To Begin, Begin

To Begin, Begin

William Wordsworth said it best: “To begin, begin.” And, if I may, I’d like to expand on his pithy philosophy. To begin, begin. To continue, continue. To finish a song, finish a song. To write something new, write something new. To write in a different genre, write in a different genre. To learn something new about songwriting, learn something new about songwriting. To keep going even though it’s hard, keep going even though it’s hard. To keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough, keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough. To turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections, turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections. To improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place, improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place. To rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it, rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it. To write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP, write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP. To reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even though they might say no, reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even...
Five Books That Are Nothing and Everything To Do With Songwriting

Five Books That Are Nothing and Everything To Do With Songwriting

One of the big ideas I write about a lot is that songwriting isn’t just about songwriting. Songwriting is about life, because art is about life. You have to be good at being a person before you can be good at being a songwriter. It’s an idea I come back to time and time again in my own book, but here are five of the most important places I picked these ideas up in the first place.   Stephen R. Covey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Some days it feels like the Internet is 98% self-help advice and 98% of that isn’t great advice. But Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is absolutely the real deal. Whatever you’re trying to do with your life. The seven habits cover private victory – mastering yourself – as well as public victory – mastering interpersonal relationships. It’s hard to do justice to how powerful and life-changing the ideas in this book are. It’s for good reason The Seven Habits has sold over fifteen million copies around the world, and you’re at a serious disadvantage if you don’t own one too.   Brené Brown: Daring Greatly As one of the terrorists in Team America: World Police famously said, “I like balls”. And if you’re a songwriter, you should like balls too. Because nothing worthwhile happens without a healthy dose of chutzpah. In fact, creativity can’t happen without courage. Creativity means uncertainty, and mustering the courage to face that uncertainty is 90% of creative success. But don’t just take my word for it – let Brené Brown explain it much better than I can. If you’re interested in bringing more creativity, vulnerability...
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 Stranger Things. 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...
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 A Song

Five Different Ways to Start A 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 really 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 to 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...