Co-writing in Nashville with Sam and Riva
Last month, two I Heart Songwriting Club members met up in Nashville, USA for a co-writing session. I Heart Songwriting Club set up an email introduction and then they were on their own. Both experienced artists and songwriters but with very different experiences in co-writing, Sam Buckingham (Byron Bay, AUS) and Riva Taylor (London, UK) met for the first time to write a song. We loved that we could help facilitate a co-writing session for them and we are so grateful they were willing to share their insight into the daunting but exciting process of co-writing and letting us hear the actual DEMO SONG!
What are your experiences with co-writing?
Sam: I’ve had a confusing relationship with co-writing. I love it when I’m doing it (99% of the time) but I’ve often walked away feeling dejected, empty and at a loss for what to do next - even when the song is GREAT. It’s different to writing with and for yourself, as there can be a lot of grey area, some added steps and challenges when writing with others. I actually quit co-writing a couple of years back when I was in New York City, even though I was working with some really wonderful writers there. There was one song in particular that I remember was solid gold. Heart-grabbing, hooky, authentic, melodically interesting…. But within a week I had forgotten how it went. I didn’t have a demo from that session and when I tried to contact my co-writer to organise making a quality demo, as we’d discussed in the session, crickets chirped. So I let it go and it’s now a forgotten song from a forgotten afternoon. After a fair while writing only for and with myself, I recently took myself out of co-writing retirement to take a trip to Nashville. On this trip, I wrote with Riva Taylor and many other songwriters from all over the world.
Riva: I’ve been lucky enough to co-write with two I Heart Songwriting Club members in the past few weeks and would fully encourage anyone to do the same if they get the chance. Both times have been fantastic experiences and the songs written were very different. Everyone has their own writing style and co-writing for me is all about taking the very best elements of those things, combining them with your own ideas and strengths and moulding them into something original. It’s also a learning exercise in that it throws up different ways to approach songwriting that could help your own method.
How do you approach co-writing?
Riva: Co-writing is really fun! It doesn't have to be daunting. Diplomacy is sometimes needed to get the best result, which goes for any environment working alongside others. But I'd say even more so here where creating music is a subjective art form and everyone will have their own opinions of what works based on taste and ear. The most important thing is honesty, trial and error, and creating something you both want.
Sam: I’ve been taking it slow and being mindful about the co-writing process to make sure I’m best using my skills, time and energy. And ultimately, I’ve discovered, co-writing is just like dating. You want to be discerning in your choices, communicating clearly, maintaining your integrity and covering all the legalities like a real adult. Before I step into the co-writing space: Know your own goals first - Why do you want to co-write? Is it to expand your creativity, write songs for a new project, generate new income streams, reach specific career goals? Choose your partners carefully - Don’t waste yours’ and other peoples’ time working together when your goals or values don’t align. There’s a fine line between being open and wasting away hours of your life writing with people that just aren’t suited to you. Do your due diligence before you commit. Google them and see what they’ve written in the past, take recommendations from friends and be clear about why you want to write with them.
So you’ve just met… what next?
Riva and Sam: First thing, sit down; have a bit of chitchat. It’s important to understand your co-writing partner a little, even if you've just met, and establish a rapport. Talk about music, relationship status, phase of life, how you’re feeling - happy, sad, in-love, broken hearted, lonely - whatever feels natural. The more personal the material, whether it’s in the form of confetti or plaster falling from a ceiling, the better! We have found that the best songs come out of a common thread that’s found with each writer. We didn’t know each other but after we opened up it turned out we were experiencing similar feelings in life and our song was borne out of something that related to us both!
Talk us through the process after the ‘getting to know you’?
Sam and Riva:
- Start by agreeing on a royalty split. As a general rule a co-write will be split evenly between the writers (50/50), unless otherwise discussed and agreed on.
- Identify who you're writing the song for e.g. them, you, someone else, for the world?
- Set boundaries, e.g. can it be explicit?
- Leave your ego at the door
- Dive in, jam together, you don’t need to start with the verse, or the chorus... see what words flow and what melodies work, let it evolve together. I Heart Songwriting Club has taught us how to uncover our creative ideas and just follow it.
