I always encourage the writers I coach to get their songs out there, any and every way they can; and to seek as much wisdom as they can handle. Yep, handle.
One of my best and brightest clients is a pretty good case in point. She's made some huge leaps in her writing, especially her lyrics. We've focused on this for months and the change has been fun to watch. All of the sudden the ideas are more solid, the mechanics are solid, rhyme schemes, meter, structure...better, better, better and better. She's begun playing songs for other people, coming to Nashville, attending NSAI functions, setting up co-writes and meetings. Here's where the handle part comes in.
The Road To Nashville...but it could be any music center
When I talked to her this week she had just come back from a Nashville trip and was feeling a bit beat up and confused. Some people loved one song but not another. One publisher loved a song but professed to not "know what to do with it". Others suggested lyric changes, music changes, style changes. Listen to what's on the radio, be ahead of the radio, don't pay attention to radio. Listen to every kind of music, focus on current Top 10 country, write more old-school, new-school, school's out.
You can't figure out the bag I'm in...mixing up my 60's songs!
So now it's not so much a problem with confidence as it is with direction. She got all she could handle and it didn't always line up. Different strokes for different folks? A publisher I really respect told me, "if you play a song for 4 people and they all point out the same type of problems with your song, by all means listen and make some changes. Listening is so subjective you’re bound to get some different opinions if you ask enough people. Consider getting opinions of a few people you really respect and who have done the kind of writing you're going for. Research their backgrounds".
I've read some critiques from NSAI, for example, that have been done by some wonderful writers. Even when they differ they all make some excellent points. Do you make every change they suggest? I urge writers just to try them on. It takes some time to incorporate these new ideas to see if you love 'em. At the very least, the exercise will give you more tools for that toolbox.
If possible, stay away from spending money on a full blown demo when getting critiques is your aim. Making these suggested changes after you've blown your budget gets expensive. Gather all the suggestions and then head to the studio.
My own beliefs are in my song
In the end, try not to let the other voices discourage you. If you find others' opinions hard to deal with just limit the listening experience to a few trusted ears. I've had songs cut over the years that were turned down for projects, where someone loved it but the time wasn't right. Other times I was playing the right song for the wrong person. Seek out all the wisdom you can handle by all means, but don't lose yourself. It takes a sensitive person to write a song...and one with a thick skin to pitch it.
For some reason while I'm writing this, I'm remembering being a kid in Catholic school in Baldwinsville, New York. You went to confession every Friday in those days, and me and my buddies used to make up a game of confessing the exact same sins and then comparing the penance we got from different priests. Always different. Kinda shook our faith in the wisdom of the whole exercise. But we assumed they were experts in their field! Guess we'll know eventually if it took.
August 1st , 2014
Quotes courtesy of Harry Nilsson & Sly and The Family Stone
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. In addition he is a judge for this years UK Songwriting Contest, a contributing writer to the US Songwriting Competition , a popular songwriting blogger and from time to time, conducts his own workshops.