Goodnight Kiss Music (BMI) & Scene Stealer Music (ASCAP)
One day, while discussing
writing habits with Songwriter/friend Alan O'Day, he
described his latest writing "tool"... and being the fine person he is, put it into words
for Goodnight Kiss readers.
by Alan O'Day
©2000, all rights reserved
Isn't it funny how we tend to put off the things that give us the most joy?
Speaking for myself, I am exceptionally creative at avoiding what I love
the most (and what pays my bills!): writing songs.
Let me clarify. When I receive an assignment from someone else to "have
this done by Thursday", it gets done, & done professionally. But when I am
the one giving me the assignment, I don't fare as well. I know deep inside
that I am happiest when I'm moving in a direction, rather than aimlessly
flailing around. But I have trouble setting goals & gaining momentum on my
writing, when so many other tasks are yelling "Do me!" each hour, each day.
So earlier this year I tried an experiment which turned out quite
successfully: I declared a one week period to be an official "songwriting
marathon", in which I was the only participant. For that duration,
songwriting, listening to music, producing in my studio, & keeping whatever
odd hours honored my muse, were my top priorities. My approach was
celebration, rather than rigidity. I cut way back on "social emailing",
changed my phone machine message to indicate there might be a delay in
returning calls; & generally considered myself on a mission.
Out of that commitment came major progress on a very strong song, several
other viable song ideas, & great satisfaction at my accomplishments. By
the end of the week I remember feeling simultaneously "burnt out" & just
getting warmed up!
Interestingly, I told my friend songwriter Diane Warren about my big week,
& she responded that that's the way she lives all the time!
This might be a tidy, positive little article if the story ended here; but
there's more. Buoyed by my previous experience, I recently set for myself
another marathon, this time two over weeks in duration. I even emailed
several friends "in the business" about my intentions, to keep myself
accountable & on track.
But by the 5th day, I was stuck, feeling depressed & guilty. My accountant
gave me bad news about taxes. My main synth keyboard needed repair. I had
a lingering sore throat. I had not yet sat down with pen, paper & piano, I
couldn't seem to get focused, & I felt like calling off my self-imposed
tournament for one. Instead, I took a look at the circumstances, and asked
what I could learn from this pain.
As a person who used to try to shame myself into working, my first order of
business was to be gentle. I gave myself a break. Gosh, it felt great to
do a couple of errands! Then I sat down & made a little inventory of
gratitudes, to help improve my attitude. And yes, I asked God to help me
work through this problem.
First, my fantasy was two trouble free, non-eventful weeks in which to
work. Now tell me, when does that ever happen? OK, drop that expectation!
Also, I had assumed that inspiration would once again show up, right on
cue, & be my obedient ally. Duh! So, I created some specific "Songwriting
Adventures" that didn't require creative brainstorms:
1) Picking a current hit song & writing down the lyrics & chords;
2) Reading from a book about songwriting & doing the included exercises
(thanks, Jason Blume!);
3) Watching MTV or VH1 while eating, instead of the news;
4) Perusing a coffee table collection of famous love letters for ideas;
5) Listening to a cassette of songs compiled by a friend that he uses to
"snap out of it & get to work" (thanks, Jamie Quinn!);
6) Brisk walking with both a Walkman & mini-recorder (music in my ear,
spawning ideas in my head, captured on the fly);
7) Playing the piano playfully, without trying to write anything;
8) Going through all my yellow pads laying around the house; culling
together my title & lyric ideas, & putting them into a single manilla
folder which I labeled "Songs In Progress".
Gradually, I eased myself into writing, & writing related activities; and
began to make headway. Yesterday was my last marathon day, & I worked late
into the night, mixing the demo on a song I'm very proud of.
Finishing in a blaze of glory? Not exactly, but I regained my sense of
consistency & professionalism, & learned some lessons about how to do this
better next time.
I also realized that for me, two weeks is perhaps a long time to be
intensely committed in this way. I can more easily maintain an overview, &
avoid setting myself up for trouble, if I do this in smaller increments.
I'm extremely grateful that I have the freedom (& motivation!) to follow my
dream of being a songwriter. Perhaps in some small way, my sharing this
might encourage you to honor your work, your process, your art of living, &
see it as special. But let it also be malleable, adjustable, open to
change & experimentation!
©2000, all rights reserved
Write to Alan O'Day.
Alan has a
plethera of credits. He shares some of them (and his feelings
for you here). His site is here.
Signing as a writer with E.H. Morris Music in 1969, & Warner Brothers Publishing in 1971, led to my first hit: Bobby Sherman's "The Drum". What a thrill it was to hear my song on the radio!
I broadened my arsenal of musical & electronic equipment, so that on my demos I could do all instruments, voices, & mixing. This gave me more control over presentation of my songs. My demos became a minor legend in the biz; virtually all the successful records of my songs followed my arrangement & feel. One proud example is Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby", which hit #1 in December of 1974, & became her biggest selling record.
In 1976, I signed as an artist with Pacific Records, a brainchild of my WB publishers. I was the first, & at that time the only artist on the new label. Distributed by Atlantic, my first release, "Undercover Angel", zoomed to the top of the charts in July 1977, selling about two million copies.
A follow-up single, "Skinny Girls", became a #1 song in Australia in 1980, & in 1981 I co-wrote "Your Eyes" with singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita, which became a hit for him in Japan.
I left Warners in 1982 to write & self-publish. In 1983 I was invited to Tokyo to co-write 6 more songs with Yamashita for his album "Big Wave". The collaboration yielded a Gold Disc Award in Japan, & I still co-write occasionally with Tats.
In 1983 I met, & co-wrote a children's song with singer-songwriter Janis Liebhart. This was on "spec" for a new animated TV show, which became "Jim Henson's Muppet Babies". Eight years later we had written almost 100 songs for this Emmy Award winning Saturday morning program, which is syndicated worldwide.
Janis & I continue co-writing for kid-focused projects, including National Geographic's Really Wild Animals, an acclaimed series of videos which feature our singing & production chops as well, and Alaska Video's children's products.
Currently I am writing "adult" songs for myself as an artist, my goal being a CD full of top notch, user-friendly creations. I still love writing, singing, producing & performing!
New readers interested in pitching songs:
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THANKS FOR UNDERSTANDING.
©1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. 2004 Janet Fisher Goodnight Kiss Music (BMI) Scene Stealer Music (ASCAP)