- Listen and Share: It’s possible that your co-writer has a brilliant idea that you would have never considered on your own. Offer your ideas up as options and let your co-writer do the same. When something clicks, you’ll both feel it.
- Drink lots of coffee and eat lots of biscuits
- Put in some effort.
- Pause for reflection.
- Get the bare bones down and make a rough recording (your phone is a great tool for this)
- Don’t be afraid to put the pen down and revisit another day.
- Before you finish, keep control of your assets. Each writer should make a voice memo of the song once it’s written, and each take a copy of the lyrics.
So you’ve bonded, written a song and said goodbye…. what happens next?
Sam and Riva: If you think the song has potential, put in the effort to see where it can go. You might feel you need to digest it all and make alterations (be it over email, Skype, or get together again). We did just this and recorded the song properly in demo form the second time.
Organise a space to keep your songs - Make a space online where you keep all your finished songs and then make a backup.
Register the song ASAP with your preferred songwriters association (there’s only APRA in Australia but a few options in most other countries) and let your co-writer know you’ve done it. If you legitimately feel like you wrote 90% of the song while the other person sat and looked at baby goat videos on YouTube, be upfront about what you think is fair before you go ahead and register the song. Don’t be a dick though - if you think wrote three out of the four lines in the chorus and 15 out of the 28 lines in the verses this does NOT entitle you to a bigger songwriting split. Like in any relationship, it takes two, and if you were both co-writing well then you both deserve the same credit.
So we want to try co-writing… what else should I know?
Sam: More than anything else, be willing to learn. Aside from ending up with a swag of great songs, I have learnt incredible things from each co-writing partner I’ve had. Like any good relationship, a creative partnership is about expansion, collaboration and bringing people together, each have something valuable and unique to offer, and to create something magical. We will never run out of things to learn in life, and we will never be ‘the best songwriters we’ll ever be’. Be willing to learn and watch the gems come rolling in.
Riva: I’d encourage anyone to co-write! In effect it’s what I Heart Songwriting Club is all about, a collaborative space for songwriters to test their ideas in the early stages of writing a song. This is just jumping in a stage before and having someone inspire and add to your initial creative thought processes. Enjoy!
LISTEN TO THEIR DEMO
Riva will be recording this song soon. But they both have given us permission to share their demo. This is their song, entitled I Surrender.
ABOUT OUR SONGWRITERS
Sam Buckingham is one of Australia’s most inspiring troubadours taking her creative songwriting to all corners of the world, from writing for 18 months throughout Latin America, all around Australia (and is currently on tour with Australian country darling Kasey Chambers), to co-writing in New York and Nashville with songwriters. An advocate for animal conservation, yoga, and creativity, Sam Buckingham has been an active member of I Heart Songwriting Club since it’s inception in 2014, submitting songs from everywhere including hotel rooms and traipsing through jungles to get to an Internet café.
As 12-year-old Becky Taylor she became the youngest artist ever signed to EMI, and sold records around the world, playing arenas and promoting alongside Carreras and Usher. Now reborn as Riva Taylor, she has recorded a lush contemporary album which showcases her voice on a collection of modern soon-to-be-classics, pulling together a team of co-writers, producers and collaborators including: Jamie Hartman (Rag N Bone Man), Graham Archer (Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey), Brad Spence (James Arthur) and Julian Hinton (Rumer, Seal). Now on her second term with I Heart Songwriting Club, we are thrilled to be able to connect Riva with our incredible songwriting members around the world.
Working With Mama Kin Spender
I Heart Songwriting Club has been such an amazing community to be apart of. It has opened my perspective on how to write music, helped me create lots of new songs, shown me how to connect with a large songwriting community from all over the world and given me some of the most exciting musical experiences yet...including singing with Mama Kin Spender.
Mid-2016, I started a band in Brisbane, Jabberwocky Down. I’d written songs before but only for fun and to let out some emotions. Francesca was my singing teacher at the Qld Conservatorium of Music at the time and I knew that she had started this awesome club so I thought I’d give it a go. Sure enough, I became obsessed with songwriting. The themes that are given each week are fun and I could really connect with them through my writing.
