Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fast - Cheap - Good: Pick Two

Here's a marketing tool that I've found helpful: in any given project, a product can be fast, cheap, and/or good. But it can only be two of the three. Let's look at this through the lens of a songwriter.

If you're interested in getting a song recorded, there are three scenarios:

Fast Cheap Good1. Fast/Cheap

There's an audio engineer friend who is looking for some recording experience. He said he'd record your song at his place if you buy him lunch. Fast and cheap, but what level of quality should be expected?

2. Cheap/Good

There's a family friend who has had success over the years recording well-known artists. As a favor, he offered you the opportunity to come into his studio when it's available to record some songs. He even said he'd be willing to mix them. It's no cost, and the quality is top-notch. But how long will it be before he has a free day to mix your song?

3. Fast/Good

There's a professional audio engineer in town who has gained a reputation for not only getting great-quality recordings, but mixing them the very next day. Nothing's better to a songwriter or publisher than getting a final mix so soon, but how much is that going to cost?

The best audio engineer of all is the one who makes you feel like you got a recording that was all three of the above: cheap, good and fast. It's your job to figure out which one of the three it's not!

Keep writing,


Friday, January 28, 2011

Finding Niches in a Troubled Industry

Wondering if there's a spot in the music business for you? Here are some encouraging stories, including a shout out to The Songbird Project.

Dr. Jeff Cornwall is my former professor and head of Belmont University's Entrepreneurship Department. He knows what he's talking about. And he has a blog. Check it out here.

Keep writing,


"The House That Built Me" by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin

Here's a great story of the twists and turns a song can take on its way to success:

"The House That Built Me" (written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin)

Keep writing,


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Digital Salvation

A bride is walking down the aisle during her wedding ceremony. Instead of taking in the once-in-a-lifetime moment, she pulls out her Blackberry and checks her email. Or maybe she's updating her status, as if noting her experience in cyberspace validates what is happening in reality.

This scene, along with many others (including a family of four sitting around the dinner table while mindlessly staring at their phones), are portrayed in a recent commercial by Microsoft. The ad humorously point out everyday situations where people get into trouble by paying too close attention to their devices. But as the saying goes, much truth is said in jest.

As songwriters, this matters. Big time. When distracted, we miss out on the richness of life - the very material with which art is created. We have to ask ourselves whether technology is helping or hindering our creative endeavors.

The devices are designed to take us into the digital world and, by default, out of the physical. But the former will always pale in comparison to the latter, because a computer can never fully replace human touch. The challenge heightens as technology becomes exponentially more integrated into our daily routines and increasingly more difficult to distinguish the real from the imitation.

We fail when we approach technology as an end rather than means to an end. However, like raccoons drawn to shiny objects, we still can't help but reach out for the latest technology, longing for digital salvation. And marketers know this about us humans. They also know that we as a culture have not yet come to understand how to appropriately embrace technology in daily life.

Even last night at dinner I found myself mindlessly checking my phone for anything new or updated, as if that were more important than asking my wife how her day was. If I'm honest, most of what I would come across online is just repetitive white noise. It's like some kind of drug my mind craves each day that never quite satisfies. Technology makes us feel as though time is short, yet encourages us to waste hoards of it staring in its face. At the end of life, all we will want is more time, yet my fear is that we are wasting a lot of it along the way.

A faster phone is not the answer, as Microsoft claims. Phones and computers are already "fast" enough to do what we need them to do, and it's probable that we will merely accomplish more menial tasks while wasting the same amount of time. Our understanding of "normal" life has already been altered to the point of uncertain return. (For you Dr. Seuss fans, Microsoft could be compared to Mr. McMonkey-McBean from The Sneeches, where he offers no true solution to the actual problem.)

My friend and co-writing mentor Gordon Kennedy says that it's not the technology that matters, but what you do with that technology. And often times I believe the best thing to do for our creativity is to put the technology away and see what's happening in the real world.

Keep writing (and watch the commercial below),


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Logo!

I'm proud to announce this new logo for The Songbird Project. Looks a lot like the old one, but I painted this little birdie myself.

Keep writing (and painting logos),


"Still Crazy After All These Years" by Paul Simon

A couple weeks ago I came across this song in my iTunes library. I couldn't help but put it on repeat while I put some clean laundry away. I think the song resonates with me because of the combination of how reminiscent the chord changes feel and the rolling conversational lyric. Without compromising the story, he manages to fill the song with some great rhymes (pay attention to the ways he sets up rhyme for "years" in the song title every time).

