Every Day’s a School Day

Every Day’s a School Day

Every day’s a school day. There’s always more to know. There’s always something you hadn’t considered. There’s always room for improvement. You never reach perfection, just like you never reach knowing it all. There’s no upper limit, just us mere mortals in the gutter looking up at the stars. This attitude is what makes all the difference between being average at what you do and becoming – with enough time – exceptional. There’s no single secret to greatness. There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. And you pick up those secrets only when you keep your mind open and learn something new day after day. True growth is incremental. Personal development – if it’s going to last – happens in baby steps, over years and decades, not weeks and months. Of course, some people don’t see it that way. Some people are so dumb they think they know it all. They’re so dumb they think they can. They’re so dumb they don’t realize how much they don’t know. So their ignorance owns them, not the other way round. Sure, it’s good to be confident in what you know. In fact, it’s essential you’re confident in what you know. But you can’t be confident in what you do know unless you’re confident in what you don’t know. And those who are confident in what they don’t know are ready to do something about it. Because, like I said, there’s no secret formula to expertise. It’s just a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience, gained over a lot of time. A talent is something you develop, not something...
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...
107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

Songs prompts, oh, song prompts. If I’m honest, I have mixed feelings. I don’t really do writing by numbers. I get nervous around anything for songwriters that sounds like spoon-feeding. And I think the most important thing a songwriter – well, anyone – can learn is to think for themself. That’s why most of the content on the site is about the big, fundamental ideas every songwriter should know about. (Including this article about how to come up with your own song ideas.) But, you know, sometimes songwriters feel stuck in a rut. Sometimes songwriters aren’t sure where to begin. Sometimes songwriters get so stuck they just sit curled up in a corner murmuring ‘HELP ME’ to their pot plants.     And if any of that sounds like you, I have some good news: I made you a big list of songs you can write. Specifically, 107 songs you can write. Do I hate myself for doing it? Of course. A little. But will it help you out if you’re not sure where to go next? If you’re ready for some new inspiration in your life? If your pot plants still won’t answer you? Of course. So we’re good.     If you’re new to the site I recommend you read my article on how songs tell stories, and how a song’s style, idea and hook work together before you do anything else. They’ll help you get the most out of the song prompts I’m about to share with you. You can also download a nifty (and printable) version of the list here. Otherwise, have a browse. See which song prompts...