In my first term, I was fortunate enough to share 10-weeks of writing with WA songwriter Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin) and Tommy Spender (Vic). Giving and receiving feedback with these incredibly talented musicians really encouraged and inspired me to keep writing. More on Mama Kin and Spender later…
I took a break from the club and started working on my songs in more depth with my band mates. We pretty much used all the songs I had written in the club and started playing them at the all the venues we were booked to play at. One of the songs we recorded and has became our first single “Attached”.
Back to Mama Kin and Spender. Well, they joined forces after two terms using their collection of songs written in the club to record a new album under the band name of “Mama Kin Spender”. This album is due for release in Feb 2018. I know all this because I finally got to meet them.
Francesca was asked by Mama Kin Spender to put together a choir for their BIGSOUND festival showcase. I was so fortunate to be invited to join the very first I Heart Songwriting Club choir, made up of members and friends from Brisbane. I was over the moon to meet Danielle and Tommy and have the opportunity to sing on the songs that we had shared together in our group and connect with even more members through the choir.
Moving forward, I re-subscribed to the club to write more songs. This time I was with a different group of songwriters. What a great place to go to make connections with new songwriters. I Heart Songwriting Club has opened up so many doors for me this past 12 months. I’ve grown so much as a musician and my band is in the process of recording our first EP and music video, of course with songs from the club. I can’t wait to share them with you all.
P.S. I'll be playing some of these songs at the upcoming I Heart Songwriting Club Halloween House Concert in Brisbane.
When I first started playing music I almost immediately started writing songs. I would write songs drawing inspiration from events in my life or a deep emotion like being in love or someone close to me dying. Waiting for things to move me meant I didn’t write many songs over many years of trying to write songs. On the surface, there was an endless list of things to write about, but the songs did not flow that way. I did not feel strongly enough about everything around me to write songs consistently.
I was involved for a few years with the Australian Songwriters Association. Every week there was an open mic night for new songs to be heard and so I tried to write a song for every week. That process and their workshops, albeit sporadic, taught me about songwriting diversity but not about consistency. Life got busier as I got older, then the drain of life sucked out the inspiration for songwriting...or so I thought. Now at some of the busiest times of my life I have been writing songs, lots of songs.
I heard about I Heart Songwriting Club through Facebook while searching for songwriting clubs and joined. The tenets of the club teach that restrictions and peer feedback are useful for nurturing creativity. In my experience over the past 9 months of consistently participating in I Heart Songwriting Club, the restricted time limit of 1-hour each week to write a song has become a really reasonable timeframe to write and the feedback from other members of the group helps and motivates you to keep writing.
For me the songwriting process works better with restrictions, as my brain just go to work without much fuss. So what often comes to me is a flow of conscience and I just write until something falls into place. With the focus, theme and a limited time, like I get each week with my I Heart Songwriting Club tasks, the flow of conscience works even faster over time. Sometimes there is something I am already thinking about that can fit in with the theme of the week, other times a style of music seems to fit the theme better, other times it is only words and I work on the music second. Having only 1-hour makes me end the song and not keep changing it.
So back to consistency and creativity, most of us wait for inspiration and don’t create a time or a schedule for it. But we can - we can do creativity in a scheduled way, to bring about skill development, practice and output. If we rely on inspiration, it may be years between songs. I Heart Songwriting Club has helped make songwriting easy, has created consistency, a rhythm, a pace for my songwriting and as a result I have written the majority of my songs since being part of the club.
A Scrapbook of Songs
I joined I Heart Songwriting Club in September 2016, I’d found myself in a bit of a creative energy slump and was determined not to keep going in parallel to my musical goals. I wanted to make songwriting and creativity the centre of my life again and to spend more time in spaces with like-minded people where I felt challenged and supported.
Songwriters have a certain dialog with themselves and the world around them, the ability to have perspective on situations and to feel emotions very strongly. Sometimes songs can act like a commentary on your own life, the people around you, the things happening in the wider community or globally.
