I Southwested over to Vegas this past weekend with my “wife,” Suzan Koc. Clay Mills and Marty Dobson from Songtown invited us to be guests at their Sunset Songwriting Festival. This would entail mentoring aspiring songwriters and mingling with like minds (and possibly losing some hard earned royalties in the slot machines).
Soon after stepping off the plane I was listening to Frankie Pine (music supervisor—Nashville), Jonathan Watkins (publisher and supervisor—Sicario) and my "wife", Suzan Koc, "Songwriter Whisperer" share valuable information on how to PITCH SONGS!!!
On Friday night Clay and Marty asked me if I would join them on stage, Bluebird Style, to do a few songs—along with Travis Howard and Aaron Benward who host a weekly “Nashville Unplugged” evening at the casino. I would be a wee bit of estrogen in an ocean of testosterone—four generously seasoned country songsmiths (and jokesters). They started it off…each song better than the one before. A few years ago I would have had to breath deeply into a paper bag in order to get up there with them. But the good thing about getting older is you become more comfortable in your own skin. Fighting my fears has become one of my favorite things to do.
I played 2 songs on a keyboard and 2 songs on Aaron’s guitar (thank you, Aaron)…mistakes and all. It was constructive for the gathering to see that one doesn’t have to be an accomplished musician in order to write songs.
That evening we listened to a talent pool of many hopefuls demonstrate their future hits.
The next morning, Suzan and I cozied ourselves up in a room with about one hundred aspirers for a listening and critiquing session. (I’m pretty good at it but I don’t hold a candle to her!) We suggested things like…”Don’t tell us, show us; Make us feel it,” There’s too much information,” There’s too little information,” “Are you rhyming for the sake of rhyming?” “What are you really trying to say?” And the occasional…”OMG..that was awesome.” I even heard a couple of songs I wanted to finish.
Then, Marty and Clay took the helm.
Now, usually, at festivals, when my mentoring session duties are over I go sit at the pool or…or, when in Vegas…find a ten dollar Blackjack table. But for some reason I stuck around because….
Marty and Clay started talking about creativity—my favorite subject.
Marty said this:
Write down 5 things that you want to tell someone or you wish you had told someone. Really? Are we in kindergarten? I already know how to do this stuff. But I was there. So I did it. And you know what? It took me a minute but I came up with an idea I can't wait to write about.
Then Clay said this:
If he’s getting together to write with an artist he reads their interviews, he checks out their wiki page…because If you can find out what’s on that artist’s mind it’s easier to come up with ideas.
When a co-writer starts talking, he likes to see if that exact thing they said will fit with a melody. Because if it does, it’s the exact truth. Right? You’re not trying to put something into words. The words are already there. Hmm, I thought. If I did that the result could be very clumsy. But Ok…I’ll give it another go. Cuz if you get it right…it could be golden.
You'd think all this would be elementary for me. I’ve been writing songs for decades. But come to think of it, lately I've lost my plot a bit. So all this mentoring, no matter which side you're on, is like a refresher course. And even though I was free to go, even though I was hungry… and needed coffee…and woulda loved to get a piña colada…or take a nap…I stuck around.
Like songwriting therapy, it’s good to talk about what so many of us (including myself) have forgotten. Sure, things have changed and business models have been disrupted. But the heartbeat of a song remains the same—the song sans the bells the whistles. You know, when you're standing there naked and The Song is all there is.
For dessert we were lucky enough to have Rick Barker—social media mentor (and former manager of the one and only Ms. Taylor Swift) share invaluable tips on finding your people online and expanding your fan base. It was anything but a lecture. He’s hilarious.
For those of you who need a shot of songwriting B12, I highly recommend reaching out to Marty and Clay for their next festival. Their blogs are inspired and both are genuinely interested in sharing heartfelt expertise—giving back to a community which has been so good to them. (Did I mention all the No. Ones? )
I want to thank them for the invitation. I had an awesome time…made some new friends, found my footing and didn’t lose any money at the crap tables.
I guess I’m just enjoying taking stock and remembering what matters to me…brushing up on and what I once knew so well. Because as soon as you think u know it all, you know nothing.