I hadn’t gone on an international writing trip in a long time. Motherhood had kept me close to home by choice. When my daughter was out of elementary school you’d think I would have jumped at the chance. Au contraire…even more reason to stay close. Teenagers are volatile.
But a couple of years ago I decided I could use a break. There had been so many “artists” coming through town seeking out the usual suspects. I was weary of being one of the suspects. I had heard that things were different in London…that there weren’t so many random pairings, so much writing to tracks…that artists were inspired and inspiring. Everyone was telling me I should give it another go. So I did.
My publishers were diligent about setting up co-writes and meetings. Still, over a two week period there were some no-shows and a couple of topliner swap-outs at last minute. I worked with a few talented programmers but also encountered my share of tracks hacks. I went with the flow.
Toward the end of my trip though, I had a wake up call. I had been teamed up with a really fun Production Team. We spent Day 1 sharing ideas and coming up with some ‘starts’ because on Day 2, we would be writing with an "artist" who was signed to Polydor Records. (This is what songwriters want. Being in the room with a signed artist means there's more chance of getting on a record.) And professional songwriters must always have a few tricks up their sleeves just in case “artist” runs out of ideas. And when they’re making the rounds, they often do…(run out of ideas).
As I’ve said before, co-writes are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes “artists” blow you away (like Christina or Keith Urban—even some un-signed hopefuls have left me breathless), and you can’t believe how lucky you were to have gotten the call. But that didn’t happen this time.
The “artist” who walked through the door was cocky and “swaggerrific”—full of pseudo self confidence—exactly what many labels look for. Sound bites and attitude. Production Team and I could tell how our session would unfold. We’d feel obliged to laugh at jokes that weren’t funny. We'd make him believe we thought he was a star. Deep inside, I felt a little sad for him, as usually the “artists” who try the hardest to impress you are the ones, ironically, who are the least secure.
And, to be honest, I felt a little ashamed of myself for even having these thoughts. Shouldn't I be grateful to be in "the room"?
As it turned out “artist” didn’t much care for any of our professionally induced starts. So to move things along we abandoned them and vibed the best we could with the label-ready posturing. But there was a strange development: when he stepped up to the mic all the fashionable pretense that fell from his lips when he walked in the room swiftly morphed into a completely different patter. He sang like...Ke$ha. Seriously. Like a whiney girl in a boy body. We were like…What? Where dit go?
Production Team and I exchanged glances of resignation. They were young, but even they felt it: the day would not be as productive as we had hoped.
I went to the ladies room to get alone with myself. To breath. To get perspective. We have choices to make. Granted, ten years ago, I could (and would) endure so much more…without the cynicism. In fact, I would absolutely encourage a young aspiring songwriter to do the same. Pay dues. Learn from the good sessions and the not so good sessions. All of them make us better. But it’s not ten years ago and I’m not that young any more. I looked in the mirror...
And that’s when I stopped. I stopped saying yes to co-writes just because the "artist" is signed. I want to be with creative types who are swimming against the tide…who want to say something in an original way. We may not always write the song of doom but we’ll enjoy trying.
Will I succeed in never being in an unfavorable situation ever again? No. Will I only get calls from mavericks from now on? No. Will I miss an opportunity because I mis-assessed? Probably. But I’m okay with that. I’m following my muse. And avoiding venturing to places where I’m pretty sure my muse will not be. (I feel certain my muse will summon me back to London someday soon. Yoohoo, Adele!)
Like Dan Harris, news anchor and author of “10% Happier” (a compelling book I just finished), I’ve made some changes in my life and I’m…well…10% happier at the very least. And that’s enough for now. Especially since I was pretty happy to begin with.
Tomorrow...on to 20.
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