When you write it’s a distilled version of all the things you’ve experienced up to that moment viewed through the headspace you’re in at the time. I find more clarity when I write regularly and it helps me to better understand myself.
It’s so interesting listening to all the songs created from the weekly IHSC members, the different ways themes are interpreted and, I find more interesting, the similarities. Sometimes there are such similar interpretations and shared understandings of the themes that if feels like we are part of a collective consciousness. I guess we only have so many emotions we experience as humans which helps us to connect and empathize with one another.
While working towards finishing the recording of my EP I was writing regularly and ended up including songs I’d written between recording sessions.They felt fresh and relevant socially and personally.
Three of the four songs on my EP Scrapbook came from one hour songs. The title track The Scrapbook Song from the theme “Scrapbook”, Lost from the theme “Fractals” -that one came out as a love some about connecting on multiple levels with someone, and Back to Zero was from “Social Media”, a reflection on how disconnected with ourselves, each other and the present moment social media encourages us to be. I reshaped them a little but essentially I wrote over 90% of each song within the hour designated for IHSC.
It’s crazy to think I wouldn’t have these songs I love so much now if I hadn’t had that theme, in that week and been in that headspace. It’s exciting not knowing what I will come up with each time and that’s what I love most!
You know that meme image thing that’s gone around Facebook about a million times that has, written in bold, “Badly explain your profession”? And everyone comments with, basically, how what they do may be perceived by an alien from outer space? This is mine: “I move my hands around a piece of wood with metal tied to it and tell people about my feelings”.
In March 2014 I packed up my life in Australia and hopped on a plane to Central America. No, that’s not the middle of the USA, Central America is a region all in itself - a culturally rich, heavenly jungly, rice and beans eating, stunningly beautiful part on the world.
I had no agenda for my time away - which ended up stretching to living in 7 countries (i think) over 19 months - all I knew was that I wanted to open my eyes and open my heart. My rule was if there was somewhere I could practice yoga, somewhere I could write songs and if water was close by then I’d go.
It was a month or so into the trip that I joined up and wrote my first song with I heart Songwriting Club which, at that point, was just a handful of friends emailing each other songs from wherever we were in the world. I was in Nicaragua, taking Spanish classes, walking the streets of a tiny town called San Juan Del Sur and although I was quite literally having the time of my life I felt heartbreakingly isolated from my musical community back home. Not only that but I was still wondering what the f*^k I had been thinking hopping on a plane to the other side of the world when I’d released a new album less than 12 months ago and should have been touring that and making music videos and trying to progress in my career or something.
The answer, over time, became blindingly clear…. To write another album of course.
Because, as a songwriter, my work will never be done. I’ll never have seen everything there is to see, I’l never know everything there is to know, I’ll never have expressed everything there is to express.
Ok, yes, this really is just being human. But as songwriters we get to live in that perpetual looking, that perpetual asking and that perpetual expressing - and somehow turn it into music. We dance in that space of confusion and knowing, of seeing and searching, of keeping it all in and letting it all out.
When I first started writing and playing gigs I suffocated in my self absorbedness. I wrote songs about my life, my experience, my feelings. I stood on stage and moved my hands around a piece of wood with metal tied to it and told people about my feelings. I have always loved telling stories but I started getting pretty sick of just telling mine.
So, of course, mine are the eyes I see through, mine is the heart that feels and it’s my words that come tumbling out onto the page. But, over time, I have learned to open my eyes wider, open my heart deeper and choose my words to not only tell my story but, just maybe, somebody else's as well. Writing with I Heart Songwriting Club supports me in this. It helps me stay out of my own head and out of my own arse and let go of the need to be perfect. Hearing other writers songs fresh out of the gates is inspiring and reminds me that we are all the same. No, that’s not just a cliche line I decided to throw in there to make you all feel warm and fuzzy. We really are all the same. The more I observe myself and write about what I see and feel, the more I see myself in others and them in me.
