Things Every Songwriter Should Know
  ...from the Pros Who've Done it.

Written By: Kenny Loggins

There’s a magic that comes with being aware you’re “onto something” while you’re onto it. It fills you with a strange sense of purpose that seems to invigorate the project and deepen the vision, even when you feel like all you’ve got is fireflies to follow, just the hint of heat and light out ahead, teasing you on, leading you somewhere you can barely see in the distance, as if towards an ancient city shrouded in fog, just waiting for you to come discover it.

Great moments are rare.

Here it was, another one of those moments that we, as artists, long for, wait years for, usually very impatiently, and hope to capture at least once in our lives. I can honestly say, looking back, I believe I’ve been incredibly lucky to have experienced this rush 3 or 4 times in my career, but few times as consciously as this moment.

Loggins and Messina was one of those moments, certainly, but I was young and not really as aware of what was happening or what was in store. Making “Celebrate Me Home” was one, big time. A big leap from the Country inspired sound of L&M. Speaking of “leaps,” writing and recording “Leap of Faith” years later was another major “magic moment,” possibly my biggest one ever, as it was accompanied with a major spiritual awakening and an amazing love affair.

Enter Gary Burr.

Back when I was making the CD, “How about Now,” (2007) I met a very talented Nashville singer/songwriter named Gary Burr, and we set about writing some songs together, most of them based on my journal entries from the first few years of my recent divorce. In many ways that was a painful process, I might add, yet Gary and I spent as much time laughing as we did writing. And the songs were good, some of them damn good. But the best part was that when we sang together, we sounded like brothers. A rare occurrence, especially for me. The last time I experienced that kind of blend was with Jimmy Messina in 1971.

Start a new band??  Am I crazy or what?

Well, some time passes and I found myself thinkin’ to myself, “Self…Ya know if this was 20 years ago, that kind of mixture of fun, great songs and natural vocal blend would have spawned a band!” Of course, that’s crazy talk at my age. I mean, I’ve made my own “brand,” my career is doing fine, thank you God, and why mess with a good thing?

But something pushes you when you make art for a living, something beyond logic.  So, just like that, I called Gary and asked him if he’d like to form a band. He, of course, thought I’d lost my mind, but agreed with something like, “Why Kenny, that’s a dandy idea…” We shot the shit for a few minutes, and then we hung up the phone. I suspect he never expected to hear from me again. But I’m funny that way, and the feeling, the inspiration to do something NEW wouldn’t let me go. I would check in with Gary every couple of months, just to let him know I was the proverbial dog with a bone, and was still thinking about this imaginary “band.”

One more piece to the puzzle…Hello Georgia.

Then one day, while on a 15 mile bike ride, after the endorphins kicked in, I suddenly “realized” we needed a third member! 3 part harmony. Never done that! And it should be a female voice. A singer/songwriter of some high credibility, but preferably, as yet an undiscovered talent.

I called Gary.  “You know any great chick-singer/songwriters?” “Hell yeah,” he replied, “My girlfriend, Georgia Middleman. She’s the best I’ve ever worked with.”  It should be added here that Gary is no slouch himself, Gary was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, having penned 13 #1 songs to date!  He went on to say “Georgia just wrote Keith Urban’s #2 record in the country right now.”  That felt like one hell of a start, so I agreed to fly out to Nashville for “a meeting.”

Why fight something that feels this good?

And what a meeting! Within our first three hours together, the three of us wrote our first song, called “I Get It,” and were singing with a 3-part blend that comes once in a lifetime. I was as high as a 21 yr old (who shall remain nameless) having discovered rock-n-roll for the very first time, like a kid I knew who once hitch-hiked his way to Monterey in the summer of 1966, only to have the course of his life changed forever. So we wrote this really cool song, and started seriously considering the “band thing,” which as I said before, at this stage of my life feels a lot like Mickey Rooney saying to Judy Garland, “Hey kids…Let’s put on a show!!” It’s crazy talk. It’s a million to one long shot. But it sure is fun!

Have you had any magic moments like this?  Have you started a new group late in your career.  Please share in the comments below.

If you haven’t already, check out:

The Story Behind the Hit Bless The Beasts and the Children – click here
How an unlikely background cue became a giant hit – click here
Craft will save your ass – click here

Did you learn anything from this post? If so, please share it with one other person who could use it. Use the links for Facebook and Twitter below. Thanks!

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Written By: Kenny Loggins

“Intuition is soul guidance, appearing naturally in man during those instances when his mind is calm… calm the mind, that without distortion it may hear the infallible counsel of the Inner Voice.”

~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Last night in New York City, I was given my first ever “Lifetime Achievement Award,” thanks to the generosity of the T.J. Martell Foundation. I say “my first” because I suspect that’s how showbiz works. You hang around long enough, you do your job well, and the charities will want/need to award you in order to raise money for their cause.

As I see it, it’s a fair “give n take” for the privilege of making music for a living all my life. And it’s another way for artists to help out the charities. Just to be clear here, I am very appreciative of the honor. And my family will treasure this particular award long after I’m gone.

Start from the heart.

In the process of thinking about something appropriate to say at the dinner, I spent a couple of weeks just writing down ideas to consider for my acceptance speech. As it turned out, when the moment came for me to give “my speech,” I simply spoke from the heart, appreciated the moment, and felt proud and privileged to get to share such a profound experience with my daughter, Bella, and a few dear, good friends, including her mother and step-father.

When I was only 19, it was my good fortune to know a wise fellow musician-friend named Jeremy Stuart, who gave me a few tips that stuck with me all these years:

How to follow your heart (and create success from it)

1. Don’t follow. Lead.

Arguably the most important thing he ever taught me. If you can create your own market, you set the trend and own that market, thus raising the potential for longevity in your chosen field. Seems simple, but it’s not.

Admittedly, some aspects of that goal depend upon a bit of luck, but I think the secret to how to actually DO that is summed up in another popular phrase Jeremy used to love to say, “Follow your heart.” What a deceptively simple-sounding concept that is actually incredibly difficult to learn and practice.

2. Get in touch with your heart.

In order to connect with your heart, you have to learn how to hear it. Then you have to be willing to trust those subtle messages, even though they may seem (almost always) a bit crazy. Then you have to be courageous enough to actually take action on those messages.

3. Take action on intuition – exercise creativity.

Over the years I have come to believe that taking action on an intuitive, creative inner message is like making a deal with Creativity itself. The more I am willing to trust my heart, my creative inner voice, the more It’s willing to trust me and thus communicate more with me.

Sounds kind’a crazy, I suppose, but it seems to work for me. For some reason, Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be constantly flexed. I think of it as “a spiritual practice,” a deal I make with my inner muse. Why not?

Stephen King once said he has to write every day, or he starts to dry up, to go crazy with the self repression and the self-defeating inner dialogues. (He would say that, I expect, seeing as it’s Stephen-frickin-King!)

4. Warning: Don’t let your mind take control.

A word of warning to those of you just starting out on the Heart Driven Path: The first thing the mind will want to do is get itself back in charge of your world, so in the throws of a creative flash, you may find yourself thinking, “Oh, I’m sure someone already thought of that,” well.., I’d consider that thought actually as a clue that I’m onto something.

So, take a beat…then take a good look at what just came through, and simply humor yourself for a minute. Look to see what about that idea is fresh, different, maybe even possible. Don’t dismiss it till you’ve given it a moment to hatch. “Don’t kill it in the cradle,” as my great songwriter/friend, David Foster, used to say.

5. Prioritize the heart’s creativity and intuition over the mind’s logic and control.

For some reason, the mind and the heart have been waging a centuries old battle that continues to this day within each of us, and whenever I start to get close to a fresh spark, my mind will often attempt to extinguish that spark, almost as a knee-jerk reaction.

I think the nature of “the mind” is essentially to protect us from harm, and thus I suspect it trained itself, centuries ago to “protect us” from being different. Even though it’s not really needed in that capacity anymore, (at least in most of he United States), the mind is still busy doing it’s designated job of “keeping us safe.” “Don’t break from the herd. Don’t stand out or someone will try to knock you down,” is its primary directive. I suspect this is “natural selection” at work, survival of the fittest in a bit of a worn-out wrapper. (Truth be told, some cultures are still run by that axiom, and ingenuity can be almost eliminated by it.)

Craziness required.

I believe the artists and inventors of the world are celebrated primarily for their ability, their willingness to reinvent the wheel, and the really good ones strive to be different. The more you are not contained inside that box, the more creative you can be. But it takes vision and courage to escape, and maybe a little craziness too.

In my case, I confess, it has always been my biggest challenge. Yet I’d say my “formal education” on how to hear my heart came from a teacher I met in my early 30’s, and following it has been getting progressively more “second nature” ever since then. In that way, I have slowly, inadvertently, found ways to reinvent myself. Just by following what feels good, and letting my voice, the one who sings, express that feeling.

Looking back, I was lucky that I always had a very powerful inner spirit that took charge of my destiny, even when I might have wished I could be someone else. Most writers will tell you that when they did do their best work, it felt as if someone else was doing the writing. We often hear about a songwriter sitting back after creating something really good, and saying, “Did I do that?” That’s what I’m talking about. I think the Ancients called that ephemeral spark the “Muse.” I believe it to be an inner voice that, when we are at our best, sidesteps the self-critical mind and takes over the task at hand.

I call it ”the heart” or “spirit.”

You may call it whatever you like, but I’m willing to bet money, if you’ve got the gift, you’ve felt the feeling.

Have you been listening to your head or your heart? What’s been your greatest career challenge? Please share in the comments below.

If you haven’t already, check out:

The Story of How The Theme from S.W.A.T. Came to be – click here
7 Tips on How to Record a Demo That Gets Results – click here
7 Places you Should be Sending Your Songs to – click here

Did you learn anything from this post? If so, please share it with one other person who could use it. Use the links for Facebook and Twitter below. Thanks!

Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to weekly article updates and we’ll send you The Songwriter’s Master Contact List totally free.

Craft Will Save Your Ass
September 20th, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Rand Bishop

A little bit about me

When I published the book BMI VP Jody Williams dubbed my “manifesto” (Makin’ Stuff Up), I have to admit I was overly confident in my assumption that there were tens of thousands of wannabe songwriters eager and waiting to lap up a veteran’s tips on song craft and chuckle over glib real-life tales of self-destruction and ultimate triumph in the music-biz. After all, I am a journeyman with decades in the trenches, a former major-label recording artist, platinum producer, A&R rep, Grammy Nominated, BMI Award-winning, million-play, number-one songwriter. (Sure, I’m tooting my own horn, but every note is right on pitch; and I think I’ve earned the right to strut a little after enduring 41 years in this brutal game — no mean feat, whatever that means.)

Anyway, I’ve had to adjust my expectations regarding books in general (especially books written for the purpose of deconstructing that odd and mysterious creative concoction known as the popular song). And now I await the publication of my second “manifesto” on the subject: The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success. But, if there’s anything that four decades in the music biz has taught me, it’s how to readjust my expectations. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, just stick around in this biz a little while longer, and I guarantee you will.)

Inspiration alone is usually not enough

So, my fine, furry friends, here’s what I’ve discovered since Makin’ Stuff Up hit the marketplace in December, ’08: The vast majority of songwriters are not the least bit interested in developing their craft. Bold statement, I know. Factual, however, I assure you. While dancers, painters, sculptors, classical singers and musicians, even hard-rock guitarists willingly seek qualified teachers, and pay a good price for their hard-won expertise, far too many songwriters assume their very first inspiration has been beamed from the gods, that the Muse’s initial whisper is sacrosanct, and not to be messed with. (While they are absolutely correct in the assumption that we are divinely inspired, it’s what a writer does with those heavenly inspirations that can make ALL the difference.)

A little wisdom from Janis Ian

So, if I may play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’d like to call my first witness to the stand, one Ms. Janis Ian, undeniably one of the hippest, most respected tunesmiths of the last half-century. “Ahem… Ms. Ian, if I may, I would like to ask your professional opinion.”

“By all means,” the diminutive lady responds.

“Inspiration versus craft,” I propose, “which is of more importance?”

“Inspiration is great,” says the Divine Ms. Ian, “but craft will save your ass.” Hmmm, the woman certainly has a way with words.

Sometimes it pays to listen

Yet, over and over again, I’ve seen the posts on Internet discussion boards: “Why should I pay for a song evaluation? It’s just somebody else’s opinion.” Yes, it is somebody else’s opinion. Somebody else who presumably knows what he or she is talking about. Somebody else who has had songs on the top of the charts, cashed six-figure royalty checks, and accepted real awards. What this industry professional is charging for is constructive feedback that can help a developing writer get a little closer to that same experience. Still, so many writers would rather bitch and moan about how they can’t get arrested and how unfair and cruel the business is, while simultaneously refusing to listen to voices of experience and advice that just might contain the keys to the kingdom.

Up-and-comers are not the only writers who can benefit from qualified, constructive feedback. To this day, after 250 of my songs have been recorded — by some of the most iconic artists in pop, rock, and country — I rely on the ears (and opinions) of other industry pros to help me hone my songs until they are as tight and concise as they can possibly be. Do I willingly accept every comment and apply every single syllable of input? No-sir-ee-bob. But, if I harbor even a milligram of lingering doubt as to whether a specific passage of lyric or melody is as strong as it could be, and that bit’s not quite making hearts go pittapat, I’ll go back to the woodshed and carve away at it with renewed vigor. For most of us, great writing is re-writing. The purpose of a pop song is to communicate emotion. If we’re not getting the response we’re looking for, if anything at all needs to be explained, it’s not the listener’s fault. It means the composer and/or lyricist has more work to do. (That’s not to say that every lyric has to be absolutely literal in every pop genre, but leaving a listener confused can certainly be a liability if you’re trying to achieve your very first success, or even your next one.)

Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism

I remember those long-ago days when I strongly resisted playing a song for a peer or professional, for fear they might not love it as much as I did. I also recall thinking that I knew it all, and that anybody who didn’t fully appreciate my obvious genius must be an idiot. The reluctance to seek out and accept constructive criticism comes from those same two unattractive, counterproductive places: fear, and arrogance. To not avail oneself of every resource there is to improve one’s craft, while complaining that the rest of the world is an ass is a surefire recipe for continued failure. If you’ve tried it that way and the deck still seems stacked against you, maybe it’s time to reshuffle the cards and ask for directions to Hit City.

Sometimes a little MasterWriter helps

Speaking of resources, MasterWriter is one songwriting tool I will never do without. In my process, MasterWriter is equally as important as a guitar or a keyboard. I’ve used MasterWriter on every song I’ve written since 2002, when I first installed this brilliantly conceived software. So, MasterWriter and I have probably collaborated on about 400 songs. The original 1.2 version integrated word processing with a very practical, songwriter-friendly rhyming dictionary (including “sound-alikes,” which I absolutely LOVE), thesaurus, a wonderful innovation called rhyming phrases, and a reliable digital recorder. All the basic tools under one roof. No longer did I have to pack a computer, rhyming dictionary, thesaurus, and portable recorder, and keep track of stacks of work tapes and lyrics. MasterWriter provided all of those tools in my laptop, and my words and music-in-progress were automatically linked and date documented.

For me, this essential, all-in-one program had two drawbacks: it was more than a little bit poky, and the thesaurus was sketchy at best. (I could never figure out why ProTools was able to load up ten times faster than Masterwriter.) But, Masterwriter’s strengths far outweighed its weakness. I quickly became dependent on it, and even after more than 30 years of makin’ stuff up, I became a better writer for it.

The newer 2.0 version is far superior and has overcome the speed issue. Added are pop-culture references, word families, parts of speech, on-board midi drum loops, and lots of other stuff I haven’t even explored yet. The new thesaurus is more comprehensive than any I’ve ever seen. I salute MasterWriter as the most innovative and essential songwriting tool available today, bar none. You bring some talent and inspiration, along with the iron will to hone a tightly constructed pop song, and MasterWriter will be your strongest ally in your quest to make the airwaves and climb the charts.