At least he's singing in English...

Keep writing,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Four Seasons - Winter

Like a lot of days, yesterday I found myself listening to NPR's Tom Ashbrook as I drove to my co-write (catch the audio from the On Point show here). The conversation was about how our emotions are affected by the changing of seasons. Being winter, I began to consider the things that pop into my head when thinking about this season:

New Year.
Lack of green plant life.

To me, winter is an opportunity to begin a new rhythm in life. Gained a few pounds over the holidays? Get a Y membership. Been wanting to read more? Go to the library. Hoping to wake up earlier? Get out of bed without hitting the snooze button.

New rhythm begins with the excitement of a fresh start, and is sustained by the fruit of the rhythm itself. We continue going to the Y if we are diligent and work out enough to see a change in physique. We can't help but discover a new favorite author, and we read the rest of their work. We make waking up on time easier by going to bed at a decent hour.

So I encourage you, when looking for a new rhythm, to trust in the process. Sometimes progress isn't seen immediately, but one day you can look back and see something beautiful: growth.

Keep writing (and finding rhythm),


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Journey of a Song (Part 1 of 6)

Recently I introduced the business steps that a song must take once it leaves the songwriter's desk. Today I want to focus on the first of those six steps: turning in a song to the publisher.

1. Song is turned into publisher
2. Song is demoed (three months later)
3. Publisher pitches song to artists/labels/managers around town (six months)
4. Artist decides to record song (three months)
5. Album gets mixed and label promotes upcoming release (six months)
6. Album is release, and publisher and songwriter look forward to royalties (six-nine months)

After I write a song, my publisher usually gives me feedback on which lines could be improved. A lot of times songs are turned in without really garnering much attention at all. But that's not a bad thing, because not every song is created equal.

The benefit of writing 3-5 times each week is that you learn that it's OK to write a song and move on to the next song the next day. That's not always easy to do, especially when you pour yourself into each tune.

I won't lie. Sitting in the same room as a publisher while they listen through your song is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I've ever had (I remember a couple years ago leaving a meeting with bite marks on the inside of my cheek where I had nervously been clinching my teeth). The weak points in a song tend to rise to the surface and sound obvious when you're hearing the song through the publisher's ears. As rough as these meetings can sometimes feel, I've found that they've been helpful in learning how to catch and fix some of the song's weak points before letting the publisher hear my work.

As more songs are written, certain ones rise to the surface. When the time comes book a demo session, a list of potential songs is poured over until the cream of the crop is set in stone. Then the fun part begins, but more on that later.

The publisher also takes care of all the copyright paperwork, allowing the songwriter to focus on their creativity. (Read more about what a publisher does here.) 

Keep writing,


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Beauty of How Ink is Made

When I first came across this video, I thought, "Do I really care how ink is made?" But as I watched the film, all of the sudden I found myself caring a lot about how ink is made. This filmmaker found beauty and life in what others may pass right over. And isn't it the same with writing songs? We make something everyday become something epic.

(This film is best viewed in full screen, high definition.)

Keep writing,


Thursday, January 20, 2011

“You Like That One, Huh?” by Georgia Middleman

One thing about songwriting that I love is that the work is highly collaborative. I believe that we benefit highly when we are willing to learn and share out of our experiences. So when you see a byline next to the post title, it's because I've invited someone else to share their insights.
Georgia is one of my all-time favorite people to write with ("Bare Feet" on my EP, The Way I See Her). She also penned Keith Urban's recent hit, "I'm In."

“You Like That One, Huh?” by Georgia Middleman

While watching A Beautiful Mind the other day on television, I was struck by a line that to me reflects the link between songwriting and success in a nutshell.

A gentleman from the Nobel Prize Society comes to mathematician, John Nash, and says, (and I paraphrase):

“We’re considering you for the Nobel Prize.”

Nash says, “Based on what?

“Your theory on equilibrium.”

To which Nash says, “You like that one, huh?”

You like that one, huh? A perfect answer from someone who lives and breathes economics and works on it day in and day out. Who has a million theories he’s proud of; just so happens it was THAT one that got the Nobel Prize Society’s attention.

When I was younger, I would write a song and think, “This is it. This is the Big One.” And then nothing happened. Nobody beat down my door to get their hands on it. So I wrote another one. Nothing happened. Next thing I know, I’m writing for the sake of writing and not trying to achieve any said results. I’m writing because I have to write. It becomes a need like breathing.

