The last few days have been a blur of answering emails, screening and pitching music to various projects, editing podcasts, making youtube videos and getting ready for the two upcoming retreats I’m co-hosting next month in California. This morning I was starting to feel a little burned out from all the work I’m doing so I decided to take a break and have a little impromptu songwriting session.
I write music on a regular basis, but from time to time I just stop whatever I’m doing and have a mid-morning or mid-day songwriting session. I have the luxury of doing that since I work for myself and without fail it leaves me feeling rejuvenated and recharged, ready to face the rest of the day with more clarity and purpose.
I like to think of songwriting as going to a place, that I can go to almost anytime I want, that’s removed from the world of capitalism, paying bills, work and all the stress that goes along with day to day life in 2017. For me, it feels a bit like accessing a meditative space where, when things are going well, I get totally absorbed in what I’m doing to the point that I completely forget about any “problems” or issues I’m dealing with, for a while at least. Sometimes it only lasts a few minutes. Other times it lasts a few hours. But the deeper I go, the better songs I’m able to extract, harness and channel.
One of the more refreshing take-aways I’ve gotten this year from hosting my podcast is the idea that at a certain point, you need to forget about all the rules and ideas you have for what you think makes a marketable song, and just write music from the heart. This has been the consensus of the vast majority of songwriters, publishers and supervisors I’ve interviewed. This isn’t to say that you can’t try to write something you think might be more marketable and have some success with it. If you throw enough crap against the wall, I’m sure a certain percentage of it will stick.
One of the things that concerns me about the current state of the music business, is that since it’s become harder to monetize music, musicians more than ever, seemed to be more concerned with figuring out how to make money from their music. I get it. We all have bills to pay and need to figure out how to get compensated for the work we do. My goal with my website, podcast and so on, is to help you figure out how to do that.
But… I think it’s important that, as artists, we strive to keep focused on the deeper reason we make art and music in the first place. There are easier ways to survive than making music. If the only way we can make money from music is to reduce it to a sort of commodity and product that we have to force into a narrowly defined, pre-conceived set of parameters that’s been defined by some executive at a corporation or a “suit” at a TV network, I fail to see how that’s much different than any other job in “corporate” America.
However, I don’t think it has to be this way. The light at the end of the tunnel, is that I think great songs still have a place and there’s a still a demand for inspiring and moving music. Even if it’s in the context of an ad campaign or a corporate backed TV show. I truly believe there’s a point where great music and corporate interests intersect. Your job as a songwriter and composer, is to write great music that you actually believe in, and then look for places where your music is needed.
If you reverse this, and simply try to write music you think will make money, then I fail to see how this is different than any other “job”. In fact, I think in many ways it’s actually worse, in the sense that you’re taking something that you’re presumably passionate about and forcing it into something you think the market will have a demand for, a much more difficult task than simply getting a "day job".
Something I heard the other day, and I’m drawing a blank on where I heard it, is that great art doesn’t follow culture, great art creates culture. Do you think Dylan or The Beatles would have worried about whether their songs worked in the context of a car commercial or a soap commercial? Do you think Hendrix gave a shit about whether his guitar solos were “in fashion”? Well, I can’t speak for these artists, but I’m pretty confident that in all cases there was something more “pure” happening than simply trying to make a few bucks from their little “ditties”.
Now, I get it. We live in different times. For better and worse. The music business has changed dramatically since the days of The Beatles, Hendrix, etc. Despite the tone of this article, I’m actually quite optimistic about the future of the music business. I think things are getting better and I think they will continue to improve. However, in the meantime, the challenge we face as artists is to stay true to our muse and not lose sight of what making music is really all about. Which, in my opinion, is about a lot more than simply trying to help advertisers sell cars or help tv shows sell advertising space.
When I’m deep in one of my songwriting sessions, the last thing I’m thinking about is trying to make money or figure out what tv show my music might fit into. I’m just writing music that I feel inspired to write and I’m writing about things I’m inspired to write about. Then, after I’ve written a song, then and only then, do I worry or think about where to try and sell it or license it.
To be honest, I’ve licensed music of mine that I think sucks and I’ve licensed music that I love and I’m super passionate about. I’m a lot more proud of the latter.