Be Restless

Be Restless

Be restless. Dream big. Want more. Go new places. Meet new people. Try new things. Never settle. Life is too short not to. Now don’t get me wrong. Dreams are earned. Dreams are fought for. They’re not wishes granted by some motherfucking genie in a bottle. The bigger your dreams, the harder you have to graft to make them come true. The more you have to struggle. The more you have to sacrifice. But will it be worth it? You betcha. At eighty, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do way more than the things you did. So be stupid. Be unthinking. Be fearless. And be ready to fuck up. Because you will. Nobody ever did anything worthwhile without making mistakes, or burning a few bridges, or looking like a completely crazy person once in a while. Which would you rather: Fuck up a hundred times, learn a hundred new lessons then use those lessons to create something amazing? Or fuck up never and create nothing? Because you have to choose. It’s one or the other. You can’t make zero mistakes and something amazing. So embrace it: in a life well spent, things are going to go wrong. You’ll be told ‘no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck you’. None of these are reasons to settle. None of these are reasons to stop exploring. None of these are reasons to stop trying new things. Life only stops if you decide to stop living it. Be restless. Never settle.   Photo by Bryan Minear on...
Why You Should Study The Classics

Why You Should Study The Classics

When I was 17, I ordered a copy of Beethoven’s Complete String Quartets from Amazon. Amazon was pretty new back then, and I remember opening the packaging and pulling out this thick blue book and thinking how cool it was to own a big chunk of history. It was the first time I’d owned any sheet music to study it, and not because I wanted to play it myself. I picked the first movement of one of the quartets, Opus 135, from right at the end of Beethoven’s life, as the subject of my university application essay. So I just started taking it apart, using everything I knew about harmony, melody and structure to try and understand how Beethoven’s mind worked and what made this particular string quartet tick. Every time something came to me, I wrote it on the score until the entire thing was covered in lines, circles and scribbled observations. (I was an intense seventeen-year-old, I know.) I knew probably 10% of what I know about music back then, but it did the trick: it helped me get accepted to study music somewhere really cool. And honestly, I learned a lot of the other 90% I have now by doing this over and over again throughout the past decade. My observations these days are usually more mental than written, and since then I’ve studied everything from Brahms to Bernstein to the Beatles to Clean Bandit. But early on, I realized that that’s a big part of learning to write: studying what already exists and figuring out what it can teach you. As I say in my...
Five Common Things That Hold Songwriters Back

Five Common Things That Hold Songwriters Back

Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, it turns out songwriting is the opposite. Every happy songwriter is happy because they’re unique in some way. But the causes behind every stuck, struggling one are usually pretty similar. See, in most cases, what stops would-be songwriters is fear of getting started. Songwriting can be frightening. Songwriting is hard. It’s easier and safer to watch TV. But if you want to get good at songwriting – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to write. And if you want to write – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to get off your ass and start. Even though it’s frightening. Even though it’s hard. Even though Netflix just released the new season of Narcos. 90% of success in songwriting is getting started. Because the more you do, the more you realize your fears are unfounded and the easier it gets to overcome them in future. That’s right. Feel scared but do it anyway. Because here’s the thing: in songwriting, like in life, it’s almost always better to do something than nothing. It’s almost always better to do the quote-unquote wrong thing – and learn from it – than do nothing at all. And just in case you’re still round the fire making S’mores at Camp Sit-There-And-Do-Nothing, let’s talk about five common beliefs that might be holding you back – and what you can do about them.   You Think You Don’t Know What You’re Doing OK. I’ve got a newsflash for you. Nobody really knows what they’re...
Sure, Blank Pages Are Frightening. But They Don’t Have to Be.

Sure, Blank Pages Are Frightening. But They Don’t Have to Be.

I know, I know. The blank page is frightening. It could be anything. Anything. That’s frightening. But then again, it could be anything. Anything. That’s exciting. I’ve never once sat down to write and not surprised myself with what I came up with. Not now. Not ever. Not even when I was just starting out. Somehow, every time I sit down to write I end up discovering things I didn’t know existed. Cool turns of phrase. Interesting melodic shapes. Chord progressions I didn’t realize worked. There are always surprises.     Sure, there are plenty of bad surprises. Things I didn’t realize don’t work. In fact, there are probably more of those than good surprises. But to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, it’s OK because that kind of surprise goes in the wastebasket. But those good surprises go in the thing I’m making. Or I save them to go in some future thing I’ll be making. They make the thing I’m making interesting. They make the thing I’m making fresh – first to me, and later to everyone else. And the more I’m excited by the surprises I’ll discover once I start to write, the more fun writing becomes. And the more fun writing becomes, the better I do it. And the better I do it, the more I want to do it. Go on, try it. Change your mind about writing. You might surprise yourself.   Photo by Caleb Woods on...
There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

When you were growing up you probably believed all kinds of crazy things. Maybe you believed in the tooth fairy. Maybe you thought you’d grow up to be an astronaut. Maybe you believed you had to be good all year or you wouldn’t get any Christmas presents. Of course you believed these kinds of things. That’s what being a kid is all about. But if you’re above the age of twelve you probably don’t believe these things any more. You realized your parents made up the tooth fairy to help you feel less weird that parts of your mouth kept falling out. You realized that being an astronaut would be pretty cool, but you hadn’t really thought through how hard the training is, how dangerous it can be and how difficult it is to be selected to go into space in the first place. You realized that being good for Santa isn’t nearly as rewarding as being good because you live your life in accordance with your own morals and values. And if you’re above the age of twelve you probably started to realize that part of growing up is realizing that some of the things you believe aren’t that useful to you any more. And if you’re above the age of twelve you probably started to realize that readjusting your beliefs can be hard. You probably started to realize that acknowledging there’s a better way to think about something can really piss you off. But you probably started to realize that once you got through that discomfort you were much better off in the end. So it is with writer’s block. Writer’s block is a convenient thing...
Why I Chose Art

Why I Chose Art

When I was sixteen I thought I’d be a doctor. I say I thought. I didn’t really know. I figured you had to decide something, I was good at science at school, my parents are both medical. So I said ‘why not be that’. I’m glad it didn’t work out that way. I’m glad I gradually wound up where I am today. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed medicine. Not that I wouldn’t have been a good doctor. Even for all mind-fucking things you have to do to become one, and the back-breaking and mostly thankless things you have to do to stay one, it would have been a life very well spent. Whether ultimately I chose songwriting or songwriting chose me, I’m not sure. But I am sure I’m glad I’m here. Even if eighteen-year-old ‘No thanks, I’ll be a musician’ me had no idea where here would be. There’s a common view of young artists (actually, most artists) that says we’re a drain on society. That arts education is a high-minded, mostly masturbatory waste of time. That we should go get a real job: work in a factory, an office or – even – save lives in a hospital. It’s a view that says what we do is less important because it’s hard to see what point art can have in a world where North Korea are probably making nuclear warheads, millions of Africans definitely don’t have enough food to eat, and anyway the street is full of potholes, they missed the trash collection this week and bloody hell have any of you seen my keys? And you know, there’s a point...