Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quote of the Day - Leonard Bernstein

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…the wait is simply too long.” 

- Leonard Bernstein

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing Tools - Microsoft Word

For the last 7-8 years I've been in Nashville, Microsoft Word has been my go-to for typing and organizing my lyrics.

Here's an example of how I structure a lyric:

SONG TITLE                                                                                      DATE OF CREATION





I use all-caps because it's cleaner and less confusing than trying to figure out which letters should be capitalized. During my college internship at EMI and when I did some temp-work for Universal Music I learned that this practice is pretty standard.

In order to keep the song on one page, I use the tab function to set the chorus apart and only type it once (some people put the chorus in bold instead). The bridge (if there is one) is offset twice as far.

Of course, this style of typing only works for songs that fit this common song structure, so however you type your lyric should be determined by how the song should be written first.

Here's the lyric Melinda Schneider and myself wrote that Olivia Newton-John ended up singing:

Once you have written songs with multiple people, it's important to keep things organized. I have an overall folder entitled "lyrics" with sub-folders labeled with co-writers' names. Within each co-writer's folder, I have every song we've written.

One thing I'm interested in is the potential for Google Documents. It boasts many of the features of Word, but allows you to access your documents anywhere you can get Internet access.

Keep writing (and typing),


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"A Day in the Life" (Lennon/McCartney)

The last note of this song lasts 53 seconds. How's that for thinking outside the box?

Monday, March 28, 2011


When I joined a P.R.O., my rep there took interest in the music I was writing. He encouraged me to continue bringing him new songs, and was gracious enough to give me constructive feedback. At an unclear stretch of my creative journey, it was important to have someone rooting for me and my art.

After about a year of meeting every month or two, he said, "I think it's time for you to meet with some publishers." I was thrilled. And nervous. Here's the breakdown of what happened after I walked out of his office that afternoon:

1. He gave me a list of 8 different publishers (including phone numbers) who he thought would have interest in the songs I was writing. He also gave me permission to use his name, which definitely helped legitimize my reason for calling.

2. I got meetings with 4 of the publishers. They either listened with interest, asked me to just leave the CD and told me they'd call me (which they didn't), consistently skipped to the next song every 30 seconds (I think I played a song that only had gibberish words instead of lyrics, so I can't blame her), or just wanted to chat.

3. I got multiple meetings with 2 of the publishers, getting feedback and constructive criticism on my songs. I would consistently drop by the two publishers' offices every couple of weeks, and would write songs specifically with the intention of taking them to the meetings.

4. Ultimately, I only continued meeting consistently with one publisher. Thankfully, that was the one publisher that I ended up signing with, over a year after this process began.

The actual process of meeting consistently with a publisher is called "courting," and it's fairly similar to dating someone until the proposal. It looked and felt a lot like an internship of sorts, where I had many of the same opportunities that the publisher's signed writers had.

Though I felt like I was ready the day I walked out of the P.R.O.'s office with a list of eight publishers, I knew the day I signed my publishing deal that it was worth going through the year-long process. I was a better writer because of it. For more on what a publisher does, read my previous post here.

Keep writing,


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetes
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated--dying--
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Music Sales Dropping

I keep hearing stories lately about how poorly music is selling. Should we be concerned? Yes.

The music business begins with a song. The songwriter is the first person to create, and the last to get paid. If the industry hasn't figured out a way for songwriters to get paid, then the industry will cease to exist as a creative business. As additional money is made from music, more artists have opportunities to create for a living. The result is an increase in great songs being written, and more songwriters strengthening in their understanding of the craft.

How will music continue to generate revenue in the coming years? It is still relatively unclear, but we must have faith that the answer will be found. The traditional music business as we know it is not built to weather the type of storm we have seen in the last few years. It's like we've been caught wearing a bathing suit in a blizzard, and we can either hope that summer is coming back around someday soon or find a way to get warm right now.

NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) is doing some great work lobbying in Washington on behalf of us songwriters. Check out what they've been up to here.

