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...
How to Find More Time to Write

How to Find More Time to Write

I get it. There’s never enough hours in the day. Juggling work, friends, family, exercise, time off, Stranger Things is tough. It’s easy for your creative time to end up last on the list. But here’s the kicker: you’ll find time to do it if it’s important enough. Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. Beyoncé. Richard Branson. The Dalai Lama. You. Whether you get what you want done has nothing to do with how long it takes the earth to rotate and everything to do with how you prioritize. Here’s how you change your mind about what’s important and make sure you give your creative work the time it deserves.   First Things First: Decide Writing Is Important You don’t have to say it to yourself in the mirror every morning. You don’t have to write it on a hundred Post-its and stick them round your house. All you have to do is decide writing is important to you. And how do you know that’s true? You get to decide it’s true. You get to decide that even if there are a handful of other important things in your life, writing is one of them. You get to decide that even though writing can be tough, most things worth doing are tough sometimes. You get to decide that living the kind of life you want is totally up to you, and if writing is an important part of that, goddamn you better find some quality time for it. If it’s not true, by the way, that’s cool. It’s totally cool. If your passion is scuba diving...
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be Creative

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be Creative

Sometimes it feels like the world is going crazy. The Nazis are back! A third of millennials will never own a home! Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water! And don’t even get me started on politics. But that’s only half the story. In fact and in facts, we live in the safest, most peaceful, most technologically advanced era in human history. We also live in the best period of human history – by far – to do something creative. Let’s talk about five reasons why.   It’s Never Been Easier to Make New Things In Mozart’s time, making music was just for rich people who either were the aristocracy or who were lucky enough to work for them. Well, sucks to be you Mozart, because these days you can get started entirely on your own and without spending a fortune. Seriously. You can pick up a decent instrument for less than $100. You can create an entry-level recording studio by plugging a decent mic into your laptop. You can make professional-sounding music in your bedroom, on the subway, on a plane, in the middle of nowhere. You have access to a huge library of sounds, beats and synths online, sometimes for free. You can shoot a great-looking music video on your phone. You can make all kinds of amazing things with the tools you probably already have and not much else. And that’s not even to mention the incredible and unprecedented freedom people alive today have. OK. I know it doesn’t feel like that when your alarm goes off at 7am Friday and you have to lug your sorry...
How to Finish a Song

How to Finish a Song

The trouble with finishing a song is that songwriting is hard. Possible, manageable, achievable. But hard. It’s hard because songwriting, like any kind of creativity, means making something that doesn’t exist yet. And the trouble with making something that doesn’t exist yet is that – because it doesn’t exist – you don’t know how to make it. In a nutshell, that’s how creativity works. And that’s why creativity is hard. There’s no formula. There’s no rulebook. There’s no IKEA-style instructions. You just have to figure it out. One of the most common questions I get asked both through the site and as a songwriting coach is ‘How do I finish a song?’ And the honest answer is, you keep going. You finish a song by coming up with ideas until the song’s finished. I know that’s not a sexy answer. I know that’s not an exciting answer. I know that’s not an answer I can explain in a three-step WikiHow article with nice pictures.     If you’re confused about your song’s structure, I suggest you stick to a simple Verse-Chorus structure – like Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus or Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. If you’re not sure what to put into your song’s verses, have a think about your song’s story and try brainstorming details about that story – no lyrics yet, just words and phrases! – that might inspire a full lyric. If you’ve written your first verse but are stuck on your second, think about a shift in time or place or topic you could use to frame your second verse. What other focus could help inspire you to write something new? If you’re struggling to...