Living in Nashville for the last 19 years, I believe there is a true craft to writing a commercial song. Having said that and always putting that craft to work, I now find that when I let go of attaching myself to the “Gotta write a hit song today” philosophy and just write what needs to come out of me, good things happen. Any success I’ve had at this point in my career I could have never guessed would have come from those particular songs. Call it luck or being in the right place at the right time. I call it SHOWING UP. If you write every day, you’re exploring wonderful angles that you might never have thought of if you had boxed yourself into writing that “HIT SONG.” You’re also upping the odds by sheer nature of quantity that something wonderful may happen.

So when that recording artist comes calling and says they love that song you wrote and want to record it, wouldn’t it be nice if you could say, “Which one? Oh, you like that one, huh?”

Visit Georgia's website here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Australians Discover 14 New Notes on Piano

I heard this on NPR this morning, and I was glad to hear that even something as standard as the grand piano still has room to grow.

Apparently there is a piano maker in Australia (Stuart Pianos) who decided that the 88 key piano as we know it is insufficient. Instead of only going lower by adding nine additional notes beneath the low A key, they also tacked on five

It sounds like the main benefit to the overall sound is that the notes' harmonics have more room to play. Result: a potentially fuller and crisper sound. I'm just curious what Rachmaninoff could have done with the extra notes.

Listen to the story, or read the transcript here.

Keep writing,


Monday, January 17, 2011

Feature in Fringe Magazine!

If you're in Nashville and happen to pick up a the most recent copy of Fringe Magazine, you may see a familiar face. Every issue they feature a songwriter in a section called "Hello, Songwriter," and I couldn't be more honored to have been selected.

(Written by Andrea Bailey Willits; Photographs by Maya Laurent Photography)


Day jobs can be the death of your dreams. Not for songwriter Ben Cooper. 

Pulling off his green apron, Ben Cooper clocked out of another 4 a.m. shift at the West End Starbucks. As usual, his pockets were full of crinkled receipts where he’d quickly scribbled song titles and ideas between making mochas. He couldn’t wait to get home and sit down at his upright piano; then his real eight-hour workday could begin.

“I was working for the job I wanted, not the one I had,” Cooper says. “So I allowed for a 40-hour songwriting week by working crazy shifts at Starbucks.”

Barista by day, songwriter by night—it was the most exhausting year of Cooper’s life. But in late 2008, the Belmont graduate from Fort Wayne, Ind., inked a publishing deal with Writer’s Den Music Group and quit steaming milk. Two years later, he’s happily doing what he loves and just landed eight cuts on bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs’ new record, Mosaic...

Read the rest of the interview here, beginning on page 55.

And be sure to check out

Keep writing,


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Words & Music - Channel 5

Just a quick reminder, Gordon Kennedy and I are featured on this month's episode of the show Words & Music on Nashville's CBS Channel 5.

Here are the times this show will air:

Jan. 16th@7:00pm
Jan. 18th@1:00pm
Jan. 30th@7:00pm
Feb. 1st@1:00pm

See clips from past Words & Music shows on Channel 5's website here.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

What Does a Publisher Do?

From my experience, here are some aspects of what a publisher does:
1. Pays a salary in the form of an advance, allowing me to not have to work another job
2. Provides valuable feedback on songs
3. Sets up co-writes
4. Takes care of legal copyright registration
5. Fronts the money for demo sessions
6. Acts as a communication buffer
7. Validates a songwriter as a professional
8. Provides a space for co-writing
As a songwriter, you aren’t necessarily trying to prove to a publisher that you have written the best song in the world, rather that you have all the potential to write the best song in the world. It’s as if the beginning songwriter is a young apple tree and, though it may not provide the best fruit quite yet, with the proper care and growth it can soon produce bountifully.

It's important to remember, however, that you don't need to have a songwriting deal with a publisher to be a great songwriter. It just allows you to write songs from nine to five, rather than before or after your nine to five.

For more information on publishers, check out All You Need to Know About the Music Business (see Reading tab above).

Keep writing,


Friday, January 14, 2011

What Not to Do

By Paul Zollo, as seen in American Songwriter
"I don't know how to write songs. But I know what not to do. So I just cut out everything that sucks."

- Lou Reed

The path to writing a great song is undefined. The journey is beautiful, exciting, scary and comforting at the same time.

Be suspicious of anyone who claims there are only six steps to songwriting success.

