Every Day’s a School Day

Every Day’s a School Day

Every day’s a school day. There’s always more to know. There’s always something you hadn’t considered. There’s always room for improvement. You never reach perfection, just like you never reach knowing it all. There’s no upper limit, just us mere mortals in the gutter looking up at the stars. This attitude is what makes all the difference between being average at what you do and becoming – with enough time – exceptional. There’s no single secret to greatness. There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. And you pick up those secrets only when you keep your mind open and learn something new day after day. True growth is incremental. Personal development – if it’s going to last – happens in baby steps, over years and decades, not weeks and months. Of course, some people don’t see it that way. Some people are so dumb they think they know it all. They’re so dumb they think they can. They’re so dumb they don’t realize how much they don’t know. So their ignorance owns them, not the other way round. Sure, it’s good to be confident in what you know. In fact, it’s essential you’re confident in what you know. But you can’t be confident in what you do know unless you’re confident in what you don’t know. And those who are confident in what they don’t know are ready to do something about it. Because, like I said, there’s no secret formula to expertise. It’s just a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience, gained over a lot of time. A talent is something you develop, not something...
Embrace the Maybe

Embrace the Maybe

Songwriting is a world of maybe. Maybe if I write this… Maybe if I hit up that co-writer… Maybe if I submit to that competition… Maybe if I try write in a different style… Maybe if I take a chance on that crazy idea… Too many people try to exist in a world of certainty. x = y. Effort = Reward. This action = This consequence. The trouble is, that’s not our world – in general, but especially in songwriting. Maybe if a butterfly flaps its wings in Australia it’ll cause a hurricane in Haiti. Maybe if that sick dude gets on that plane it’ll cause a global pandemic. Maybe if you write that song, something amazing will come of it. If not, maybe next time. It’s tempting (and reassuring) to live in a world of black and white. Where simple acts like ripping up a trade deal or building a wall seem like simple solutions to all our problems. But that’s not our world. Our world is complicated. Our world has lots of interconnected parts. Nobody can ever predict everything, ever with total certainty. Everybody is ultimately just winging it. I get it. We know more than we’ve ever known. We have access to more information than we’ve ever had. People are better and better at making predictions about the weather, the stock market, a presidential election in South America than they’ve ever been. But a prediction is not a guarantee. A map is not the territory. A method is not a rule.     Don’t be seduced into thinking anyone, ever has it all figured out. Actually, flat...
Think today’s music sucks? Here’s what you do about it.

Think today’s music sucks? Here’s what you do about it.

If you’ve ever said “But today’s music sucks”, you wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last. There are basically two ways of looking at this. One: maybe you’re right. Maybe music today is far more about image and marketing than music. Maybe music today is more about bitches and hoes than interesting melodies and meaningful lyrics. Maybe music today is dominated by people who know how to market themselves more than people who know how to write good songs. Maybe record companies care about little more than their bottom line any more. Maybe YouTube attention spans, streaming services gutting artists’ revenues, and the shocking fact that only 12% of the entire music industry’s revenue in 2017 went to the artists mean one simple thing: the best way to survive as a songwriter today is to write dumb, inane music that appeals to the widest audience in the most superficial way. Maybe. Maybe you’re right. Or two: maybe you’re wrong. Maybe you’re not looking at this fairly. Maybe you’re comparing every single song in the charts today to the tiny handful of greatest songs from the 80s and 90s we remember today. Hell, maybe you’re only looking at chart music and ignoring the literally tens of thousands of great tracks being made around the world that aren’t being released by major artists on major labels. And maybe you’re focusing on the music you hate or don’t understand when there are plenty of great major artists today – like Adele, or Shawn Mendes, or (yes) Paul McCartney – who manage to maintain a great public image while releasing inventive,...
What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

Sometimes the best way to learn is to go it alone. Sometimes the best way to learn is with help and guidance. Songwriting, as it turns out, is best learned with a mixture of the two. Let’s talk about why.   Do You Need to Work with a Songwriting Coach? It’s a question I get asked a lot as a songwriting coach, and a good one: is working with a songwriting coach essential? And the short answer to this deeply existential question (for me, at least) is no. It’s definitely not essential. But a longer answer is no, but it’s definitely a great way to make great progress with your writing. With the right mentor you’ll make much better progress than you would alone. With the right mentor what might take you months to figure out one your own, you might figure out in a session or two with your coach. And sure, that old saying is true: songwriting can’t be taught, only learned. But an experienced and skilled coach is going to help you learn all that stuff faster and more efficiently. They’re won’t let you avoid making the mistakes that all songwriters make early on – they’re just going to help you make them faster and make sure you learn good lessons from them. See, if you didn’t know already, making mistakes is the way you really master something. You’ve probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 Hours Rule’ – that says the trick to mastering anything is 10,000 hours of practice. Well, let me expand on that with Ed Bell’s lesser-known ’10,000 Mistakes Rule’ – that says...
Six Places to Find Great Song Titles

Six Places to Find Great Song Titles

If you’ve been writing songs a while, you’ll know that finding your song’s story – the idea that starts it all – is the key to coming up with a great song idea. But your song’s title, which is usually its lyrical hook, is also a key part of how you tell your song’s story. In fact, a particularly great title is going to help you tell that song’s story in an especially interesting and distinctive way. On top of that, your title is the thing that represents your song when it’s not being performed or heard. It’s the thing people click on to hear your song. And it’s the thing that gives them their first impression when they first hear about it. So it’s definitely worth spending that extra bit of time coming up with a good one. We’ll look at some ways you can do this in a bit, but first of all let’s talk about what a good title is in the first place. Every great title is great in its own way. But here are some qualities you tend to find in good song titles – and some well-known examples that do the things I’m talking about: It’s good to be bold with a title – to say something that really grabs people’s attention. Think ‘My! My! My!’ or ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. It’s good to be original with a title – to come up with a word or phrase that’s new, or at least different somehow. Think ‘Love Foolosophy’ or ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ or ‘Cake by the Ocean’. It’s good to create a world with...