The very first song I wrote for the club, in that tiny hotel room in San Juan Del Sur, was a song called Hope. Three years later it sits somewhere in the middle of my new album, The Water, which tells the story of the places I went, the people I met, the things I learned and the things I still don’t know.
It’s a privilege to tell these stories, to stand in a studio and create the perfect bass line or banjo part, and to sing until the song feels as gorgeous in your ears as it does in your heart. It’s a privilege to stand on a stage, moving your hands over a pice of wood with with metal tied to it and tell people about your feelings. Because whatever I’m feeling, struggling with, learning, hoping - I can guarantee everyone else is too.
We Can't Be Blooming All Month
This year I premiered a theatre piece at Perth Fringe World called My Greatest Period Ever. It is a synopsis of how I used the principles of the book The Optimised Woman to make music and just live life in general. It was half stories and some theory/facts and half songs that all reflected one of the 4 phases associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstruating people have 4 phases in a month. As a cyclical creature, you can do whatever you want whenever you want but you have 4 opportunities to make the most of. I do, and I make music much better! As well as life decisions, commitments, relationships etc.
The show sold out and was nominated for several awards but took out the Martin Sims Award, quoted by Fringe World to be "the top prize of the Festival, recognising the best new Western Australian work in the Festival that is destined to succeed on the world's stage." Wahhoo! Still dining out on that. We will either go to the UK or South Africa next year.
One of the songs from the show is ‘Kali’s Lament’ a song I wrote as part of I Heart Songwriting Club. This song has become a proclamation in honour of destruction and the good it can bring. The song is my experience of the pre-menstrual week and how this actually the best time to be creative. Lots of people experience this time with difficulty and feel like they've become a psycho cow. I feel sure that if people were nice to themselves, and stopped trying to be all things to all people and gave themselves time to be creative (in the garden or anywhere), then they wouldn't feel as grumpy! (I've scheduled a writing week during my creative/pms week in Bright, Victoria and have written 3.5 songs yay!)
We can't be blooming all month and when you consider what we're doing on the inside (preparing to tear down the proverbial walls) - I think it marks an opportunity to find some congruence and to express that creatively feels good.
“My Greatest Period Ever is straight up empowering” - Amnplify
One Song At A Time
How I Heart Songwriting Club Was Instrumental In Helping Us Launch Our First Show
A last minute decision, a leap of faith and four months of preparation led us to May 7, 2017 — Opening Night of Music & Lyrics with Naomi & Hannah. The journey leading up to our first performance as part of Brisbane’s Anywhere Theatre Festival 2017 was anything but smooth. We both had to jump hurdles, battle our fears, and learn to work together rather than against each other.
Although we only met in October 2016, we quickly found common ground in our love for music and songwriting. Together we started sharing work, exploring opportunities, and visiting events in Brisbane. Our first collaboration was a song called Run Away (Lyrics by Naomi, Music by Hannah), which made the title for our show Music & Lyrics rather fitting.
We had heard of I Heart Songwriting Club and the timing to join was perfect after we registered for the Anywhere Theatre Festival. We were both excited to have the challenge of writing a song a week — plus to be part of a growing community that allowed for regular feedback. What we didn’t expect was that more than half of our final set list was going to be direct results of the club!
We both have been writing music for as long as we can remember. However, we found that the club challenged our skills and allowed us to explore new ideas in a community that nurtures and supports our creativity. It gave us the opportunity to experiment with our individual sound and style, which in turn raised our confidence one song at a time. During this creative process we decided to add a new element to our music - the guitar. Primarily being pianists, we upped our game of exploring the next level of songwriting by not only writing a new song every week, but including a new instrument.
This has presented us with incredible improvement in our songwriting, and being able to share this growth with an audience has been extremely rewarding. The culmination of writing weekly as part of the I Heart Songwriting Club, and our relentless pursuit of putting on an original show that could authentically display our artistry, both as individuals and as a duo, resulted in producing two sold out shows at the festival. Being given a new theme every week with the time constraint of 60 minutes allowed us to think outside the box and experience the endless nature of our creativity.
What an amazing journey!
Click on Our Songs to watch video footage of Naomi and Hannah's performance at Anywhere Theatre Festival 2017.
100 Songs and Counting...
For the last two years, since the end of March, 2015, I have been part of I Heart Songwriting Club, writing a song a week, surrounded by fantastic musicians and songwriters with so much talent, passion and heart. This diverse group of people have held me safely and securely while I've explored the deep dark crevices of my own soul, pushing my own boundaries and challenging my own limits. I've done my best to encourage them to keep writing every week, because I want us all to be growing together, and because selfishly I want to keep feeling inspired by them.
As we approach the end of March, 2017, I am now celebrating the writing of 100 songs. I've learnt a lot about songwriting, about community, about others in the club, but mostly about myself over the past two years. I'm so grateful for I Heart Songwriting Cluband am looking forward to it continuing to push me and others to create and commune in ways we never thought possible.
As part of my 100 club songs milestone, I'd like to share some lessons (50 of them!) I've learnt through the process of writing and giving feedback for 100 weeks.
What I Learnt:1. The hardest thing is starting.
2. If I have been given a theme, the song is already started for me. All I have to do is sit down at my piano.
3. I don't even need to sit at my piano. I can now open my ukulele case and write.
4. I don't even need an instrument at all. I can simply open a blank document on my iPad, write words and sing them.
5. If I've started, and finished, 100 songs, then I know I've got another one in me.
6. I don't need to be inspired to write a song.
7. I don't need to be inspired to write a good song.
8. I don't need to be inspired to write an amazing song that will be an ear worm for all those who hear it.
9. I just need to write a song in an hour every week.
10. I can do the thing.
11. Being held accountable will encourage me to keep doing the thing.
12. The community will hold me accountable.
13. The community will also hold me if I fall apart.
14. The community is full of beautiful hearts who actually care about each other.
15. I never thought I'd find so many people in the one (virtual) place who get me.
16. Trust is easy to build when everyone is cracking open either their heart or their skull and sharing the contents every week.
17. The more I write, the easier it gets.
18. It doesn't have to be perfect, or even good, it just has to get done.
19. It's okay to experiment.
20. It's okay to write in styles that I wouldn't usually write or perform.
21. It's okay to write songs that I would never conceivably record or play live.
22. The most bizarre and discomfort-inducing themes can result in the most amazing songs if you allow them to emerge without judgement.
23. But if it sucks, there's always next week.
24. And if it's brilliant, there's always next week. My ego never has a chance to get too big.
25. With that said, the more I write, the better the songs get in general. Even the ones that I think suck now are better than some songs I used to play in my live set before I joined the club.
26. Perspective is a funny thing. Now that I know I can do better, my standards have gotten higher.
27. Luckily, I have also grown kinder to myself when I don't live up to my own high standards. That's what happens when there's no longer any attachment to the outcome.
28. Songwriting may not be a panacea, but it's definitely good for my health.
29. No matter how messed up I am, no matter how exhausted or how depressed, writing a song always makes me feel better, even just for the hour that I spend writing it.
30. Writing about joy increases joy.
31. Writing about pain relieves pain.
32. Writing songs feeds my soul.
33. Writing every week keeps feeding my soul.
34. Don't write when hangry. It's a very bad idea. Eat first. Then write. Writing feeds soul, not belly.
35. A good recording app that automatically uploads to the cloud is essential lest you want to lose any of your song snippets in the event of a technology disaster.
36. The judgemental beast comes out to play when other people can hear the creative process. Set aside time to write when there is nobody else home.
37. Faffing with a riff is never wasted time.
38. When I'm low, maybe I should try and write twice a week instead of curling up on the floor.
39. Songwriting time is productive time.
40. Listening back to past songs I've written for the club makes me realise how much I've achieved.
41. Having concrete evidence for achievement makes it harder for my brain to tell me I'm useless. I clearly am a capable songwriter and I have 100 songs written to prove it.
42. My priorities have changed: it's more important to find time to write a song than it is to watch a TV show or go on social media.
43. Getting feedback on a different song each week is more useful than getting lots of feedback over time on just one song. I can look for trends in my writing, see what is connecting and what isn't, then aim to keep what works in my toolbox.
44. Listening to 6-10 other songwriters' songs every week is just as valuable for learning and developing songwriting tools as writing myself.
45. Even if I don't connect with someone else's song, I can probably learn something from it, even if that something is identifying what I want to avoid doing myself.
46. It's more fun doing this with other people than in isolation.
47. I want to collaborate more!
48. Having someone else in the club write a song that feels like it's telling my truth is just as cathartic as writing my own truth.
49. In the club, I have found my tribe: the place where I fit, unconditionally; the place where I am appreciated and respected unconditionally; the place where I am loved unconditionally.
50. I Heart Songwriting Club is my home.
How Writing a 1-hour Song Every Week for a Year Changed Me
Apparently there are two types of people. People who believe that intelligence is a fixed thing, and people who think it’s changeable. I believed that my intelligence was finite. I think I learnt that because other people always said to me when I was a kid how ‘talented’ and ‘clever’ I was, especially with reference to being a musician. Practising for hours daily on piano and violin was seemingly overlooked as the reason I was actually a really good musician.
I also believed what others thought of me as fact about me. For example, I was often told I was impatient and moody. Well, I believed it, so I gave myself an excuse to be these things. I have learnt over the past few years that this is just an opinion of the way others see me, and more often about them. It’s not who I believe I am. Who I truly am is an incredibly tolerant person with a great deal of tenacity (possibly an acquired skill through tens of thousands of hours of practice), impassioned and focused.
But back to my childhood, I believed what others told me and I was told I was talented, so I was talented! I would be fine in life, things would come easily, I wouldn’t have to struggle, etc. So after school and uni and leaving home and the guided support that goes along with that, I believed I’d be fine and all my dreams would come true…because I was talented!
I didn’t consciously continue skill building. Yes, I still worked hard and successfully as a gigging musician, but I fundamentally didn’t believe my skill could be improved…because I was talented!
Over the years, I started teaching singing and it was through teaching others I began to witness that others needed to practise in order to be good – they had to do their 10,000 hours of practice to make their new skills automated and second-nature. They weren’t talented – they were skill-building. I struggled to make the connection to myself that my 10,000 hours had been completed as a kid and not consciously or recently. Why? Because I believed I was talented!
You can guess what happens next. You can only get so far on talent alone. Because once the other kids/adults have caught up to your level of skill, you really don’t have much to depend upon. So whilst I’d honed my skills under the age of 18 and have continued using these skills, others have continued skill-building throughout their adult lives.
12 months ago, I came to a crossroads – career, life, health. I was calling myself a songwriter and yet I hadn’t written a song in 6 months. I had a chronic 4-year shoulder injury from playing piano, which was seriously affecting my ability to function as a musician and teacher, that I was just keeping at bay by remedies such as massage and physio and pain killers. I wasn’t being active in learning new skills in order to further myself, improve myself and live the life I want to live. It was here and in my thirties, I realise I have to consciously cultivate the life I want and the person I want to be and the things I want to be good at.
Last September, I attended an enlightening workshop by Jo Lawry at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, where I teach. Jo, who is backing vocalist singer to Sting, shared her journey as a songwriter as part of her presentation. She spoke about a New York City songwriting club she had joined and how they had set goals to be as childlike as possible in the writing process and that they put restrictions on the writing process in order to help. Whilst the workshop was aimed at the students, I feel I took away the biggest prize.
Two days later a student expressed frustration and self-loathing about not feeling inspired enough to write songs. I knew exactly how she felt. I had a solution for her – I always have a solution for others – but I was sick of not practising what I preached. In my desperation, I, too, wanted help. That day I formed my songwriting club.
I asked this student to join my songwriting club, and we could each invite another member to the group that week. The task was to set aside 1-hour in the week individually to write our “child-like” songs and then send to each other via email. We would then all listen to each other’s songs and share some constructive feedback. The 1-hour is intended as a support framework for the creative ideas to be developed.
