Breaking the Wall
This is part 2 of a series of songwriting posts designed to personally break me out of songwriting hell. Part 1 explains what that hell is and why I want out. The link to Part 1 is here.
The beginning of getting out
About a week ago, I got myself to a cafe located in the local town I was in, and sat down facing a wall to have no distractions. After an hour and a half, I came up with many different patterns in my songwriting that may be contributing to my continual negativity during the songwriting process. So far, here are the 16 that I have found:
- Always writing at night-time
- Doing lyrics first then music second
- Using Garageband or my guitar as main instruments
- Being tempted to create a full band on Garageband before I even have 20 seconds of music
- Writing on days I have not had decent exercise
- Writing songs soon after having consumed high-carb, high-fat/sugary foods.
- On days where circumstances or mood are particularly bad, I often use songwriting to vent it. Doing this repeatedly has caused me to be either reluctant to pick up an guitar, or to feel down on the rare occasions I do use it to write songs.
- Writing in English
- Always writing alone.
- My lyrics continue to have negative, answerless questions.
- I tend to dress the same way when writing songs every time – Jeans, Sneakers, T-Shirt, etc.
- Never under the influence of any stimulant during songwriting. (Maybe coffee or tea can help?!)
- Drawing on past experience rather than visualizing a future.
- Not rewriting more than once.
- Not changing the volume of my song at any point.
- Not meditating on what I want to convey beforehand.
Are any of these issues for you?
What I am noticing is that maybe I am not the only one who gets drawn into a negative funk when writing. It is very well possible that even the greatest of artists have had to dive down into mental mud in order to pull out something that will make them a living.
I subscribe to the view that it doesn’t have to be that way. By looking at the above 16 things, what possible solutions can you come up with in your head to create a different, better songwriting environment for yourself? Comments will help fellow readers and myself.
Flash is like fireworks. It gets people’s attention with its bright light and its loud bang. It remains in the public consciousness for a little while and then disappears only to be forgotten. People talk about it out of surprise, awe, or disgust, but only for awhile.
One-hit wonders are flashes. A guy kissing another guy on the American music awards is a flash. Getting a vice presidential nomination when you are governor of Alaska is a flash.
Constants, unlike flashes, may not grab you immediately. But when you start to pay attention, you grab onto them, not letting go until they cease to become constant.
Creating great music and performing it well all the time is constant. The google home page is constant. The leader who does what she says she is going to do is constant.
There is one evident weakness with being constant. When building a brand, constancy is repeatedly overlooked by others, and it sometimes requires a small, deliberate bit of flashiness to raise awareness of it.
Think about the flash and constancy going on in your actions. How much is devoted to each?
Maybe you can think of some examples where people are using the two well or very poorly over the long term.
Let me know by commenting.
If you are wondering why people aren’t paying money for your music, why club promoters are telling you no, or why labels “really, really like you, but you just aren’t for them right now”, I cannot say I know the answer. It could be one of a million things.
What is certain, however, is that no one cares about your music as much as you.
If you have a manager, or are one, they/you should care just as much, but this is about your responsibility. Sure, other people can do some stuff, and once you get enough traction it will be necessary, but it always starts and ends with you.
Its not their fault, as “they” care about their own stuff more than you do.
The club promoter loves it when the venue is sold out. Show him that you can make that happen.
The record label will chase after you when your business is successful. Make money doing your music, and watch what happens to their offers after you turn then down several times and continue to succeed.
Your fan wants to fall in love with something that feeds their emotions and their soul. Feed them the good stuff, and they will come back for seconds.
If you are unwilling to take responsibility for making these things happen, and you think its only about playing your guitar or screaming into the mic, then become a guitar teacher, or a studio musician. Hire yourself out as a touring guitarist/backup vocal to the artists who did take that responsibility. There’s no shame in it if that is what you want.
If you want the limelight, the ownership, or people screaming YOUR name, however, the person responsible for making that happen is you. Refusing responsibility, having a diva attitude, and demonstrating an unwillingness to work hard only shows other people why they shouldn’t care about you. If your level of care is low, and no one is supposed to care more than you, you won’t get results.
The only step I am asking you to take today is to care more about every aspect of what you do. Your level of care, when increased and demonstrated through action, can inspire others to care more as well.
Watch what happens then.
If you are an artist, and wrote some songs, you may want other people to know about them. While you may use social networking, just blasting out a message that you have a new song may not be enough. Getting someone to scream your tweet from a rocky cliffside won’t help much either, no matter how funny it may be.
There are literally millions of tribes, and you are a passive or active member in many of them.
Seth is the most well-known person to use the term, having written a whole book about them. A tribe is a group of people (ranging from 2 folks to a multitude of millions) who come together due to a common element of interest. One tribe may be your church, another may be employees of BestBuy, while a third might be your college drama class.
For an oversimplified example, watch any high-school movie to see how one large tribe easily breaks down into many smaller ones.
