Monday, May 29, 2006

Proverbs for the Songwriter

I was reading back over my notes from the March 2006 IndieHeaven CIA summit in Nashville. Below are some insights which I found worth noting. I've been trying to apply these principles to my life and to my music.

1. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.
2. Life isn't a promise, it's a chance.
3. Pay someone who knows what they're doing to run your merchandise table. If that person isn't selling stuff (even if that person is your friend), fire him/her.
4. Protect your profit margins.
5. Be a good business person and take your time.
6. Record your performances (evaluate yourself/even sell the recordings).
7. You're not a failure unless you quit.
8. Every time you play, play like you're playing for a sold out stadium.
9. If you don't care about what you're doing, no one else will.
10. Write from your heart, get all the voices out of your heart.
11. Expect God's annointing whether you're playing for 3 people or 3000.
12. Some people have lots of fame or fortune, but what are you complaining about; you have Jesus.
13. Labels can be good, they are not all bad.
14. Don't be jaded.
15. Don't complain, just write better songs.
16. Read. Have a love affair with books.
17. Have good critics.
18. You need one blind fan.
19. "For the truly creative mind in any field is no more than this - a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create - to create - to create - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of beauty and meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create. He must pour out creation. By some strange unknown pressing inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating."
-- Pearl S. Buck
20. What you say between songs is just as important as the words in the songs.
21. Don't waste words. You have approximately 200 words to make your point (in a song).
22. Use images whenever possible. Cut out everything possible which doesn't paint a word picture.
23. Think of yourself as an entreprenuer.
24. Songs are not downloadable (they take a lot of work to create).
25. No one likes song writing (it always has moments of struggle, like giving birth).
26. Your life is worth writing about. Pay attention to your life.
27. I'd rather dig ditches than write songs with no meaning.
28. Songs can be true, but are they honest?
29. Make good music, not successful music.
30. I'll aspire to gratitude in all situations.

Monday, May 22, 2006

From Bars to Frat Parties to Sunday Night Church

This past week has been diverse, to say the least. As I mentioned in an above blog, God has been providing some more work for me. One of my sound technician friends got a sweet gig traveling around Europe with three Christian bands, and he has in turn handed some of his Columbus work over to me. Last wednesday, I ran sound for 3 folk/rock bands at Little Brothers (bar) in Columbus. On the rooster were Heather Waugh ( and Ellery (, both of them quite talented bands. The sound system at Little Brothers is pretty amazing. On Friday night, I was at Bernie's Pizza & Bar in Marysville running sound for a Columbus band called Fade to Blue, and then Saturday night, I ran sound for them again at a private frat party for the OSU Veterinarian school. Then, on Sunday morning, I was running sound for a Presbyterian church in Powell, and later that afternoon, I was running sound for a Boy Scout celebration, also held at that church. On Sunday evening, I was at my home church's young adult church service, remembering how important it is that I have a group of Christian friends to keep me accountable and grounded.

I have been praying recently that I would have more opportunities to be a witness, and I've also been praying for more work. Turns out that God has been answering both of those prayers. At first, I felt a bit of guilt for even being at some of these above events (the bars and frat parties)...and then I was reminded by a friend that "maybe God had placed me at these places for a reason." I personally don't drink...not because I think its wrong in itself, but because I see what happens to people when their inhibitions are gone. I have enough trouble as it is living a Godly moral life... I certainly don't need alcohol to void any wisdom I already might have. So yeah, I was in the back with my ear plugs in, sipping my bottled water, and trying not to look too interested in what was going on. I imagine I looked a little uptight, or uncomfortable, or whatever. I suppose I was.

If anything, I think the last week has been a reminder to me that God knows what I can handle, and is protecting me from getting into a lot of things I shouldn't get into. Sometimes, I feel like the only thing I have to go on is my own conscience and will, and if those things break down, I'm sunk. However, I've become even more aware of the fact that there are angels surrounding me, there are people praying for me, and there is a God who is orchestrating my circumstances for His glory, and is empowering me every step of the way to do the right thing. Sure, I mess up from time to time, just like everyone does... but I can trust that God is never going to give me something that I can't handle. However, we also have to maintain this Godly fear, knowing that we could fall and do anything, be it without God's grace and intervention.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Man in Black and Scaling Back

God is good. Financially, things have been getting quite tight recently, but God has provided some extra freelance jobs just when I needed them. At this current rate, it will probably take about another year and half or so to pay off what I owe from my last CD. Sometimes, I wonder if I made a mistake in producing that album...or at least attempting to record it so professionally...but I always go back to the idea that mistake or no mistake, it was a great learning experience...I learned a lot of stuff on my own which might have cost twice as much had I been attending college for such experience. I didn't get a diploma from the undertaking, but if anything, I made a cool CD...even if there are countless unsold copies sitting in my basement. At least my church friends think it is sweet and probably a few students out in the cornfields of Indiana. This is what happens when you put all your effort, energy, and money into a music recording when you have little or no following. I'm now convinced that I could have developed a following much easier and for a lot less of money if I had put that same money into a band, practice, promotion, and touring. At the end of the day, I finished a CD, and I had no resources left over for anything else. It's like spending all your cash on a sweet new office building, only to find out you have no money to cover water and heating bills. And on top of that, you don't have the funds to pay the employees who you need to make the business go. I suppose you live and learn. For me, it means taking every working opportunity I can. When everything is paid off, I still might be able to sell more CDs and make some profit way down the road. Who knows.

So anyways, along with working a little more, I've had the chance to spend my free time writing some new songs. Basically, over the last year, I've been trying to collect ideas & themes for a new project...but it hasn't been until the last month or so that I've actually tried to take those ideas to the next stage of creating melodies and arrangements. Writing new songs is always a strange and awkward step. I'm just not convinced that I nailed my musical nitch with "Backstage Pass." Sure it was a good recording and there were some decent songs...but after everything, I wonder if the project was "true, but not honest." I think at this point, I'm ready to be more honest about my faith, my struggles, my disappointments, etc. I watched "Walk the Line" (the Johnny Cash movie) yesterday, and I found it really interesting how he started singing songs which were "true, but not personally honest." His first audition at a recording studio was saved only by the more transparent tunes which he had written in the military. He eventually found his nitch, and went with it...the freight train chords, the voice as dark as the night, the black attire...that was Johnny. His record label told him he was nutts to record an album at a prison, but it later turned out (from what I understand) that that project sold more than the Beatles (during that time period at least). He was just being himself, and that is why people liked him.

Next week, I'm meeting with a vocal coach. She works in Columbus and in Nashville, and has done work with public speakers, and some well known singers...including one artist who is now on Gotee Records. I've just felt like to date, my vocal presentation has been very "vanilla." I just keep finding that a lot of rock is more about energy, attitude, and personality, and less about skill or vocal control (at least in classical terms). "Backstage Pass" turned out a CCM record, when I wanted it to be a rock project...and I think there are a number of reasons for this. For one, much of my singing was very "clean"...also the mix was very "clean"...a little too polished for a rock record...third, I think (I mentioned above), some of the songs were void of real honesty. I was writing a lot of that stuff for kids/people in my church, in such a way that I was guarding some of my true feelings. I don't think this is true of the entire project...songs like "Hurricane" and "By Now" are a little more transparent, and unsurprisingly, these are the songs many listeners gravitate the most towards. I believe "Backstage Pass" was just another step towards discovering who I am as a writer/solo artist. Some people find "their sound" on their first record. I've done a lot of growing up in the public eye...from Mouse in the House to My Almamater to Dishes to Backstage Pass to....???

With this being said, I've found that being honest doesn't neccessarily mean that I spill all my bitterness, rage, and anger. The reality is, I've been frustrated, lost, and a little depressed at times, but I can't say that I am an angry or bitter least not now. I think a lot of those emotions are in my past. I have to write what I know. If I'm not angry, I shouldn't pretend like I am. (If I'm not a gansta from the hood, I shouldn't be afraid to write about suburbia.) However, there are certain "hot spots" in my life if you will...issues and concerns which can trigger hours of monologue (just ask any of my close friends). These are the subjects/concerns I need to write about. If I can talk about it with passion, I should be able to write about it with passion. Along with this, I've learned that I have to be willing to throw songs away. A song in the round bin may be the ringing inspiration for the song you wanted to write all along.

I've been practicing the piano a lot, although I sometimes get distracted with writing new songs and I fail to do my daily scales and exercises. This shows pretty quickly. I've decided I really need to write tunes which will "carry" even with a piano and vocal. If I can get a band, great. If I can't, I can set up my keyboard, play the songs, and people will still hopefully relate.

You may ask, "why are you thinking about another project when you are still in deep debt from the previous project?" Well, first of all, it will take me a while to get another good 10 songs under my belt...and the entire writing process is basically free. After I have some new tunes, I want to play them live and try them out on a live audience. If people like the songs, I may consider recording the songs. If people don't like the songs, I'll go back to the drawing board. I made some pretty stupid moves from a business standpoint when it came to producing "Backstage Pass." I went all out production-wise and I'm still paying for it. I should have been a little more patience and wise. I should have taken a band out before I ever started recording the album. I should have scaled back the budget a bit, and I should have had all the money up front and ready to go. Not a single penny should have been borrowed through a credit card. If anything, a small business loan would have been the way to go. It hurts to think how much I've paid in interest over the last year and a half. Some of my cards (until recently) were in the neighborhood of %24 interest. Ouch. If I ever do another project, I will approach it much differently. I have considered releasing the next project for digital download only. This means the album artwork would be scaled back substantially, and there would be 0 cost in duplication, packaging, etc. I'd also possibly sell the album cheaper ($5-$7) and would market it online through myspace, etc. This might be a way to reach more people with less spending. Again, these are just commitments here...just ideas.

For those of you praying for me, please pray for my brother and niece as they leave for Europe this Thursday. They will be gone for two weeks. If you'd like, you can follow their travels at