I live out of a suitcase and I’m still in disbelief. A year ago I embarked on “the European leg of my songwriting hustle.” After relentlessly writing on the L.A. scene, my U.K. passport served as a gateway to more overseas collaborations, starting with an invitation, facilitated by SOCAN, to the famous Black Rock songwriting camp in Greece. The connections I made there evolved into me co-writing and collaborating in 15 countries over the past six months, with labels, publishers, artists and DJs. While the work is so much more than I ever would have imagined, thankfully so are the rewards. It’s pulled me out of my comfort zone, into an amazing journey I never would have expected. Here are some things that have helped my career and creative growth immensely over the last year. I hope they help you, too.
Even if it’s just a head game, it really works for me. A year ago I read The Law of Attraction by Michael Lozier, and wrote down exactly what I wanted. I started training my brain to frame things more positively, and go into situations with more confidence and clarity. It increased the pace of my career development, and brought me so much more enjoyment along the way. I can just relax and deliver, rather than stress about who I’m with, and what’s riding on each opportunity. I often go into sessions thinking about how I want to feel at the end of the day. Usually all I want is for everyone to enjoy themselves, love the song, and ask me back.
This is the most important thing besides your personal vision. There’s no such thing as doing it on your own. This industry is made up of a small circle of great songwriters in each city, creating a network – one I’ve been able to access in a short amount of time, via introductions to amazing people by other amazing people. Like SOCAN’s Chad Richardson, who invited me to the third annual SOCAN Kenekt song camp in 2017, which allowed that kind of access. Most non-writers/non-artists in this industry are working jobs with less risk, but they’re in it for the love of music, and job stability. When they help me, it’s because they believe in me – they don’t owe me anything. We need people to enjoy the journey with… beer after sessions, couches to crash on, people to call when you’re down, them calling you freaking out when they hear your new song for the first time… that’s where life is at.
3. Pay Attention
Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever. Finding out the hot artists, the fresh production styles, how other people phrase differently than you, and co-writers’ songwriting tricks you haven’t used yet, only helps you become a better writer. When I was in L.A., I’d go to 14-year-olds’ showcases just to hear how that generation sings things. Start learning and you’ll have way more to lean on in your sessions. Also, knowing who you’re co-writing with (artist, producer, DJ), and paying attention to what they want, is really key. When I write for the Eurovision Song Contest, I lean towards epic, soaring, emotional phrases and specific “moments” to serve the live performances of that show. When I’m writing with urban Toronto producers, I’m channeling my best Rihanna swag. There are no stereotypes, and songwriting can break the mold, but paying attention to the kinds of writing choices that make songs different from genre to genre makes us more adaptable writers. Paying attention to pop culture is also important.
“Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever.”
4. Pushing buttons
I used to be a recording artist, so I’m often the singer on my demos. Learning how to track and comp my own vocal opened up my world. I’ve been able to collaborate with DJs and producers while I’m travelling worldwide, and it’s because of learning this most beneficial skill. Because I was a recording artist (and a voice major), I’m very picky, and can now track and comp more quickly than most producers. That makes me even more valuable, because they can bounce the song to me, and I can track while they’re working on the song. It also feels good to pull some weight in the production department. The first song I tracked and comped for a young Chinese DJ won a radio award in China, and they flew me back to perform on national TV with him. If I hadn’t known how to record that song, it never would have happened.
I expected professional songwriting to be a tough hustle, and it’s been even harder than that. But… I also expected myself to rise to the challenges and become better along the way. Early on, someone said to me that whatever you put in is exactly what you’re going to get out of something – and I totally agree. There’s luck, there are breaks, there’s the law of attraction, and there’s balance. Everything evens out in the end. However big you’re willing to dream is measured by how hard you’re willing to work. I know this is true; I’ve seen it, both in others and on my own path.
I’ve learned to trust the timing of things more this year than ever before. I now understand that a year ago, I wasn’t ready for certain things, and I may still be a year away from being ready for other things. And timing can actually end up serving us. For example, I recently suggested a title during a co-writing session with two very successful songwriters, who both shot it down as cheesy. A week later I walked into a writing camp in Amsterdam with a very successful DJ, and when I asked if there was any specific brief, the two producers in the room literally said “Well, he is all about insert my title here”. We then wrote a song with that title, it’s been recorded, and it’s going to be his new single in September! I called the first set of writers and actually thanked them for saying ‘no’ the week before.
A songwriting career isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of us got into it because of passion, and that’s what keeps us going. The one thing I’ve learned about persistence is that the only way to guarantee failure is if I stop the process. Just keep going. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing. I was a mess three weeks ago because I was tired and wanted results more quickly. I even wanted to go home. But I know that going home is the only thing that will stop this train. So I can’t. And you can’t. Show up, get the job done, and love the ride!