If I could offer one bit of advice to songwriters, whether it’s as a lyricist, composer, or both, they need to know that even on the most minor and uncompensated level, you are surrounded by parasites whose spiritual essence would make a rat-infested, feces-dripping sewer look like sunny Acapulco. People who make you want to bathe in carbolic acid to remove any residual filth you may have picked up from merely talking to them. People so devoid of integrity or scruples that you wonder if they were birthed by anything of this world. People so singularly obsessed with dreams of stardom that they would literally fuck their own dog for 10 minutes of fame. That what you perceive as an artistic drive, something that you would do without any remuneration for your efforts, they see only as a stepping stone, a necessary evil on the road to “success” – that all important elixir of life that they believe cures all ills & pain and gives you eternal heavenly bliss.
I have no doubt that this is also true for people who pursue other creative endeavors such as novelists and actors, but my experience has been as a songwriter and performer, so that’s the area I’m speaking from.
Let me share with you some of the sordid details of the two-legged critters I've encountered.
BE WARY OF THE ASPIRING WRITER
About 10 years ago I met a young woman who had written some lyrics. She didn’t play an instrument, wasn’t familiar with chord structures, and didn’t know how to craft a song. So I, being someone who genuinely loves to write songs, offered to help out. She showed me some of her words and I began to craft songs from her writings. While my initial reaction was that the songs could have been stronger, she was very enthusiastic about what we had created.
When I say that the songs could have been stronger, I mean that my process for songwriting – when I’m writing both words & music – entails juggling several things:
· The subject matter should be interesting
· The words should sound familiar but not cliché
· It should convey something inspired and intriguing
· It should have a hook (whether it’s word-play, syllable/consonant-play, stand-out lines, or repeated phrases)
· It should be memorable (hopefully, unforgettable)
ALL those elements are being juggled in my mind when I’m writing a song or else the whole thing may fall apart. If I have so much as one line I’m not happy with I’ll drop the entire song. In other words, I take songwriting seriously.
So, back to the aspiring writer.
She had written several pages of words that she wanted to turn into a musical. I read through it and began fleshing out the words into songs. We spent a couple of months on the project, at the end of which I thought some of the songs were genuinely strong. When it was completed, she submitted it to a contest where chosen musicals would be awarded funding. I knew it was a long-shot since the songs were recorded on a laptop with only vocals & acoustic guitar, instead of getting a quality studio recording. So, long story short, the musical was not chosen and I moved on to other projects.
A few years went by and I hadn’t kept in touch with her. One night while copyrighting some of my songs on the copyright.gov website (which I highly recommend for anyone who writes anything), I decided to look up her name. Sure enough, there was her name – and there were all the songs I’d composed music for with her name listed as the composer. Now, bear in mind, this was someone I never had so much as an argument with, yet for reasons I will likely never know (other than the obvious, self-serving ones), she decided to do something incredibly vicious and be an unbelievable back-stabber. While I knew that she had great dreams of “stardom” while working with her, I never could have imagined she was that utterly loathsome and repulsive a human being.
TAKING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS UNDUE
As I said before, I take writing songs seriously. It’s one of the only things I think I got right in this life (that and taking care of my animals). As such, I take recording my songs just as seriously. Only on my first album in 2007, which was my first time in the studio, did I seek advice on production and arranging.
Let me preface this by saying I have had the great fortune of having several extremely gifted vocalists record with me and I’m always very appreciative of their contributions.
Not long after my experience with The Aspiring Writer™ who copyrighted my music, I recorded a couple of tracks with another performer. This person supplied backing vocals to songs I had written. After the songs we cut were released, I began seeing things written online & in interviews that this person had 'produced' my songs. Not only that, I learned that I had specifically contacted this person to produce me. Once again, not only wasn't this true, but this was someone I had no reason to believe would try to take credit for my work.
All I can say is the recording speaks for itself. If you listen to what was recorded before any vocals were added, there is absolutely no difference in the production.
I believe there are 2 types of songwriters:
1) People who have an inescapable drive and motivation to create songs. People who will write even when there's no other reward other than the song itself. People who keep writing even when they're at the end of their rope and all hope is lost (ie. Stephen Foster, Hank Williams). People with a creative, inspired impulse to tell stories, express joy and sadness, that is a true life's calling.
2) People who see songs as a product to be sold like a rhinestone-studded dildo for money and fame.
Over the past several years I’ve had people contact me through my website with the stated goal of collaborating. It usually begins with, “Hey, I really like your music! I write lyrics! Wanna collaborate?”
A woman in Brooklyn sent me several sets of lyrics a few years back. The thing about her words that I always enjoyed for no good reason was how she ended every line with an exclamation point:
The years we are living!
This time that we have!
This world where we find ourselves!!
After working with her for a short period of time, though, she made it clear her intention was to use my music contacts to record “our songs”. Sorry, honey. NEXT!
Last month I received another, “Hey, I really like your music! I write lyrics! Wanna collaborate?” email from a guy claiming his songs had been recorded by artists such as Dusty Springfield, Patti Labelle, Cher, and (insert any vocalist name here – it’s irrelevant). Once again, I wasted time composing music to someone else's lyrics, when the “lyricist” was only interested in using me to get a female singer friend of mine to record his songs.
If you spend just a few minutes on my website, particularly the Archive pages, it's clear that I have an extensive catalog of songs going back over 3 decades. Why, exactly, would I want to hustle someone else's songs, let alone strong arm friends to record someone else's songs?
After awhile, it really makes your skin crawl how craven and whorish people are in their desperation for the limelight. To be able to say, "You see track 16, on Marie Osmond's independent release 'Silicone Lips', the one titled, 'Hold Me, Shave Me, Rim Me'? Look who's listed as songwriter number 3 after Goebbels/Braun!! That's ME, baby doll!! Funklestein!!"
DID PICASSO CO-PAINT?
I guess because I have been a passionate, dedicated songwriter since I was at least 14, sitting alone in the school library and study halls writing page after page of lyrics, honing my craft like an addict craving the perfect high, I still take other people who call themselves “songwriters” seriously.
Neither should you.
My advice? You may encounter someone that can accentuate your songwriting gifts. God knows, the collaborations of Richard Rodgers with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein show it can be invaluable. But if you're an inspired writer, you're probably better off on your own. As the late Roger Miller responded when it was suggested that he collaborate late in his career, “Did Picasso co-paint?”
At the end of the day, I believe you have to block out the ugliness around you and get back to that place you were as a child in order to write. The inner voice that guides your inspiration. That intangible something that can’t be bought or sold – what Bruce Springsteen calls “that 3rd thing that you don’t completely understand".
Life is a short proposition.
Be proud of what you leave behind.
If it's good it will last longer than you did.