Keep writing (and see some recent statistics from 2010 here),


Monday, March 21, 2011


I'm not sure, but I think it's a breakup song.

Keep writing,


Friday, March 18, 2011

"The Loneliest Day of My Life..."


“That was the loneliest day of my life,” said the songwriter. No, it wasn’t because his wife left him or his dog died. It was because he wrote a song that just made it to #1 on the Billboard Country Chart, and this is a true story. How could he be lonely, you ask? It’s because he had been looking forward so much to that day that when it finally came he didn’t know what to do next.

You know what comes after the next step? The next step.

Keep writing,


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Inspired by Nature

My friend Caleb, who is a biology teacher here in Tennessee, pointed me to this video as a follow up to the recent "Who Made This Cabbage?" post. It's amazing to realize that, as advanced as technology is, the best designs are often found in nature.

Keep writing (and noticing),


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Does a P.R.O. Do?

When I came to town to perform and write, I had someone ask me which P.R.O. I belonged to. I had no answer, because, not only was I not affiliated with any of them, I didn't even know what one was.

When you hear people talk about a "P.R.O.," they are referring to a Performing Rights Organization. The three major P.R.O.s in the United States are:


And in Canada:


The job of a P.R.O. is to track, collect and distribute performance royalties from radio, television and live performances. They all accomplish the same work, and are one of the songwriter's best friends and biggest advocates. They write the big checks we all dream of finding in our mailbox one day.

The decision of which P.R.O. to join is based less on hard facts than it is a gut feeling. I've heard of two co-writers initially getting paid different amounts by their different P.R.O.s for writing the same song, but the amounts evened out over the long term. The best advice I ever heard when making my decision was to go wherever I felt the most welcome and had the strongest relationships. You need to go where they know your name and are familiar with what you do. I know songwriters at all three American P.R.O.s who are equally happy where they are (you can only join one at a time, but are able to switch over time if so desired).

I actually ended up meeting my publisher and signing my deal directly through my P.R.O. and the people I knew there. But more on that later...

Keep writing (and contact a P.R.O. if you haven't already),


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Song-Poem Business

My publisher forwarded this one on to me. If you have 45 minutes, this is a pretty fascinating video made by PBS about the song-poem business. People send in their original poetry or lyrics, along with some money, and voilah! Between 1900 and 2002, an estimated 200,000 songs were recorded this way. But you've probably never heard a single one of them.

Keep writing,


Monday, March 14, 2011

"Alley Violinist" by Robert Lax

if you were an alley violinist

and they threw you money
from three windows

and the first note contained
a nickel and said:
when you play, we dance and
sing, signed
a very poor family

and the second one contained
a dime and said:
i like your playing very much,
a sick old lady

and the last one contained
a dollar and said:
beat it,

would you:
stand there and play?

beat it?

walk away playing your fiddle?


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quote of the Day - Louis Pasteur

"Chance favors the prepared mind." 

- Louis Pasteur

(Pasteur developed the process in which liquids are heated above a certain temperatures in order to slow spoiling. We know that process as pasteurization.) 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An NFL Perspective on the Music Industry

Here is an interesting article that recently ran on Billboard's website, where Jack Isquith encourages the music industry to look to the NFL for inspiration to reinvent itself. 

My gut says that along the way he ignored a few differences between selling a football game and a musical album. First, football games, as live events, are more comparable to live concerts than sales of songs. As far as I understand, while ticket sales for concerts are not great, they have not yet suffered the same declines as album sales.

Isquith points to video games, specifically the Madden football series, as a way that the NFL has embraced change in a profitable manor (I still haven't seen a copy of "Songwriter, Songwriter Revolution"). It seems probable, however, that as technology progresses, a video game will be shared just as easily as an mp3. When EA Sports' sales decrease in the same way a record label's has, they'll be sitting in this same boat.

Also, I don't believe the answer is only finding more big music stars, as the article states. In the current situation, a more popular artist or band who has more fans will only result in more tracks being downloaded for free. It's becoming the frightening norm for people to expect content to be free.

