Are Songwriting and Writing Classes and Camps Worth the Cost?

Selfie – Dan Steven Erickson

My simple and opinionated answer is “No.” There. You can stop reading now, or if you want to understand a little more about my conclusions concerning songwriting camps and classes, continue.

I’ve attended several writing and music courses, seminars, camps, etc., in my lifetime. Most recently, in 2023, I went to Rodney Crowell’s songwriting camp, and I took Rachael Cerrotti’s memoir writing class. Honestly, the much less expensive of the two, Rachael’s class, had more benefits to me as a writer. I learned more. But was it enough to make me feel like it really helped me greatly as a writer? Probably not.

It all depends on your experience and desire.

The answer to the question about whether or not songwriting and writing camps and classes are worth the cost really depends on two things.

  1. Your experience level. While it’s true that we can always learn, if I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to discover that the teachers are no more advanced than me as a writer, I may have wasted my money.
  2. Your desire. I don’t regret any class or camp I’ve attended. I even knew going into them that I might not get what I wanted out of them. But I had the desire to attend and mingle with like-minded people. And it was fun.

If you are a beginning writer or musician and you want to improve, then yes, by all means, take classes and go to camps. If you’ve been writing for most of a lifetime and have already written or published a variety of works in any format, then think twice. Here’s why.

You don’t get enough for your money.

If you are loaded and don’t care about costs, this does not apply. If you just want the experience, and/or want to be a super-fan of the individual(s) offering the class or the camp, again, do it. It can be fun and rewarding.

But if, assuming you’re already a fairly decent writer, you expect to get in-depth training that will make you a better writer, and perhaps lead you closer to a successful writing career, save your money. I’ve outlined a few reasons why.

  1. You won’t get much personal attention. My experience in writing classes and camps is that there are too many students for the teachers to truly reach on a personal level. I’m a teacher. I know that it’s impossible to mentor 100 students individually. However, I will work in-depth with individual students if they ask me to during the duration of a course, and even after the course in some cases. This kind of in-depth help does not happen at commercial songwriting camps and classes. You are one of many, and the “teachers” are often only teachers because they are successful in the business and have “names.” Most are not really “teachers.”
  2. You are mostly taught broad overviews. Sure, I might pick up some tidbits of helpful information at writing camps and classes. I might get a healthy dose of inspiration. I’ve heard some great stories. But as a self-trained and motivated songwriter and writer, I’ve done a lot of study. I’ve put in years of practice. I’d say that 95% or more of the information I was taught at the courses and camps I’ve attended included information I already understood.
  3. You can learn this stuff for free. Even before the Internet, anyone had the ability to become a great writer or songwriter. You just have to read and listen. Dig deep. I was studying Bob Dylan and Robert Johnson in my 20s. I’ve spent countless hours reading biographies and how-to books from libraries at no cost to me.
  4. Hard work is what makes you better. Courses can be helpful. But if you want to write better songs, write songs. If you want to become a better poet, write poetry. Pretty simple.

If I were friends with Tom Waits.

It might sound like I think I’m pretty damn good at what I do. Well, yes, I do think I’ve learned a lot over my years of practice and experience. Does that mean I’m beyond learning? Fuck no! I understand less than ever.

But if I pay $1000 and only learn a couple of tidbits of information that may not really make much of a difference in what I do, was that cost effective. Nope. And if you think I’ll pay $10,000 for one-on-one time with some self-proclaimed writing guru/coach, you’re crazy.

If I were friends with say, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, or Steve Earle, then maybe I could really get some benefit from a teacher/mentor relationship. I mean that’s really the best way of learning, to be in an active and ongoing relationship with someone who has more experience than you do at the craft. That, unfortunately is not realistic or an easy situation to find oneself in.

In the camps and classes, my experience with songwriters like Rodney Crowell, Joe Henry, and others was this: To the lesser experienced writers, they had much more to teach. With the more experienced writers, they basically looked at us and said, “That’s a good song.” That was my $2500 lesson.

If you really want to become a professional songwriter, perhaps a full-length course, or  even a program at a college that specializes in music and the music business would be a better route.

The business of being undiscovered.

Recently, I posted a comment on a “songwriting” course being advertised on Facebook. I said that with my experience, “I should be teaching the class, not taking it.” You might imagine that I got some feedback, both supportive and questioning. But it’s true. I’ve likely studied the craft as much, and written as many songs, as anyone who teaches songwriting. Add the fact that I’m actually educated as a teacher and I think I have a fair argument. The difference is simply that I’ve not worked my way into “the business of songwriting.”

So then maybe I should take a class? It’s also my experience, that these short courses on writing and songwriting don’t really give us much new information on how to succeed in the business. So it becomes a catch 22. I even attended a music business conference in Indianapolis, Indiana back in 2003 or 2004. It didn’t really equip me with anything I hadn’t already learned in books I’d read. Getting into the business is hard work, but often a very large element of chance or luck is also involved.

I’m “undiscovered.” And becoming discovered takes even more work and energy. After trying to get discovered for a few years, I chose college and a family. Then I had bills to pay and responsibilities to attend to. I couldn’t just pick up stakes at a whim and spend all my time in a major music or writing city knocking on doors and attempting to be “discovered.” It’s not that simple.

But back to the question at hand. Are songwriting and writing courses and camps worth the cost. From my perspective, they are not. But if you want to have some fun and mingle with famous people and other writers, do it. Maybe, I’ll run into you. – dse

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Author: Dan Steven Erickson

Dan Steven Erickson is a great undiscovered American songwriter.