My First Song Was A Secret

I still remember where I was when I shoved that piece of paper into my backpack.

image via reverbnation.com

I was 15 years old and hadn’t yet written any songs. I mainly played songs by Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and The Beatles, not my own originals.

But at my family’s annual vacation on the lake, I started my first song. I sat on a bed in the finished basement of our vacation house, holding a notepad, a pencil, and a timid song concept.

I wasn’t trying to impress any girls and I wasn’t even thinking I would record the song.

I was just writing. No reason. Just because I thought it would be fun.

But, to my startlement, I heard footsteps. Right in the middle of my first songwriting session.

Without thinking, my hands shoved the paper and pencil into my nearby backpack. The sound of the footsteps got closer.

I pretended to be looking inside my backpack for something as my cousin walked by and said hey.

Whew. She didn’t suspect a thing…

I know. Ridiculous, right? Why was I keeping my first song a secret from my own family?

If you’re a young songwriter, don’t be like I was. Share your music. Get uncomfortable so you can eventually get comfortable.

RELATED: Books On Creativity

You won’t get better at (or even enjoy) songwriting if you don’t share your music with others. That’s what I’ve found anyways.

If you don’t have anyone in your life that you’re comfortable sharing your songs with, email me. I’d be happy to give you some encouraging thoughts.

Don’t hold it in. It’s not good for you.


I’d like to take a second to say that Evernote is awesome. I use it to write every one of my songs nowadays. And you can get a free month of Evernote Premium right here. Enjoy.

How To Avoid These 3 Songwriting Mistakes

I’ve made a lot of songwriting mistakes.

Here’s how I know: I’ve been writing songs since 2005, and I think I’m nearing 100 total completed songs.

And anyone who does anything for a long period of time will make mistakes.

Not only that, but I’ve had lots of professional songwriters and music critics give me feedback on my songs (or should I say bash my songs over the head), thanks to places like NSAI and SubmitHub.

They pointed out my pitfalls.

So here are just three common writing mistakes I’ve made (or almost made) that we all should avoid.

Writing A Song That’s Not Authentic To You

I’m used to be a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and they offer lots of things to help songwriters get better. And one thing they offer are one-on-one mentoring sessions with a pro songwriter.

In one of these mentoring sessions, I asked the pro songwriter about today’s music publishing trends. He said songwriters who get signed to music publishing deals are mostly in country music (and even the number of those deals are declining).

But I don’t write country songs.

I didn’t grow up listening to country music. I grew up listening to Christian hip-hop and playing Jack Johnson songs on the guitar.

So for me to write country songs would be like putting on a mask.

I’d be writing songs that aren’t authentic to my upbringing, my personality, or the reality of my life.

Yeah, I’m not gonna do that. The songs would be terrible and people would see right through it.

Losing Focus

In a NSAI song feedback response, the pro songwriter gave me this tip on my song “Burning Like Chicago“:

“You have such a cool title here but I see no lyric that supports it!! Be writing more to your title.”

Here are the lyrics:

V1
My iron fails to sharpen
my guards have all been shot
and I fully deplore myself
19 years should have been enough
19 years should have taught me well
you would think

CH
I’m burning like Chicago
please put me out
my crimes could fill a prison
my Good could have no worse a posture

V2
If you and I could follow
our second intuition
we could be like a Rubix cube
turn and shift ’til colors meet
fully whole and made complete
only if, only if it were

OUT
If you have a face for me just call me up
and if there is a way to fix me, fix me up
Let the rainstorm be
let it rain on me

This is what I mean by losing focus. Write to your title.

Focus on just one idea for each song and say it in a different way throughout the song.

Writing In Multiple Time Zones

Something else I accidentally do is switch time zones. Meaning I use both the past and present tense without realizing it.

Here’s something a pro songwriter said about “The End Of Tears“:

“Starting out with the ‘I died’ is a bit strange. It’s past tense but within the line, it goes to present tense and then the song goes back and forth.”

Here are the lyrics:

This is the day I died, when the sky is fading away
This is the day that I have lived for all my life

I hope that I have been like the moon shining the sun
my light was not my own, my stars were just a gift

And oh!
Running hurts so we will fly to escape
and when we get back home we will see
the end of tears now

I smell the creep of Death but his smell is sweet to me
after these pilgrim years we will finally see the King

It’s all come back around for the ground has found me twice
my eyes grow weaker still as I look for one last time

Stay in one time zone for the whole song.