In Paul Zollo's book, Songwriters on Songwriting, I was fascinated that the actual writing process is described so vaguely by so many writers.  And he interviewed some of the most legendary songwriters of all time.

Keep writing,


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fun With Words - "Doggles"

Just came across this picture in a catalog...

Songwriting Article in The Tennessean

Last week there was a pretty interesting article about the business of songwriting in Nashville's newspaper, The Tennessean.

Read it here.

Also, I found this video on The Tennessean's website helpful:

Keep writing,


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Night in October (4 guys/1 guitar)

Editing - the Key to Songwriting?

I used to wait for lightning to strike. And when I did find inspiration, I was afraid to change anything about the original way I would write a lyric or melody. I thought, "Who am I to mess with something that's been inspired?!"

As a result, I spent far more time creating than editing. I could just wait until an idea slapped me across the face and then go sit at the piano. The result was a lot of OK songs.

However, I’ve learned that it’s more important and beneficial to be willing to throw out my favorite line than to make the rest of the song suffer. In songwriting, everything is expendable. If a line doesn't support the song as a whole, there is a better way to say it.

With more experience comes the ability to edit on the fly. I've even stopped halfway through vocalizing a line because I realized it wasn't the right direction for the song. Even our initial instincts, when it comes to how a line should be written, are sharpened with practice. The stronger the editing muscle, the more effortless the creative process can become.

Keep writing (and editing),


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BMI Live


Today BMI launched a new program that allows songwriters to report their own live performances. Read about it here.

Keep writing,


Who Made This Cabbage?

We were making dinner a couple nights ago, and I couldn't help but see a pattern in front of me.

Keep writing (and noticing),



Photo by fdecomite (on flickr). Used with permission.

Hurricane Katrina
Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video. Used with permission.

Pinwheel galaxy
Photo by Ethan Hein. Used with permission.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Timeless Art in a Fast World

There is a fun app on my phone that allows me to take professional-looking pictures in almost no time. I can make the most menial object look epic, without having to pay a professional photographer. That's a blessing and also a possible hazard.

We live in a fast world, and we want high-quality things, quickly. A picture program like this is appealing because it cuts out cost and time. But that also means that a tool like this could potentially take away work from photographers.

What does this look like when it comes to writing songs? With professional-quality microphones and recording equipment cheaper than ever, anyone and their mom is able to get an album onto iTunes. The real issue when it comes to such available technology is that we are tempted and able to hit the recording button too soon. Instead of carving on and reshaping a lyric or melody, we attempt to make up for any deficiencies in the song by making a sparkly and shiny recording. But a great recording of a mediocre song is still only a mediocre song. Few will remember hearing it.

When more people have access to create timeless-looking art, the challenge is to encourage all to participate, while still preserving and passing on the integrity of the craft. The reality is that with everyone taking photos on their phones, we are potentially only adding more noise to the craft of photography. It becomes easier to be average, and more difficult to be exceptional.

In the end, time is what separates the good from the mediocre – in a photographer's photos and in a songwriter's songs. If we create something true and good, it will stand up ten years from now. But if we only write something that sounds like what’s currently on the radio, then it’ll just sound like that "other" song. And who just wants to blend in?

Keep writing,


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cliff Goldmacher - Before You Demo Your Song

Here are some very helpful tips from fellow songwriter Cliff Goldmacher about how to prepare for a demo recording session. It's essential to prepare so that the studio experience is fun and enjoyable instead of stressful. That way everyone is most capable of doing their best work!

Keep writing,


Friday, January 7, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody Violin Quartet

Here is a great example of how music can stand the test of time, and also cross over genres and styles. Queen wrote many songs that are almost impossible for anyone to cover, mainly because their versions of songs were so creative and unique. Few can do them any justice.

But here's someone who did do justice with his cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Four single takes made up this entertaining and beautiful video.

Keep writing,


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Journey of a Song

Between the songwriter’s pen to the listener’s ear, there are a handful of steps that the song must take along the business path. Here is a basic estimated unfolding of events in the journey of a song once it is written (with estimated length of time in parentheses):

1. Song is turned into publisher
2. Song is demoed (three months later)
3. Publisher pitches song to artists/labels/managers around town (six months)
4. Artist decides to record song (three months)
5. Album gets mixed and label promotes upcoming release (six months)
6. Album is release, and publisher and songwriter look forward to royalties (six-nine months)

Yesterday my publisher said to me and my co-writer, "You can kick off 2011 by writing something that will make you money in 2012 or 2013!" He was jokingly serious. Or seriously joking. Sort of. If you add up the months in parentheses, you get about two years.

