Monday, September 8, 2008
What people want more than anything is just for someone to listen and pay attention to THEM.
I remember when I was green songwriter in my 20s (I’m not green anymore, I drive a minivan ;). The one thing I wanted more than anything was for someone to hear my songs in Nashville and just tell me I was good.
What I got ,and most likely what I needed, was criticism and “keep working at it, kid”. But all that did was make me mad and spur me on to be a producer and start my own company...
I find it’s no different these days as probably about a HUNDRED times as many people are writing songs and trying to be heard among the throng of independents. And many are still dreaming like it’s 1984 and they are about to signed to a record or publishing deal.
But in truth, what you need is to sharpen your songwriting steel against other steel that’s even sharper than yours. You need to take off your blinders, put a helmet on, and get your songs out there.
I harp on this all the time with artists. How will the world know about you and how will you ever improve without checking your skillz (mad or not) with professionals?
This does not mean your band mates who already think you are a prima donna, and since they don’t write, they don’t want you throwing your songs in their face again, besides haven’t they already told you that you rock, dude?
This does not mean your music minister. He’s heard them already and thinks you’re great. Although he still won’t sub any of your songs in for the standard praise and worship zombie nation choruses.
This certainly does not mean your parents. Oh sure, THEY are partial (unless you have really mean parents, then it could be the other way around).
No, you have to find pros.
You have to invest in your songs. You have to take the same care and creative power you put into writing them, and put that into finding folks to help you grow past where you are.
Have you noticed by showing them to your friends, family, and dog, that while they may have gushed, nodded, and wagged, YOU never really got better from that? That all the praise never helped you actually WRITE better?
As a producer and consultant I have the great pleasure of watching a strange side effect of artists and writers coming to town to work: They get better.
They get stretched. They get challenged. They get motivated and inspired to write in ways they never thought of before.
Have you ever had this happen? You write a song and make a demo, and you think it rocks. Everyone you know says it rocks.
Then you meet up with a pro. Maybe you travel to Nashville and you are sitting there with them, and they press play, and...you hear bad things. What? Wow that’s actually not very good. It’s kinda weak, and he’s gonna say it’s weak. Oh no. Why did I come here? I should go be a greeter at Walmart forever!
It’s because we actually HEAR things different when we are in the presence of someone who we know is more experienced than us. It still happens to me. I’ll go show a player or engineer a mix, or a song, and while I’m showing it (sometimes right before), I feel obliged to try and apologize.
Folks, there is value in getting evaluated by someone who works in this business all the time. Even for those of us who, um, work in this business all the time....
So, here’s this week’s challenge. Find someone in the industry. Approach them with your song(s). Invest in your writing in a way that will truly grow the very NEXT song you write.
It may not be your fifteen minutes of fame, but it certainly could be fifteen minutes that leads you to become a better writer.
Have a great week!
Eric Copeland has been humbled many times by trying to climb the songwriting mountain, but now tries to help songwriters in a positive way through his company Creative Soul in Nashville. Find out more at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
After working with Christian artists and songwriters for 20+ years, I've found that many artists and writers have a very hard time moving past the Redemption story.
Of course, Jesus and the Cross is/are the basis of our faith, and I myself have written songs about this crucial element of our whole belief.
But, we must remember that there is a hurting, doubting world out there that struggles with the tenets that we so have accepted for so long.
The basic non-Christian person who hears a Gospel or Christian song (whichever flavor you might prefer) expects to hear about Jesus, God, Moses, Noah, or other Bible characters. They also expect a fair amount of preaching, and some general fire and brimstone that condemns them to hell. Or a Sunday contemporary pop message, all rosy, pretty, and with a groovy beat, but to them (those who don't share the belief) somewhat meaningless.
So they tune it out. They roll their eyes and change the station, move onto the next tune at iTunes, or leave the room where the song is being performed by a hand-waving believer.
(Sorry this is so frank, but you know I'm right ;)
Folks, we have to remember that not everybody in the great big world believes as we do. Now I hear you saying "But I don't!" But still you are cringing at the thought of you being a "hand-waving believer" aren't you. But we all have been either in private or corporate worship right?
As a full time songwriter and producer in Christian music, I'd say a good 60-70 percent of songs that I come across are either praise/worship songs, hymns, or songs relating to a specific Bible story, Psalm, or the salvation story.
Again, there is nothing wrong AT ALL with this. The point I am making is we also need to be actively writing for the seeker, nonbeliever, and for the world in general.
Have you ever wondered what people who don't have an active faith walk, do in troubled times? Where do they turn? What if you wrote for someone who is hurting, but has no God to pray to?
What if you write for someone who's never heard about Jesus at all? How do you begin to describe His love? Starting with blood at the Cross is pretty strange for folks to handle without any context.
What about writing for someone who is starving, and they'd just like some food and don't really care about your "Savior".
Again, sorry. Just trying to get you out of that old, worn box you've been sitting and writing in.
So this week, and maybe as part of your new songwriting routine, start to think about how to move 'beyond the Cross'.