Here are several tips based upon knowledge of tribes that can help you grow awareness of your tunes. Some of these ideas are awesome already, while others might need more thought or expansion. Enjoy!
22 Ways to Work with Tribes
1. Lead some tribes. Maybe you have some buddies you play pool with, or serve on the board of a nonprofit. If you don’t, think over who you want your fans to be, and find out if you should lead tribes like this. You can then suggest things involving your band when the time is right.
2. Make songs for specific tribes. Like Melissa Etheridge did for “I Run For Life” for breast cancer awareness.
3. Make songs that appeal to many tribes. Why do you think songs about love sell so well?
4. Write songs about tribes that get little representation in popular culture. That is why the Village People did so well back then, as very few wrote commercially viable songs with gay references back then.
5. Borrow other tribes to gain traction. This is why smaller bands open for larger bands that play similar genres of music.
6. Write a song meant for a one-time event. Try something crazy like the 2010 Jessop County Barbecue festival. If it is just for that event, you may get a shot at gigging there, even though I just came up with that.
7. Focus on one type of occasion that happens everywhere. Wedding bands have done this for years, as there’s always a new tribe referred to you if you are good.
8. Write for fans or haters of a product. commercial jingles, comedic parodies, odes, and bashes.
9. Writing for controversial topics. Especially if your view is different from the norm, yet funny.
10. Create music for tribes that may not exist yet. Either the tribe will appear and you can use your song to help promote them, or it will never show up and it can be either useless or funny (like Flight of the Conchords when they sing about when robots destroy all humans in the future in an attempt to have early access to a future market.)
11. Take a song written for one tribe and alter it so it targets a different tribe. Think Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg. Just don’t do it under witness protection because you will not be invisible forever using this.
12. Try to contract work with one individual whose job it is to use media to reach multiple tribes with multiple concepts, and just make things for them on demand. Examples can be movie producers, website owners, political candidates, and personal development speakers.
13. Make music for just one person who is super rich. This one is very niche today, but it worked during the days of Bach and Handel. Once you build enough notoriety in your career for making great music, you can easily move into this. (Imagine if you are Enrique Iglesias and you are paid to make a song for the daughter of a Hedge Fund Manager for the daughter’s birthday…I’d do it).
14. Gain the respect of larger tribes by rejecting other tribes. Punk music and the Hippy Movement of the 60’s are well known examples of this concept. If your tribe is the working class, refusing to work for the super rich could endear your tribe to you even closer.
15. Make your band a tribe that non-band members want to support. If your band did things like play music for free to orphanages and childrens hospitals, you might secure the funding of outsiders to continue this.
16. Make your own tribe for music lovers and other musicians. Many artists, unable to find gigs, create their own by organizing open mics and other similar events. It might help to organize something like this even if you do have some paying gigs. You could run it temporarily before turning over to someone else, using the creation of this new venue something that music fans accept you for.
17. Start a consulting service between business owners and tribes. Establish relationship with artists that are passionate about different causes and tribes and connect them with groups/clients that want to join and market to those tribes. When the connection is made, find out what the clients want and work with each artist(s) to develop the music or message that they want.
18. Bring band-focused tribes together by having gigs with a genre focus. Do an 80’s hair metal covers gig one day, or pop diva covers on a different day. This can establish you as a versatile act, as well as allowing you to see which tribes are your best audiences.
19. Similar to #18: have a festival of cover bands, preferably mirroring another festival with the real acts elsewhere. Its a great way to involve other bands in your idea, plus you get to play for their tribes as well. Now you are getting your tribe, the tribes of the local bands, and the tribes of multi-platinum acts all at once…sneak attack!
20. Try not identifying with any tribe at all. This has often been what creates brand new styles. Many people simply do not like what is out there. If you are so different you have nothing to do with any tribe, many displaced people may join you. Or nothing will happen at all. It all comes down to whether or not your current actions are working.
21. Talk to people at the venue after your gigs. Socially connecting with people can do more for you than your actual playing, even if you are good. Playing good gets people to come. Since they are there with you, talk to them.
22. Use Alternate versions of your songs to reach multiple tribes. This has been done by Moby, Shania Twain, and many other artists. First, make your songs the way you want them. Then record extra tracks using different styles of playing/singing/different instruments to mix different styles of the songs you just completed. After that, release them each to fans of the different genres you used. You might even find a sound you like better than the one you are using.
After racking my brain to the point of a headache, that’s all I got for now.
You are welcome to post any ideas you feel I missed or did not explain enough in the comments on this blog post. Share them with the world, and the world will be better for it.
A friend told me a brilliant concept while we were discussing luck.
“Luck is when skill and opportunity meet”
While I have heard it before, I didn’t realize how right it was. The good news is that you can build your skills, and that means:
At least 50% of luck is completely within your control.
All you need is to keep flipping the opportunity coin until the opportunity you need appears. Just make sure you are not in a place where the coin is weighted against you (casino/track racing scenarios, or environments not conductive to your goals).