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...
Five Different Ways to Start Your Next Song

Five Different Ways to Start Your Next Song

One of the most exciting things about creating new things is that there are lots of ways of creating new things. As I talk about in The Art of Songwriting, a song is made up bit by bit and piece by piece. It doesn’t matter which bit you start with. It doesn’t matter which bit you end with. As long as you keep going until all the bits are in place and working together, it’s all good. That’s why most writers hate the question ‘What is your creative process like?’. Because as any of them will tell you, there is no the process or my process or your process or the one true process to rule them all. There are as many different ways of creating something new as there are new things to create. And it’s in your best interests to keep that process different. It helps you write differently every time. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you interesting. And while personally I’m a big fan of figuring out what your song is about before you start to put the rest of the pieces together, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to write. Here are five different jumping-off points you can try when you start your next song.   1. Start with a title Write down thirty or forty different words or phrases. See which ones sound intriguing. See which ones start conjuring up a world beyond just that word or phrase – and see where they lead you. Let the one word or phrase grow into a couple of lines of lyric. Keep building from there. Soon...
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...