For example, I co-wrote songs over two years ago that are just now on the Mosaic album (leaving me at step 6). Making money in song publishing is a long-term investment for both the publisher and the songwriter. Both are players in the waiting game, and expecting things to happen too quickly can only bring disappointment.

But this should not be a daunting reality to the songwriter. The long period of time can serve as a reminder that it doesn't necessarily pay off to try to simulate what is currently on the radio. A good song written today will certainly stand two years from now, regardless of what the top 40 landscape may look like. 

Keep writing,


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Songs either connect with the listener or they don't. When two people hear the same song, what makes one skip to the next track, and another drop what they're doing? And what could the songwriter do to affect this situation? Identify.

When I think of the songs that I truly enjoy listening to, I realize that the reason I love them so much is because they identify with me. They speak into my life, my situation, my relationships. They are the lens through which life makes more sense. We all want to go through every day with a soundtrack playing in the background. And we as songwriters have the honor of writing these songs for those around us.

So how do I identify while writing a song? Keep the listener in mind. It's as if the initial time a listener hears the song, they are going on a "first date" with the melody and lyric. If the song only talks about itself without asking the listener any questions, do you think they'd look forward to a second date?

Keep writing,


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Vivian Maier, Street Photographer

A helpful reminder that we are all capable of creating great work.

Read more about Vivian Maier and see more of her photos here.

Rand Bishop - The Craft of Songwriting

Rand Bishop began his show-biz career as a recording artist for a series of major labels. More than 40 years hence, as a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning, Million-play songwriter, Bishop now counts close to 250 diverse credits: from the Beach Boys to Toby Keith, Heart to Indigo Girls. Along the way, he rocked stages across North America, sang on countless sessions as a studio vocalist, produced dozens of records and film soundtracks, and spent years as a talent development executive and music publisher. If those accomplishments weren’t more than enough, Bishop is an author, award-winning screenwriter, produced playwright, esteemed songwriting coach, and an in-demand speaker. At the end of the day, Bishop refers to himself simply as “a writer.”

(Quoted from Vimeo page)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Origin of Expressions - "Apple of One's Eye"

My wife got me a game for Christmas called The Origin of Expressions. Working with words every day, I find it very intriguing. Especially when a card was drawn that carried a phrase that Gordon Kennedy and I used in a song a couple years ago. Here's what we wrote (from "Mosaic" [Cooper/Kennedy, ©2008] on Ricky Skaggs' album with the same title):

Nikon D80 Apple
Photo by Abhijit Thembekar. Used with permission.



Here's how origin of the phrase "apple of one's eye" came to be (as quoted from the game card):
"In old English, the pupil was called an apple because it was thought to be round and solid like the fruit. As an important part of the eye, it was seen as precious."
Keep writing,


Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Week on the Links of Utopia

The truth about pursuing a craft like songwriting or a game like golf is that inevitably there will be days that you feel like you come up short. But our identity as creators is not in the quality of our most recent song (whether good or bad) or how long it’s been since we’ve even finished one. We use the energy of our artistic potential to pursue the craft rather than an individual song. As a result, we can enjoy the process without becoming victims of the foul advice of our own “shoulder devils.”

That’s what I liked about reading Dr. David L. Cook’s book (not a cookbook), Golf’s Sacred Journey – Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. It’s written in novel form, and is currently slated to come out as a feature film in 2011 (starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black). I highly recommend this book to anyone who:

a) loves golf,
b) loves Texas, or
c) struggles with finding their identity in significant and fulfilling places (all of us).

The book emphasizes the importance of stripping away interference in our lives so that we can learn how to trust and rely on our instinct. There’s so much noise in the world around us that we often don’t take any time to thoroughly reflect on life. Gandhi is quoted as saying, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Very true.

As in songwriting, Cook emphasizes the importance of a golfer swinging with rhythm, freedom, balance and patience. We create the best art when we are drawing from our most natural place. The goal of this book is to help the reader break out of the box of fears and doubts that restrict us from being who and what God creates us to be. And there is nothing more exciting than signing off on a song that truly feels like it came from a natural place of integrity. Those are the successful songs, whether or not they ever hit the Billboard charts.

Keep writing,


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Here's a song written by a good friend...

Any big resolutions you plan on undertaking?

Keep writing,