She thinks writers have to really believe in what they want to do—and then keep working at it until other people start to believe in it too.
The 32-year-old singer-songwriter is classically trained and is a highly accomplished musician. She began playing the piano at the age of seven and studied classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven at performing arts schools in New York.
However, it seems her rich musical knowledge and diversity proved to be quite a challenge for her managers in the early stages of her career. They found it hard to package her as a typical pop songstress.
“People definitely tried to push me in different directions for sure,” she recently told VH1’s Storytellers. “I was very familiar with the street, had a lot of street knowledge, very clear, very rough around the edges. But at the same time I had studied classical music.”
She added: “I loved everything from Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z to Nina Simone, Patrice Rushen and Donny Hathaway to Erik Satie and Chopin, and everything in the middle. There was no kind of direct path or prototype for anyone to follow. So I think all they knew to do was to kind of push me as close to maybe something they saw that worked before.”
A lack of focus is one of the biggest weaknesses of many new songwriters. This is usually because the writers have no idea where they are heading when they start out. As a result, their career simply meanders from one direction to another with no clear distinction between them—and often with no real progress.
Fortunately, Alicia Keys was strong enough to maintain her focus and remain true to herself. “It was my goal to make people love me,” she said.
When starting any new job, you are more likely to be successful if you are given a proper description of what you’re supposed to be doing … and what you’re expected to achieve.
Songwriting is no different, except it is down to you to define your job description in terms of genre, style and career path, and then set yourself clear goals—and stick to them.
Watch this Songs in A Minor documentary about Alicia’s early career …
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a paperback, or as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.