What Every Songwriter Needs?
I was talking with an old friend last week about gear. You’re a songwriter if you’re reading this, so it’s always an interesting dilemma. When is enough enough? Do I really need that new piece, and is it helping me write better songs? Am I spending too much time watching video tutorials while I could be banging out a hit on my acoustic guitar and iPhone?
Let me start by saying how much I love gear. Once I got a hold of my first Tascam 4-track I was hooked. Now I could record more of me! It was kinda like being in a band without any of the other three or four say-so’s. Loved it! And when drum machines came out? Forget about it!
In the beginning, I couldn't always afford that “next big thing”. I’d love to have back some of the guitars and basses I traded for Rockmans and Linns! Eventually my fortunes improved and so did all of these fantastic toys. I went from my little basement project studio to building one on to my house, complete with the latest ProTools set up and consoles to match the wood trim. The room looked out over a running creek outside of Nashville in Kingston Springs. I was taking a Kurzweil Keyboard and an Apple laptop to far-away places to write, loaded with samples and loops and loving every minute of it. If I’m honest I have to say all these tools were inspirational. I felt like they gave me a sort of “cutting edge” over the two writers in a room on Music Row with acoustic guitars and a legal pad.
And then it started to change. Long story short, I began to wonder if I was doing a disservice to my own songs by playing everything on my demos (to justify all the gear). I began to miss people . Other players and voices. I started bringing some wonderful session players into my studio to play on my demos. The demos got better. I even started to hire someone else to mix and sometimes even record the session.
Here’s the potential problem with too much technology: you can get carried away. Sometimes someone else can do it so much better--and, in turn, make your song that much more pitchable and listenable. I remember one publisher telling me that he’d rather hear a well-played acoustic guitar with a good session singer than someone attempting to do it all themselves.
Disclaimer here. I have some friends who are both great songwriters AND great producers AND great engineers AND great session players AND even great singers. Home demos are more than home demos in their hands and a great way to go. So it can be done.
In the end, I hit a good balance of demoing some songs very simply and others in a studio with session guys. Nashville is pretty great for that option. Over time, I’ve gone from a full-blown studio to a laptop with Logic. Although…I did just buy a new MacBook Pro with the touch bar, and I’ll be going to bed tonight with the latest Sweetwater catalogue. So it begins…again.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!
December 13th 2016
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting, Songwriter Magazine, Mentor for The Songwriting Academy, sponsor for the ASA, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.