Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Magic Bullet - Elbow Grease!

The other day I was watching the documentary "The History of the Eagles" (very good watch BTW), and one of my favorite clips is when Glen Frey talks about moving to California and living in a cheap "flat".  He tells how Jackson Browne lived below him in pretty much a one room apartment that was kind of like his basement.  Glen at that time didn't really write many songs and tells how he learned to write songs by listening to Jackson through his floor.  You see, every morning about 9am Jackson's teapot would whistle and a couple minutes later he'd start to hear the piano.  He would play the same verse riff over and over 20 times till he got it right...then he'd play the chorus over and over 20 times...then it would stop for a while and the teapot would whistle again....then he'd hear a second verse start to develop and he'd play that 20 times and then go back and play the whole thing 20 times.  Glen goes on to say "So that's how it's done!!!!  ELBOW GREASE....HARD WORK!!!".

I love the advice my dad gave me years ago when I was a kid.  He told me that in life it seems that there are folks that seem to get lucky all the time.  And then he would tell me his definition of "luck":

LUCK = When hard work and preparation meet opportunity!! 

I've never forgotten that.  Folks want to win the lottery and bypass the "work" and you know there are people that beat the 1:5,000,000,000 odds but there are the other 4,999,999,999 that pretty much just throw away their money.  It is kind of like that with some songwriters.  They want to write a couple songs and win the lottery...have a BIG name record it and make them a millionaire.  I guess it has happened out there but the odds are like the lottery!  To paraphrase from a Carl Jackson song "On the highway of life there ain't no exit to "easy street". 

Whether people will believe it or not....SONGWRITING IS HARD WORK!...ELBOW GREASE!  

Many times folks come to me and ask my opinion/help as to why they haven't had much success as a songwriter.  Here is most times the conversation goes:

Me: Do you have a great song?
Answer: Oh's better than most of what I hear out there.
Me: How do you know it's great?
Answer: My friends all tell me it is amazing!
Me: OK..let's assume it is a great song.  What have you done to get the song heard?
Answer: I've sent it out a few times but I never hear from anyone.
Me: Have you gone to any seminars or trade shows?  Have you shook hands with people in the industry and made connections, built relationships, "network"??
Answer: No, those are expensive and I don't really have the time to do any of those things.
Me: So, you don't want to invest in your want success to just fall out of the sky and hit you on the head?  

You see commitment and hard work are just is the "behind the scenes" stuff that no one sees.  The hours of studying songwriting, honing your craft, the failures that help you learn, the goal setting, the follow through!!  The elbow grease!!  No one sees the hours, days, weeks and even years of hard work that finally paid off with a "cut" on someones album.  Just like no one saw the thousands of times Michael Jordan practiced a game winning shot with no one watching...they just remember how he always made that game winning shot look so easy...he's a natural...but in reality it is "elbow grease".  Why do some people think it is any different for a songwriter?  

Years ago I was privileged to sit next to Tom T. Hall at IBMA in Louisville, KY.  He asked me why was I there?  Do I play in a band?  I said, "I'm a songwriter".  He then asked me "That's great...did you write anything today?"...I said "no".  He then asked, "Did you write anything yesterday?"  I said, "no".  Then he said a few words that hit me like a brick...Tom T. said, "THEN YOU AIN'T A SONGWRITER!!!"  It literally through me back in the chair!!  It hit me pretty hard and on first blush sounded a little "rude"...BUT...I then realized that one of the best songwriters on the planet had just giving me some INVALUABLE advice!!!  It that one sentence he was telling me that "Songwriting is hard've got to write every day!!  You've got to perfect your craft over years working behind the scenes with commitment!! need talent...but talent alone is just that..."potential".  Focus, commitment, goal setting, hard work, studying, honing your craft....ELBOW GREASE!!!  Yeah that's the key!!

Sometimes I get you ever write a bad song?  My standard answer is that I have a closet full of "stinkers" in my bedroom that never see the light of day!!  You see, you have to keep writing...keep working...keep doing the hard work so you are prepared when opportunity opens up = "luck" as my dad told me.  I sat in a workshop with the late great Paul Craft and one of the students asked..."I've written a few what do I do???"  Paul never batted an eye and said "Write another one!!!".  He got a laugh from the audience but it was dead serious advice.  Write another one...and another one...and learn along the way.  Put in the hours, have a goal, learn from anyone you can, attend workshops...yup...ELBOW GREASE...that's the ticket!! :)

Just a few thoughts this morning :)  Your mileage may vary.  Remember:  Write more...whine less!!!!

Write on!!


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