation) it’s easier to act against your fears.
  • Everyone has fear, and that’s okay! Understand that you’re not alone. Everyone deals  with some level of fear. Some hide it or act despite fear better than others.
  • Learn to enjoy fear (it can be addictive). Adrenaline junkies go out of their way to face physical fear. You can teach yourself to 
  • Taping, a system for activating acupressure points in your body to calm your nervous system.

Jack Canfield and Pamela Bruner

Basic Taping Recipe

Gary Craig

Rational Strategies to Reduce Fear

What you tell yourself when you try to out think fear…. You can argue with emotion, or try to disprove your fear.

My best advice is ask: “What am I missing out on if I give in to this fear?” Usually the potential good outweighs my negativity.

My second best advice is to Deal with Negative Criticism by questioning it

  • What are they saying, is it possibly true?
  • Who said it? Do you value their opinion?
  • Are they in it (make music, educated opinion) or out (bystanders, can’t do it, opinion has less weight)

Fear Fighting Rituals

There are several ways that performers reduce fear… some by masking it, others are more proactive:

  • Negative rituals
    • Smother fear with drugs or alcohol
    • Get spun out and negative 
    • Continue your avoiding behaviours
  • Positive Rituals
    • Exercise, burn off the extra energy
    • Focusing breath
    • Focusing Ritual (read Mental Toughness for Songwriters for details on creating a personalized focusing ritual)
  • Be in the present and focus on the moment (and not on the results)
    • Focus on your breath
    • Choose one thing to focus on (instead of trying to control everything)
    • Positive mantra (don’t include any negative statements or the word “no”)

One of my favourite resources for mental focus, for both practicing and performing, is 10 Minute Toughness by sport psychologist Dr. Jason Selk. I review the book and include action steps to adapt his methodology for songwriting and musicians in Mental Toughness for Songwriters

Start writing inspiration follows actions, close up photo of a microphone grill, songwriting meme

Acting With Fear

  • Channel Fear into Action
  • Build to Your Big Goals

Channel Fear into Action

  • Transmute fear into excitement… I used to get jittery about three hours before a show. Eventually I figured out, it wasn’t nerves… I was excited to play and didn’t want to wait!
  • Use fear as energy for the performance, keep focused and use the extra energy from the fear for your performance
  • DIA… Do it anyway

Build To A Big Goal In Smaller (Less Scary) Steps

  • Small wins add up quickly and build momentum.
  • If you notice you’re avoiding posting a performance video of your song, record yourself practicing everyday for a week, with no intention of releasing any of them, then record it again and release it.
  • Instead of a solo gig, try an open mic and play 3 tunes in front of a live audience
  • Instead of trying to land a show as the headliner, find a band that you could be the opening act for their show.
  • Instead of complaining about “there’s no place to play in my town” perform live on FaceBook… it doesn’t matter if nobody watching with you live, do it for the practice.

Learn to break big projects into smaller manageable tasks in Solving Songwriter Overload.

Losing Fear

  • Keep acting with fear and fear will ebb
  • Find positives in what you do, don’t dwell on negative elements of the experience 
  • Focus on the process, not the product when you’re fearful
  • Keep doing it!

How To Immunize Yourself Against The Fear Of Failure

The best way to learn how to recover from mistakes is to make a lot of mistakes… sorry it’s that simple. Put yourself out there, screw it up and do better next time.

Rejecting Perfectionism, A Mindset Shift

Imperfect action …  ready, fire, aim… try and improve the next iteration. The first try is a try, not the final try!

  • How many rejections can I get (make it a contest)
  • How many ways can I get a negative reaction
  • How bad could it really be… imagine a worst case scenario (and compare it to the most likely outcomes)
  • What am I missing if I give into the fear?
  • How many wrong ways can I do it?
  • What can I learn by trying… ?
Forest Scene, "If your songs never leave your music cave are they really music?"

Action Steps: DIA… Do It Anyway!

  • Pick a goal that’s slightly uncomfortable and start working on it
  • Life is an ongoing experiment
  • It’s not do or die, it’s not life or death… your worst case is usually social embarrassment
  • Failure is learning how not to do something
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take (usually attributed to Wayne Gretzky)

Leave a comment to help other songwriters:

What have you been avoiding, because of fear? 


Add your own songwriting fears in the comments!

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Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.

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