Unless you’re writing a song like Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” where your characters pass through time within the song.


I use Evernote to do all of my songwriting. It helps me stay organized, which means I can be more clear-headed for better writing. Oh, and you can get a free month of Evernote Premium right here.

How To Write Songs That Think Outside The Box

There are millions of songwriters out there. So how can you make your songs stand out?

songwriting
photo via Lynda.com

Now, I am in no way claiming that any of my songs think outside the box.

But below are some methods I’ve picked up from other songwriters, and these seem to help with my songwriting.

Write From The Opposite Perspective

I wrote a song called “Step Right, Step Left,” in which it appeared I was scathing somebody else for not speaking their mind or communicating clearly.

“If you’re gonna step right, step right / If you’re gonna step left, step left / I can’t keep up with you, no”

But I realized the song was actually about me. I was scathing me from the point of view of someone else.

Try it — write a song from someone else’s perspective and see what happens.

Write About A Situation In Which You’ve Never Been

Writing about something you have no experience with can easily come off as fake, especially if your listener knows your backstory.

But it’s your job to make it relatable, both to the listener and to yourself.

For example, I can’t really write about a bad breakup because, well, I’ve had one girlfriend/wife in my life. But I can tap into the feeling of tension because (as any married person will tell you) disagreements happen.

So try writing about a foreign situation but find a way to make it relatable to you and the listener.

Become Another Character

Sometimes it’s fun to pretend to be someone else. I mean, actors do it for a living every day.

I’ve written a handful of songs (especially in my earlier days) where I’m singing from the perspective of a character.

I wrote a song called “Northbound Trail” where I’m apparently a slave escaping to the North.

I wrote a song called “Davy Jones” where I’m a third party witnessing Long John Silver challenge Captain Smollet.

I wrote song called “Son of Sin” from the POV of God.

Give it a shot. You might be surprised.

Use Your Second (Or Third) Choice Of Instrument

My first instrument is the acoustic guitar, but I also own a piano, a banjo, an electric guitar, and a ukulele. If I want a change of pace, I’ll go to one of those other instruments.

Doing this can lead to a totally different type of song. A few examples of that:

My point is, you can get a very different song depending on the type of instrument you use.


I love Evernote, the app/website I use for all of my songwriting. Get a free month of Evernote Premium right here.

3 Big Things Happening In The Music Industry In 2018

As DIY musicians, it’s important you and I keep up with what’s going on in the industry. 

iTunes

So as we welcome the new year, here are three important things happening in the music industry in 2018.

iTunes Is Removing Digital Music Downloads

As of 2016, iTunes started phasing out digital music downloads. And the plan is to finalize the whole process by 2019.

According to Digital Music News, there will be a “complete termination by 2019, shortly after the 2018 Christmas season.” And this is happening “as music downloads continue to collapse.”

If you didn’t know by now, you should — streaming is the new way of doing things. So if you’ve released music, you should get it to places like Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, and Amazon.

You can use this guide to get you started: How To Sell Your Music Online (A Guide For Beginners).

Things Will Get Better For Songwriters

In a landmark deal, the songwriting industry and music streaming companies partnered to cut a deal with the federal government, reports The Tennessean.

Without getting too much into the legal jargon, here’s what the new deal means: streaming companies will now be able to easily license songs, while songwriters and publishers should see an increase in their own digital rates.

Here’s a little more detail on what the deal will lead to:

  • “Songwriters and publishers could be identified more accurately and paid more promptly,” thanks to a soon-to-be mechanical digital rights organization run by music publishers and funded by streaming companies
  • Boosted royalty rates for songwriters, thanks to rate courts being able to look at sound recording royalty rates as a factor when they set rates for songwriters and publishers
  • More boosted royalty rates for songwriters, thanks to us being able to present as evidence for more royalties the sync licensing deals (our music in TV/film) we get.
  • ASCAP and BMI can take their rate-setting disputes to any of the federal judges for the Southern District of New York, instead of being assigned to one federal judge

The DIY Music Train Will Keep Chugging — Hop On

Now is one of the best times to be a DIY musician.

Anyone can record music in their bedroom and make it sound professional (check out the Audio Recording category for more on that). It’s so easy and affordable to distribute your music worldwide.

There are plenty of ways to make money as a musician, sometimes without even leaving home. And tools for musicians abound, like CD Baby, Patreon, and LANDR.

If you’ve been on the fence about pursuing music as your passion, as your source of income, now is the best time to jump off that fence on the right side.