Can you teach someone how to write a song?
In my view—no. I believe we’re born with the DNA. Or not. And if we are, we can be nurtured and guided and helped to improve. But we can’t be taught things like…recognizing when a bartender just said something that was perfect fodder for song…or when the cab driver just gave us the best title ever.
A true songwriter enters the world with built in radar. That said, skills can get tighter. Craft can be fine tuned. (No pun intended.)
Whether we write songs for the masses (with Grammy dreams in sight), or simply for our own soul in the privacy of a nook or cranny in our home, we have no choice. It’s our oxygen.
We don’t ask “how can I make it in this business?” because that’s beside the point. We get out of bed every day, grab our guitar somewhere along the way and get busy.
Rejection? That’s for pussies. We get past it. We’re immune.
So there you have it. Or you don’t.
And if you do—that is—carry the DNA (as it were), there are places you can go and people you can seek who can help improve what you already have. If you have it.
When I was coming up in the business, my aspiring colleagues and I formed a support group that we called SongParty. We met every Tuesday night in someone’s apartment because we yearned for feedback and encouragement. Truth be told, many of those writers went on to become successful professionals: Alex Forbes, Nina Ossoff, Jeff Franzel, Eric Beall. I rarely hear about those kinds of gatherings in today’s culture. But there are other kinds.
For instance, Marty Dodson and Clay Mills started a forum called SongTown —a worldwide community of songwriters who believe they have the DNA and wish to receive hands-on coaching from two dedicated pros.
Last year, Marty and Clay invited me to their Sunset Music Festival in Las Vegas. I did some one on ones, some songwriting in the round and, just for fun, I sat in on one of their workshops. I witnessed their heartfelt approach with participants. I felt the respect they had for each and every hopeful hitmaker, even if that hopeful hadn’t had a hit yet. They weren’t talking down to anyone just because of their own huge success (Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Darius Rucker, Andy Griggs, Trisha Yearwood).
I listened to them share their knowledge about process. I picked up some tips and pointers and re-learned things I’d forgotten (in the fog of the wild west that is the terrain competitive songwriting has become). Today, one of those hopefuls has a song on hold with Miranda Lambert thanks to Marty and Clay’s guidance. And in the course of show and tell, I heard a song that I felt had so much commercial potential I took it under my wing.
Everyone walked away (myself included) a little more raised up…or shall we say, inspired—isn’t that all we want to be?
I’ve just finished writing a book (Confessions of a Serial Songwriter), that chronicles my adventures and misadventures in the land of songwriting over the last 25 years. Ironically, the writing of the book kept me so busy I hardly had time to write actual songs. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about them…and musing about the changes in the music industry. So when Marty and Clay asked me to participate in their upcoming SongTown Webinar, I thought, "Why not?" It seems as if this is what the Universe wants me to do right now: give back. So on March 17th at 5 PM PCT Clay and I will be available via LiveStream Webcast to talk about our experiences and…well, whatever else it is you may want to know.
So many Facebook friends message me and ask where they can go for opinions and advice. If you are one of those friends, I highly recommend the blogs on SongTown’s Facebook page. They are loaded with invaluable information about publishing deals, keys to co-writing with bands, overcoming writer's block, questions to ask when writing with an artist, how to get a signed staff writer to write with you! And after you check out the blogs, please consider joining us for the Webinar. Remember, everyone needs a place to go to get better. If you believe you have the DNA, I hope to see you there.