Eric Copeland is a songwriter and producer helping artists and writers everyday to get out of the box they put themselves in. He himself is ripping up all the boxes around him at the moment. Find out more at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com
Monday, May 26, 2008
Do we write because we just plain love it? Because even if we wanted to we couldn’t NOT write?
Is it because we feel God gave us this gift and we MUST use it for Him (or lose it?)
Or do we think this is our ticket, our job, our vocation even! And to write means one thing: THAT HIT TUNE that will put us on the map and at the top of the charts!
I find that I split my writing between the three (love, God, and money).
Right now, I must admit, 90 percent of my writing is personal and therapeutic. As will be come evident in a few months, I am working on a ton of new music straight out of my brain and no one elses. And it is FUN! I think it’s so important for us to do this.
These songs probably won’t float everyone’s boat, or certainly get much radio play. Not even sure how much they will sell. But I know one thing: they have freed my creative soul in a way that I forgot needed to be free!
You HAVE to feed that LOVE of writing. The reason you started. The feeling of hearing the song back for the first time and simply being in LOVE with it!
It’s OK to do this. It’s not self-serving. It’s therapy. It’s part of the gift God gave you (to then use for Him).
Which leads us to the next reason we write.
God did give us the talent for a reason other than pleasing ourselves of course, and that’s to glorify Him. For use in the church, for use on the street, for use to reach that loved one or friend that needs to hear the message of grace and forgiveness.
I would imagine that most of you would say that the FIRST reason you write is for the glory of God. And that is the way it should be.
The work we do by getting the message of Christ out to a hurting world in a musical fashion is the reason we were put here. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that just because you can string some words and music together, it doesn’t mean you are “holy” enough to write about God. I believed that lie for a long time (and used it as a crutch not to write religious songs).
Just as we don’t have to be a priest to pray, we don’t have to be a minister of music to write and perform Christian music.
And now on to the touchiest reason for writing: To make a living (and/or, in our dreams, be famous and filthy rich).
In the blog I referenced above, the saddest thing is that Timbaland and those others are the “hit songwriters” of today. Have you listened to “Please Don’t Stop the Music” and some of the other current top 40 “hits”? It’s drum machine madness, samples, and pretty average rap. How hard is that?
You can’t tell me that someone was sitting under a tree, got an idea and said, “Whoa, what a beautiful melody...Please don’t stop the music, music, music...”
But the truth is, like I tell all my clients and writers, the audience wants something they can sing (and yes, dance) to. From power ballads (I don’t want to close my eyes), to the aforementioned dance music, to the occasional rock or country hit, all of them have something in common. They are catchy. They are short. And they are disposable (meaning they can be played and forgotten instantly so we can get the fast food sandwich down and get to the movie!!)
Still, as the article points out, people DO make a living on this. I make a living working with writers, artists, and folks who need my services to get the songs out there.
When I write a song for an artist, we ARE thinking: What can we write that will at once, serve the Kingdom, appeal to the artist, and please the listening audience (not to mention placating the gatekeepers at radio, distribution, publicity, etc).
This is the “work” part of it.
If you are looking to make yourself happy and enjoy songwriting, then you needn’t be worried with this part.
If you are looking only to please the Lord and lead people in worship, you needn’t be bothered by this.
But if you have told people (and convinced yourself) that you intend to work in the business of music, particularly songwriting, then you had better be absolutely sure that you are willing to write what it takes to make money. This means rules, thinking about your audience as much as the Lord and yourself, and writing strong, catchy, and yes, somewhat forgettable music.
Stinks huh? Why would you want to write something that is not new, fresh, and amazing?
Well, that’s the choice you have to make.
If you just want to win awards for being a great songwriter, then the fastest road there is write formula for the masses. Follow the rules of songwriting, read books by Jason Blume and others. To be honest, studying all this can make you a better writer. Learning correct form and songwriting structure is not a bad thing.
But there is another way.
The way of Chris Rice, Sara Groves, John Mayer, and Nora Jones.
And that is to write amazing. Be different. And enjoy the ride. Find an audience for your music. Build that audience one person at a time, and have fun doing it.
I think that’s the silver lining in this. Write for the Lord, for yourself, and for YOUR audience. If it’s southern gospel then go for it. If it’s contemporary then go there. If it’s jazzy like mine, then do what you do.
If your audience is the maInstream audience, don’t worry, someone will hear your music and direct you there.
But sometimes when we think that we might have to do our creative craft according to someone’s “rules” it takes all the fun out of it. And you’re right, it does.
First and foremost, realize that you have a tremendous gift. A gift to be used for the Lord, and for enjoyment. Whenever that part begins to wane because of the pressure of being “popular”, go back to the drawing board (read: your piano/guitar).
Write something that brings you joy. Thank the Lord for your gift. And share it with someone.
If you have questions, I’d be happy to hear from you!
Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a songwriter, producer, and consultant and heads Creative Soulin Nashville, TN. He is lucky enough to be able to sharpen his iron with artists and writers around the world. For more info go to http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com
- Eric Copeland
- Eric Copeland is an author, producer, keyboardist, songwriter, and president of Creative Soul Companies. What is Creative Soul? Our main goals are to inform, encourage, and assist Christian creative folks in ministry, no matter where they are in their journey. Thanks for reading! Find out more about us at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com