This is an awkward time for people trying to make money with art that can be copied and pasted. We have to trust that things will get better so that we don't change the heart behind our creativity. 

Maybe this is an opportunity to take another look at why we write songs. Is it to get money? Fame? Respect? Some may decide that the tough current landscape of this industry is too big a mountain to climb, but others will stay. And I believe the ones who stick around, and they art they create, will last because there is a love and passion for music that goes way deeper than money, fame or respect. It may just mean working a side job to pay the bills in the meantime.

Why do you write songs?

Keep writing,


(Visit for information and ways you can support legislative change to benefit songwriters.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Girl From Ipanema" by Joao Gilberto and Tom Jobim

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. Check out the story of how it came about here on Performing Songwriter's website.

Here's a video of songwriters Joao Gilberto and Tom Jobim reuniting to play their tune:

Keep writing,


Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest Post on!

Click picture to read post. In the spirit of combining words, what you see in this post is a "clickture."

Friday, March 4, 2011

From Ownership to Access

Digital Music News put out this article yesterday that reveals that debut album sales are down 77% from seven years ago. I've been thinking a lot lately about ways that the music industry is going to adapt to new waves of technology. Just this morning I was telling someone how I think Apple's iTunes has the potential to become the authoritative service for music access. And I believe this American Songwriter article shows another step towards it becoming a reality.

In the book The Future of Music, authors Kusek and Leonhard point toward the potential of music being paid for as if it were another monthly utility bill. Music is like water in the same sense that the longer you have the faucet running, the more you pay for it. I think Netflix's streaming service is a great example of this kind of model, and my hope is that a similar music service will become as widely accepted. The sooner more consumers begin paying for music, an increased number of artists will be able to create for a living.

Keep writing (and buying music),


Ralph Murphy - Developing Your Creative Community

Ralph's instruction reminds me of the English proverb, "a man is known by the company he keeps." As creative individuals, we need to surround ourselves with other creators in order for our gifts to be cultivated. In addition, Murphy just put out an incredibly informative book on common characteristics successful hit songs share. Buy it here:

Ralph Murphy - On Becoming A Part of the Community from Music Starts Here on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Nashville is Music City

Here is a great post on The Atlantic website about which cities have the most music in their veins. Nashville is literally off the chart. Read the article here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scheduled Inspiration

“How is it possible mark your calendar to be inspired?” I often get asked this question when I tell people what I do four, and sometimes five, days a week.

There's nothing more draining than showing up somewhere like a co-write and feeling like you've somehow failed because you don't feel inspired or creative. I've been there. And I learned something very important as a result.

At first I thought the key was coming up with some profound musical or lyrical idea to bring to every co-write. But I quickly ended up with more co-writes than "profound" ideas.

Thankfully, one of the days that I was short on ideas was a day where my co-writer and I ended up writing one of my favorite songs to this day, "Bare Feet" (track #2 on my EP, The Way I See Her). What I came to realize was that, instead of my initial song idea delegating the direction, in this situation the song grew organically as a truer collaboration.

I've actually erred on the opposite side of the spectrum, showing up to co-writes more often than not without any song title or lyric idea. But I've also realized there's a certain level of creative accountability that comes with taking ideas to co-writes. If I know I want to take an idea, then I'll keep my antennae up for things that inspire. And as John Wooden said, “Failing to prepare meant preparing to fail.”

So to answer the original question about marking my calendar for inspiration, I do it by showing up ready to be inspired rather than showing up pre-inspired. And that mindset keeps the anxiety levels way down.

Keep writing (and preparing),


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chopin, Nocturne in E-flat Major, opus 9 no.2

In my opinion, this piece by Chopin captures life's bittersweet reality better than any other song. Watching this visual video is a helpful reminder that there are highs and lows constantly playing together in the symphony of time. At any given moment, on any given day, we can point to something good but also point to something difficult.

I believe theologian John Piper said something to the effect that there is no unadulterated joy in this life, yet there is no sorrow so deep that light cannot break through it. I think Chopin decided to say it without using words: