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Skydiving Lessons For Songwriters
By Paula Carpenter - 02/21/2002 - 02:12 PM EST

Greetings everyone, and happy almost-Spring! Hope your Valentine's Month had LLL--just the way you like it! (LLL= Lots of Love and Laughter) As I write this, we're now entering the last week of February, and I've been thinking about what to say to you. I've shared with you some early-career experiences of mine--people, thoughts, seminars, or experiences that jump-started my career, changed my way of thinking, motivated by mind and heart... and hopefully you've related to, or been encouraged by some of that! (If you haven't read those first two articles...STOP! Right here and now, and go back and read them...it will tell you "who I am" and give you the groundwork for this piece.) For this article, I began to think of some of the seminars I've presented in the past, and one in particular, which I thought you would enjoy and benefit from. (A note: This won't be in all the DETAIL I can do in my workshops...but it's an overview!)

When you approach what feels like the precipice of "jumping off" into the wild blue yonder-- the unknowns of professional songwriting-- it's good to have a thought or two, from someone who's been there before, felt JUST LIKE you do, and came out of it, (actually, is still in it! .... but I mean came out of that initial "jump into the wild blue unknown") with scratches, yes, a few scars, yes, but is still the better for having done it. That would be ME, the parachuter in question.... I DID INDEED jump in, and the following points of importance, provided me with a PARACHUTE into the crowded fields of musicians, recording artists, songwriters, publishers, producers-who-like-to-write-all-the-songs-with-the-artist, A and R reps, and so on. Let me help you strap this chute on.... because considering these thoughts, and trying to implement them into your plan, may make for a landing which may not be soft, (are any of them?) but you won't crash and burn, either! I like to call them:


Actually, depending on the group I'm presenting this to, a few of the C's can change a bit--however, most of them remain consistent, across the board, regardless of genre of songs, or the group hearing this. Here we go!

You are circling, in the plane of SELF, with the fuel tanks chock full of TALENT, over the FIELDS OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS, and you're frankly SCARED TO DEATH! (maybe even air-sick --aagh!) Before you jump, make sure you have attached your:

1) Creativity
This one really does seem like a given, huh. Well... yes...but then again, there are LOTS of songs out there on albums, on the radio, etc., that aren't all that creative. Sure, in the sense that someone "created" them, but when I talk about songwriting, I'm always talking about greatness. What does a song need to make it great? It needs to be ....DUH! CREATIVE! Have an innovative way of saying what you're saying in the lyric, have an unusually hooky melody, have a REALLY infectious groove... the flip side is, DON'T be so "creative", that you are the ONLY one who "gets it"... it needs to be COMMERCIAL .... and creative! Some songwriters fall back on just copying what other songwriters do, and re-hash the thoughts, re-do the music, listen to what's already "out there", and just regurgitate it. Well, I have to say, yes, it's a must to know what's out there, and it's great to listen to other songs, dissect them, figure out what makes them viable....but...we need to come up with OUR OWN BRAND OF GREATNESS! Study the craft, know how to write, then apply it THROUGH THE GRID OF YOUR OWN CREATIVITY.

2) Courage
Sounds simple, does it? Or maybe even hokey. Ah, well. Courage is very underrated these days. Great people have courage, whether it's a soldier, a hero, a man or woman making a living for the family, a second-grader at a new school, an abandoned mate, a small-town college freshman on a big campus, a mother with an obstinate child, an elderly person facing a life change, a President leading a nation through war....or a professional songwriter who wants to change the world. (sometimes we do, you know) To do something great, you must have courage. To step out there, to do what you fear, to ask the question you'd rather not, to get on the plane and go to the seminar you're not sure you're ready for, to face the critiques of "your babies"-- your songs, and so on. Without meaning to resort to cliche, it is SO TRUE: "nothing ventured, nothing gained". Nike said it well: JUST DO IT. Do you have courage? I don't know...do you?

3) Committment
( I can never remember if that word has two or three t's. Anyone??) Well, of COURSE! You have to be committed, to being a songwriter. Not just today, or this week -- but from now on! If you make contact, start developing relationships, arouse interest...and then you drop the ball... that's not good. Big understatement. If you start into this, be committed! A different "branch" on the tree of committment, is time management/scheduling songwriting into your life! Say, you work elsewhere fulltime! You are VERY busy, and who isn't? You need to make sure you SCHEDULE TIME for your writing, on a regular basis. Maybe it's MON-WED-FRI 7 - 10 at night, or TUES - THURS 9 to 12 AM -- whatever! Whatever YOUR schedule is, make it work for you, and then YOU...work for it. Write it down, say you will, then do it. Be committed. Be disciplined. Schedule demo sessions. Demo songs. Make a plan. Give yourself a quota. Meet the quota. Find a songwriting seminar being offered, register, make the travel arrangements, and GO!! Find a regional songwriting group, and join it. Be committed.

4) Consistency
This one really is closely tied to COMMITTMENT -- the CONSISTENCY part applies to following UP with your contacts, not dropping the ball, as mentioned above. Too, it applies to CONSISTENTLY writing great material, but we ALL have times when we write a song that isn't so hot. The CONSISTENCY I am referring to, is all about being persistent about staying in touch with the contacts you have, always replying back to them, always returning phone calls, always following up, AND...with CONSISTENTLY coming up with the goods, when needed. If you establish a great contact, who then at some point says "can you do this for me?" and you say YES...then you need to FOLLOW THROUGH ....consistently. Don't leave DOUBT in their minds, as to whether or not you can come up with what they've asked for... be consistent. Again, and again, and again.

5) Character
Whoa, if you thought COURAGE was hokey, what about CHARACTER? Does it even matter? To me, it does. I like, for example, to know that my plumber is not a bank robber. I like to know that my physician is not an extortionist. I like to know that my dentist is not a plumber : ) . I like to know that my friend is not a child abuser. That my President is not a liar. But in reality, the only person who's character I have control of, is my own. So... I sleep better at night, knowing I'm honest. I treat people well. I tell the truth. I legitimately try to do what's best for all concerned in dealings in the music business. I'm fair on songwriting splits. I try to see the other person's point of view. I treat people the way I wish to be treated myself. There is a funny thing about character. Sometimes people say they don't care if it's there or not, but then find themselves drawn, inexplicably, to people who have it. Why? Because we ALL like to be treated well and fairly... and that's usually a result of CHARACTER! Bottom line....it's good to DO THE RIGHT THING....in every aspect of life...including songwriting and the music business.

6) Craft
So she FINALLY gets to something that is all about SONGS! I cannot overstate the importance of great songwriting CRAFT. You must know how to construct a song, not just plunge in any old way you feel like it. Did you know, I have critiqued songs, from aspiring-to-be-published songwriters, in which I could not tell you where the verse ended and the chorus started? Songs in which I couldn't tell you, or even make a decent GUESS...as to what the title might be? Songwriters who get published....are not "just lucky"...although sometimes we luck into meeting a great contact, a great collaborator, etc. But the SONG ITSELF...has to be well-crafted, or all the contacts in the world don't matter. You need to know the FORM, the VERSE-CHORUS-VERSE-CHORUS, or OTHER layout, you need to know how to construct and stick with a consistent RHYME SCHEME, all about memorable TITLE PLACEMENT, you need to know how to make the MUSIC HOOKY and INFECTIOUS... you need to know how to make the LYRIC and MUSIC "marry well"...fit together well! In short...without a vast knowledge of great song forms, strategies, and techniques -- your chances of getting songs cut are almost nil. Great song crafting is not just dumb luck....it can be studied, absorbed, then applied. Beyond that...you need to have "THE GIFT"...the knack, the God-given feel for it...and, in order to write the absolutely phenomenal lyrical masterpieces...you need to know literature, you need to read, you need to stay up on current events...you need to live life, experience pain, joy, and then be able to translate it, via GREAT SONG CRAFT... into a heart-gripping ( or humorous, as your song may go) SONG!

7) Collaboration
The art of co-writing. Are you a great, soaring melody writer, but your lyrics don't measure up? Are you a deep, thoughtful amazing lyricist, yet your music sounds like a bad high-school freshman follies original tune? Ah. Sometimes, two heads are better than one. The trap many songwriters fall into, and never crawl out of, is if ONE PART of this equation is not there for them, ie, if they're only good lyrically but the music sucks, they decide: " I'm not a songwriter. I don't have what it takes, cause I'm not good at the music". Bad choice. Many great duos in songwriting have proven that you can be ONLY words or ONLY music...and be a legendary songwriter. The key is your COLLABORATOR. Finding one. Working with one. Getting along with one. Naturally it's important to find someone you "click" with.... collaborating may be the answer you're looking for! Remember, half of SOMETHING, is better than all of NOTHING! If doing half the song is what's going to make the difference in getting your work "out there", then by all means, swallow that pride (GULP!) and find a COLLABORATOR! Time's a wastin'. : )

8) Courtesy
Ok, you've studied the craft, done your homework, you're writing some pretty awesome songs! You've made some great contacts, you've got an appointment to pitch some stuff, and you're there, in the office, about to meet with Mr. or Ms. BIG! And....you're pretty nervous. You could even be thinking, "You know,this office I'm waiting in is really nice. These people are probably really aloof. They think they know alot. This company is probably not interested in me or my stuff." (downhill from there:) " I don't think I like them. Who do they think they are? Jerks!" STOP RIGHT THERE. I learned, and you'll learn: people in the music business, are just people. They may be that un-touchable "I have to get a meeting with this guy/lady!" person, and you may be nervous, but think about it. People are people. They put their pants on, one leg at a time. They have spouses/significant others, kids, mortgages, and bills. THEY ARE....PEOPLE! So, YOU step up to the plate with COURTESY...and treat these people with kindess, respect, awareness that their time is important, appreciation that they have made an appointment to see you, friendliness, and amiability. Laughter is good. Sincerity is great. Caring is fabulous.... and genuine honesty is just... a must. PEOPLE want to work with PEOPLE THEY LIKE...not just PEOPLE WHO ARE TALENTED. See? There are some REALLY talented jerks out there..... whose songs don't get heard or used, cuz no one wants to WORK WITH THEM! Be advised....it works. Be somebody, that somebody WANTS to work with!

9) Calculations
This term I use to mean the PAPERWORK/BUSINESS side of things. Keep records. How much do your demos cost? What did you spend last year on
flights to L.A. or Nashville or New York or Austin? How much did you pay the demo engineer? How much did you spend in mailing, phone calls, website fees, gasoline for your band's bus, and so on? Keep records, be a business person, not only a creative songwriter! You'll be happy you did this, trust me.

10) Continuation
Keep showing up! Just don't EVER quit. Never, ever, ever, EVER...forget that your dream is to be a published songwriter! (Understand: It has to be a given that you know your CRAFT, you have the TALENT, the GIFT, and are not just IMAGINING that you know how to write decent songs! In saying NEVER GIVE UP, I am assuming your songs are awesome, and you're out there, studying, learning, networking, to get where you want to be!) So....that being the case...NEVER, EVER, EVER GIVE UP!

Hey, you know what? There are OTHER C WORDS I can think of...like COUCH...every writer needs a comfy one...or COMPUTER....my laptop helps me sooooo much....or CASH....need I say more? or......COMMUNICATION....staying on top of your contacts/gigs/collaborators, etc.... but THESE ARE THE BASICS, the ones already stated here, for me.

So.... SKYDIVERS! You've strapped on this stuff...no, it's not too heavy, in my opinion, it's all a must! Happy Landings! Hope it helps! Keep writing great songs, best of luck in the fields you find yourselves in once you make the big jump, and I'll see you around the Muse's Muse!

Til the next time....

Paula C

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