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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
Join Now
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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
Join Now
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Lessons from the Heart: Being a Hit Songwriter in Nashville with Sally Barris

Based on the Podcast Episode: “Lessons from the Heart: Being a Hit Songwriter in Nashville with Sally Barris” – Episode 48, The Magic of Songwriting with Francesca de Valence

Living in Nashville as a songwriter is like being in the heart of the music industry. Just ask Sally Barris, a Nashville-based performing songwriter whose tracks have been covered by Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood, and Keith Urban, earning one of her songs a Grammy nomination in 2009.

Sally’s journey and experiences offer a glimpse into the unique world of Nashville’s music scene, and her co-writing tips are gold for any aspiring songwriter.

What Nashville is really like

Nashville isn’t just a city; it’s a musical ecosystem where creativity flows as freely as the Cumberland River. While walking down the streets of Music Row, you might brush shoulders with hit songwriters and rising stars. Sally wasn’t born in Nashville; she hails from a small town in Minnesota. However, her passion for music led her to the city’s welcoming arms.

One of Sally’s early visits to Nashville was an eye-opener. She walked into Douglas Corner, a now-closed but once-thriving listening room. There, she experienced songwriters performing in the round—a setup where songwriters sit in a circle, sharing songs and stories. The connection between the performers and the audience was palpable, and it was then that Sally knew she had found her calling.

Nashville is surprisingly friendly and collaborative, and Sally recalls being astonished by the camaraderie and support she received from other songwriters and industry professionals. It’s a community that thrives on mutual respect and a shared love for music.

Establishing yourself as a songwriter in Nashville

Sally’s journey to becoming a signed songwriter began with relentless participation in open mics. She’d go to different songwriter nights every night, showcasing her talent and networking with other musicians. During this process, she met a singer named Theresa Langworthy, who introduced her to Pete Fisher, a publisher at Warner Songs. This connection led to Sally dropping off cassettes at various publishers’ offices on Music Row, receiving many rejections but finally getting a ‘yes’ from Wren Song Publishing.

Being signed to Wren Song was a dream come true. For 15 years, Sally wrote songs in the cosy, house-turned-publishing company on Music Row. Each day, she’d have co-writing sessions, often with people she had never met before, like boot camp for songwriters, teaching her the importance of understanding her strengths and weaknesses and finding the right co-writing partners.

Co-writing is an integral part of the Nashville songwriting scene

Here are some tips from Sally’s extensive co-writing experience:

  • Keep an open mind when you walk into a co-writing session, especially with someone new. Each co-writer brings something unique to the table.
  • Understand what you bring to the session. Are you better at lyrics, melodies, or conceptual ideas? Play to your strengths and let your co-writer complement them.
  • Networking is crucial. Attend as many songwriter nights and industry events as you can. The more people you know, the more opportunities you’ll have to collaborate.
  • Rejections are part of the process. Keep showing up, keep writing, and keep dropping off those demos. All it takes is one ‘yes’ to change your career.
  • Make writing a habit. Whether you’re signed or not, consistent practice is essential. Writing a song a week, as Sally did in the Club during the pandemic, can significantly improve your skills.

The importance of embracing every opportunity

Sally initially hesitated when Francesca de Valence from I Heart Songwriting Club invited her to join the Club. However, Francesca’s persistence paid off, and Sally joined the club. This decision was serendipitous, especially as the pandemic hit and touring ceased. Writing a song a week with the club members kept her creativity alive and connected her with a supportive community.

Have you ever tried writing a song on your own and felt stuck? You’re not alone. The Club, for Sally, was like having a buddy who helps you find the right words when you’re lost in your thoughts. Take Sally’s collaborations with Irish songwriter Burton Collins, for example. Sally had a rough idea, a melody, but her lyrics were all over the place. Burton listened, understood, and distilled her more scattered thoughts into simple, heartfelt lyrics. The result? A song that connected deeply with listeners.

Burton’s advice was golden. He simplified Sally’s complex ideas into lines like, “Rain is wet, and the ocean is blue.” It was almost childlike in its simplicity, but it worked. Sally’s song “Some Things I Know” eventually got picked up by Lee Ann Womack, and that’s when Sally realised the magic of making a song accessible to everyone. Simplicity and clarity in songwriting can transform a personal idea into something universally relatable.

How do you make your song connect with everyone?

That’s a million-dollar question, right? Sally’s experience taught her a lot about this. One of her biggest takeaways from co-writing was the importance of distilling ideas into something everyone can understand. It’s about stripping away the unnecessary and getting to the heart of the matter.

For instance, if you’re writing a song and get lost, ask yourself three key questions: Where am I? Who am I talking to? What do I want? These questions can help you stay focused and ensure your message is clear. Sally also learned to keep things simple and honest. The simpler the message, the more likely it is to hit home with listeners. Think of classic songs like “Save the Last Dance for Me”—it’s a simple request wrapped in a beautiful melody that resonates with so many people.

Finding your authentic voice

One of the most surprising things Sally discovered on her songwriting journey was that being true to yourself is the key to success. Initially, she tried to write songs that fit the Nashville mould—country songs with trucks and heartbreak. But one night, after a heart-to-heart with her psychologist brother-in-law, she wrote “Standing Still.” It was raw, honest, and completely different from anything she’d written.

When she played it for her publisher, the reaction was incredible. Her publisher was moved to tears and told Sally to forget about writing formulaic country songs. Instead, she encouraged Sally to keep writing from her heart. This feedback was a turning point. It helped Sally understand that bringing her authentic self into her songs made them more powerful and relatable.

The value of real-life feedback

Touring and performing her songs live taught Sally invaluable lessons. She quickly learned what worked and what didn’t by gauging the audience’s reaction. Songs that worked in Nashville didn’t always resonate with audiences elsewhere. But when she played songs that were honest and true to her experiences, like her hit song “Let the Wind Chase You,” people connected instantly.

Sally advises aspiring songwriters to test songs with real people. Getting feedback is crucial, whether it’s playing for friends, family, or a live audience. It’s one thing to write a song you love, but it’s another to write a song that moves others. And remember, no songwriter is an island—sharing your work and getting feedback is part of the creative process.

The power of simplicity in songwriting

Throughout her career, Sally learned that the best songs often balance personal authenticity and universal appeal. Songs like “Let the Wind Chase You” and “Some Things I Know” exemplify this balance. They are simple, honest, and relatable, and that’s why they resonate with so many people.

If you’re a songwriter, take a leaf from Sally’s book. Focus on distilling your ideas into clear, simple messages. Be honest and vulnerable in your writing. And don’t be afraid to test your songs with real people to see what works. Remember, the songwriting journey is not just about creating hits—it’s about finding your authentic voice and sharing it with the world.

Some simple next steps

Sign up for our Co-writing Course to improve your writing skills with others, and most importantly, hop on your streaming site of choice and find Sally Barris to be ready for her forthcoming album of songs written from her time in the Club.

By |2024-06-27T08:56:45+10:00June 27th, 2024|0 Comments
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