Rand Bishop
Songwriter, producer, author of Makin’ Stuff Up, secrets of song craft and survival in the music-biz (Weightless Cargo Press, 2008, distributed exclusively by Alfred Publishing), the darkly comic novel/mock-memoir, Grand Pop (Eloquent Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success (Alfred Publishing, 2010). http://www.randbishop.com

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Written By: Kenny Loggins

Key lessons from this post:

  • Why most executives only give most artists one CD to prove themselves
  • The danger of trying to follow a fad
  • Why artists are losing their audience
  • The power of looks and video

When I started in the music business, Clive Davis was the hand’s-down taste-maker, the man who far-and-away, “got it”, and lead the way with an ethos of how to do the music business, a style that completely lead the industry. Among his many gifts, I especially noticed:

1. He trusted his instincts, his “ears”, while watching the trends, and he had/has a damn good set of ears.

2. He knew that artists needed time to mature their craft, and would often invest deeply in an act for quite a while (as he did with Loggins and Messina), in order to shepherd that act’s creative growth. He literally invented the term “Artist development”.

In today’s music business, there are precious few record executives who still believe as Clive did, and are willing to hang with an artist for more than one CD.

There seems to be little or no “artist development” any more.

Why is that? Perhaps because when accountants took over the music business, they had no clue how Clive came to his decisions, had no inkling what was “good or bad”, and so they encouraged their “artists” to follow whatever fad was selling at the time. Thus we were launched into an era of copy-cat trends in music that has led to an all-time record-industry crash.

Artists are losing the audience’s attention.

Artists no longer capture the imagination of the public for very long, because Record Companies (interesting that they still use the term “record” in their own definition…) do not encourage originality and don’t stay with an artist’s development long enough to let them. New acts are signed for one “record”, sometimes even two or three songs only!

I suspect the rule of thumb is, “take one shot. If it doesn’t stick, it’s not worth the investment.” I’ll bet money that’s because they don’t “get it” in the first place. They never really “heard it”. It’s all just “white-man’s magic” to them, the incomprehensible whims of the unpredictable masses. In most cases today, it looks to me as if they just throw it all out there and see what happens. Then, if they smell success, they might spend some promotional money on that act and invest in a second song or CD.

How to be an ‘exception’.

Of course there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I consider those acts either left over from the previous era of the music business, as in the case of a U2, or artists so charismatically powerful, so willing to constantly push themselves into new territory that even the company can’t stop them (Witness John Mayer’s continuous self-empowered evolution). But I believe those artists and their managers have had to fight for every leap they’ve taken, and probably against the “better judgment” of their company’s most fearful leaders.

The difference (and danger) with Video Artists.

Clearly, looks and image have propelled Rock n Roll from the very beginning. Elvis had the look, the hips, the outrageous style that would propel him into the ethers of the Rock Pantheon. He would have made a great Video Star, as indeed he DID with his dynamic performance of Jailhouse Rock!

But many artists now owe their entire careers to Video, and have very little substance to back up their stratospheric rise. In all fairness, Music Video has kept the music business breathing during hard musical/financial times, but it has also hampered careers that might have had a chance in earlier times. So it goes.

But Video has also fueled the “fast food” intellect of the consumer by overexposing a new artist right from the beginning, thus usually quelling the mystique an artist might have developed over time. In many ways, it is the illusion that an artist’s music spins that fuels the longevity of the career. We crave more because we are allowed to simmer in the magic for a while.

Short-term hype causes true fans to be replaced with infatuation.

That, I believe, is why today’s audience rarely falls too deeply in love with an act. What I see today is more akin to the white-hot intensity of an infatuation, a “fantastic first date” if you will, and why today’s acts fall so quickly from grace, their promise never quite achieved.

The public simply got too much too quickly, and the act lost its seeming uniqueness right away. The Video too often strips us of the use of our imaginations. I am hardly the first person to say that. Folks have been saying that about TV since the death of radio.

And where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire…

How has the rapidly changing songwriting business affected your career? What changes could we help with? Please share in the comments. Even a short sentence helps our community in a big way.

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