The process was set and all I had to do was adhere to the process – 1-hour a week, write to a set theme, go with the creative flow and minimise the editing, and share the song with the club. Initially I didn’t try to write a good song. Just to follow the process. This worked well for me. Occasionally, I felt the old habits creep in - the need to write a good song, or even worse, the pressure to write a ‘hit’ song, even when what that is, is completely out of my hands.
I was truly surprised when the club reached 10 weeks old. By then, we were a club of healthy numbers and we were all writing songs weekly. We had members from all around Australia and the world. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. It was two steps forward, one step back with the writing. Over time the judgment and self-loathing lessened, and the wanting, love and desire to write songs grew. Basically, I had learnt the skill of not judging but, instead, being open. This changed me as a person. It allowed me the freedom to get rid of rules in my life. Rules I had forgotten or even didn’t know I lived by, played by, and created by.
I starting attending a weekly 1-on-1 exercise physio session in order to foundationally fix my shoulder injury. The progress was very slow. But it was progress. I stuck at it. It was 1-hour a week – just like the songwriting club. 1-hour a week is doable.
My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to learn guitar, something I had intended on doing 8 years ago, when I first bought a guitar. In May this year, I decided to actually do something about it. In my 1-hour of sacred, non-judgmental space, I taught myself guitar as I wrote a song. I could practically do anything and I would be ok with it. There were no rules, mainly because I didn’t know any, and because of that I played sounds, not theoretically correct chords. So I wrote my first song on a guitar. I listen back to this song as write this these reflective words and the chorus lyrics finally make sense to me:
“You can last the distance take it slow, don’t forget nothing stays the same forever, you’ll be fine”
In 3 months, since May, I have written 9 songs on guitar and even performed one of these songs on at a gig. Yes, this perfectionist played guitar at a gig, imperfectly. And I loved every minute of it.
50 weeks later, the club has becoming a nurturing, safe place to share new ideas musically and personally. Within the club, we have all had different experiences. Some people left, some returned, some didn’t write for weeks or months. But we have all had one thing in common. We have all been confronted with personal challenges in having only 1-hour to be work with whatever creative ideas we have rather than judge or edit.
Writing a song in an hour each week. Fixing my body so it works again. Learning guitar. Performing guitar live. Not judging myself and how this feels. This has all blown my mind. I have spent my adult life berating myself for not being enough. For not living up to my talent. I had put it down to not being good enough. And reconciling the belief that I was talented and that I’d be fine in life versus the fact that I was not good enough in my mind was really tough.
But I actually just hadn’t acknowledged the 10,000 of hours I had applied to learning music and piano and theory and hadn’t allowed myself to continue learning as an adult.
I had failed to praise and acknowledge the process.
I thank all my friends, family, students, random people in the streets, for inspiring songwriting club themes each week. Some challenging themes have included 'Drilling Holes' and 'Hotdogs', some challenging musical guidelines have been to write minimally, using only 2 chords, and others to write with modulations.
I thank these songs. They have been on tour, are being recorded and will feature on my forthcoming album later in 2015. I thank the generous and open-hearted members of I Heart Songwriting Club.
What I Learnt:
- That if I stick with something, I will actually get better at it.
- Skill is a changeable thing – ‘don’t forget that nothing stays the same forever’
- I can actually play the guitar and after about a week the finger pads being sore was a positive reminder I was on the path to doing something I wanted to do
- Songwriting is on a spectrum. I don’t have to write a good song. I just want to write a song. Same with guitar playing. Good guitar playing, and learning guitar playing is on the spectrum of guitar playing.
- I do things I love and want
- Creating and editing aren’t the same thing and shouldn’t be confused with each other
- I remind people that use the word ‘talented’ that really it’s just a lot of hard work and dedication.
- To not judge – mainly myself.
Connecting with other musicians in a safe and supportive environment
Helping others to connect with their creativity
Changing my life in a way I hadn’t imagined. Sounds too good to be true for just 1 hour’s worth of work a week. It’s true alright!
If you'd like to join I Heart Songwriting Club, please click the link below.