Four Things Nobody Tells You About Writing Songs for a Living

Four Things Nobody Tells You About Writing Songs for a Living

Wow. It’s been quite a year. And I’m not just talking about the crazy world we seem to live in. I’m talking about the crazy world I personally seem to live in. Twelve months ago, I was packing up my Brooklyn apartment ready to move my stuff back to the UK. Since then, as well as actually moving back to the UK, my book was published, a stage show I’ve been working on for over three years ran for a month near Boston, I flew to China to write for an animation studio out there. And I’m now two days away from visiting my thirtieth country, just in time for my thirtieth birthday later this month. (Probably my proudest achievement of them all.) And when I look back, I’m pretty sure 2017 will be the year I decide I really started writing professionally. Sure, it’s not the first year I ever got paid for what I do. And I’m not sure my writing skills are particularly better than they were a year ago. But 2017 was the year the planets really aligned on a handful of big, grown-up projects I’d been working on for a while. It’s been the year really exciting things have started to happen. So I thought I’d share a thing or two about what those things have taught me.   ‘Pro’ Writing Isn’t That Different From ‘Amateur’ Writing Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets given the key to the Executive Washroom? Like, one moment he’s your everyday nobody and then BAM – it’s velvet curtains and marble toilet seats and string quartets...
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...
Playing It Safe Is the Riskiest Thing You Can Do

Playing It Safe Is the Riskiest Thing You Can Do

Let’s just get straight to it: there’s no room for safe any more. Safe is guaranteed boring. Safe is guaranteed mediocrity. Safe is a guaranteed ticket to nowhere exciting. Economy, of course. The appeal with safe is that it’s easy. It’s easier not to take risks. It’s easier just to repeat the same old way of doing things ad infinitum. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with something being old. It’s that we get bored of old. What’s hot right now ends up looking like those dodgy 70s haircuts that make you wonder what the hell your parents were thinking. The trouble with safe in 2016 is that safe is everywhere. It’s never been easier to saturate the daily fabric of life with safe: pictures of your cat, your Facebook status about your broken microwave, some comment about your grumpy boss. We’re one wafer thin mint away from exploding from overconsumption of safe. We’ve learnt to block most of it out because it’s the only way any of us can go about our lives. Risky is harder because where there’s risk, there’s fear of failure. But taking that fear of failure too seriously comes at a price. Let’s imagine for a moment that every song ever made could be given a single score from 1 to 10. 1 is the worst thing ever written. 10 is the best. The trouble is that when most people write, they aim (intentionally or not) for the 4 to 6 range. They’re writing songs you might describe as nice, average or OK. But here’s the crux: if you want to write a 7, you have to be prepared for it to come out a 3. If...
Stop Trying to Do the Right Thing

Stop Trying to Do the Right Thing

I get it. Your parents probably counselled you to be a good person. Your teachers probably stuck your sorry ass in detention any time you did something wrong. You probably still hear people say ‘I can’t believe he went ahead with that. That was definitely the wrong decision.’ Fuck those people. Fuck their good but misguided intentions. Anyone who sees the world as right and wrong is long overdue a reality check. There are no wrong things. There are no right things. There are only things. There are only decisions and consequences. And it’s time we accepted that. As far as I see it, there are three fundamental reasons that lead people to embrace such a sharp distinction between right and wrong. The first is our innate but messed up desire to see the world in black and white. It’s understandable – the world would be much easier to understand if everything could go into one of two boxes: good and bad. We’d have no trouble navigating the shitstorm that is daily life if everything came prelabelled as good or bad. We could let the good into our lives and just avoid the bad at all costs. Simple. It’s a nice idea but it gets us into hot water because it’s a delusion. It’s not based in reality. It doesn’t adequately reflect the fact that most things are part good, part bad. Even if some things are more good than bad, and vice versa. What about everything Hitler did to rebuild the German economy after The First World War left it in tatters? What about Martin Luther King’s extensive womanizing...
Fifteen Things I’d Tell My 23-Year-Old Writer Self

Fifteen Things I’d Tell My 23-Year-Old Writer Self

Hi Ed, Don’t freak out, but I’m you from the future. 28-year-old you. Well, nearly. It’s our birthday tomorrow. I’ve been sent here as the Ghost of Christmas Future to tell you how you’re about to screw up your life and say mean things to some crippled Cratchit kid. Nah, I’m joking. You respect the disabled. You’re not about to screw up your life. But these next five years aren’t always going to be easy. In fact, at least one of them is really going to suck. So I thought I’d drop in with some information that might be useful to you one day. Actually, who am I kidding? I’m you. I know exactly what you’re going to go through. Of course it’s going to be useful. So buckle up. You’ll read things you’ll be glad to hear. There’ll be a couple of things you don’t want to hear. But since I’m a smarter, more experienced, better looking (seriously – good things are coming) version of you, you can’t really pretend I’m wrong about any of this stuff. So take a moment to get over yourself if you need to. This isn’t the Pollyanna Glad Game. We’re not holding back. 1. Congratulations on getting a place on the Masters course at the RCM. That’s a real achievement in itself. But your biggest achievement this week is committing to a path that says you’re a writer. Congratulations. You’re committing to be a person who creates things that never existed before. The best kind of person. I know you don’t feel like a creative artist right now, but you are, you always have been and you’ll...
Seven Simple Steps to Songwriting Success

Seven Simple Steps to Songwriting Success

If you’re like many people today, you might like to think anything can be done in just a few, easy, Google-able steps. And you wouldn’t be totally wrong: there’s a quickest, most efficient route to accomplishing anything. But you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you can accomplish anything worthwhile just like that. Building a songwriting career included. In our usual style of no-bullshit tough-love, here’s The Song Foundry’s patented seven steps to getting there, all in good time.   1. Face reality Once again: there is no shortcut to achieving anything truly worthwhile. No one became an award-winning, hit-spinning songwriter overnight. These steps are simple but not easy. They take years of dedication, perseverance and self-belief to put into effect. No one is exempted from that. Let’s get a reality check: if you’re looking for shortcuts you’re in the wrong profession.   2. Lose any and all sense of entitlement Building a career as an artist is one of the most challenging things you can do (see Step 1). There is no correlation between talent, fame, notoriety and income. Art imitates life: life is unfair; art isn’t any better. Still, there is nothing to be gained by telling yourself you’re owed or entitled to anything. Period. It creates a needy self-limiting victim mentality which undermines your ability to do positive things that keep you moving forward. People can sense entitlement and, even if it’s justified, it’s not a quality that endears you to others. Fight it at all costs. You need to build good relationships with people (see Step 5) and self-entitlement isn’t going to help you do that. Replace any sense of...