Saturday, April 30, 2016

I can't make up my mind.

Bullying is kinda hot right now. A thing that a lot of us have been through (some from both sides) is now being talked about in a sympathetic way, when it did not used to be. It's hard to understand bullying when it's not a mean kid at school who hits you. I've now decided that when someone has power over you and abuses it, that's bullying.

I've experienced a particular thing that hurt a lot in the past several years where a couple of people in positions of power have used it to advance themselves, and had to throw me under the bus to do it. Is that bullying? Maybe. Am I just a crybaby who didn't get what I want? Also maybe. Can it be both? I think so. I know that I was raised to be tough and resilient, and I am, but I was also knocked around in ways I wish I hadn't been, by life and by people who I thought were on my side.

Since the bullying has given me the tough and the resilient, I kind of appreciate it. The recent bullies have torn me down in various ways and I went with that for a while, and this has helped me. In a couple of situations it has greatly clarified what's important (friends and drawing closer to God) and what isn't (being affirmed by someone who isn't ever going to do that).

I wrote this lyric a while back and felt shy about it. This might be the worst impact of bullying; it makes us feel that it's our fault, or that we invited whatever is happening. It always makes me feel that the rest of the world is enjoying respect and harmony and that I'm the only one who seems to invite the opposite.

For all the wrong reasons, I finally got this song done and I'm so happy I did. I found someone to sing it who I admire; I'm her fan and hope to co-write with her. It's also kind of broken the seal on the more personal, confessional songs that used to be my main thing. It's all about letting my freak flag fly again, I guess.

Anyway, this song. I love how it turned out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Worst Thing You Can Do to Me

In the songwriting context, that is.

In the songwriter-education industry, there are lots of opportunities to get song feedback and critique, which I love and use. For the past couple of years, I've had access to an industry pro who's generally blunt, sometimes kinda caustic, has been condescending, and generally straight to the point from a commercial standpoint.

I loved it.

The first time she heard one of my songs, she hated it. So much. She thought that the verse was so long that she couldn't stand it. The chorus came in at about 45 seconds. She was condescending and while she wasn't rude or mean, she made it clear that the song was a little bit pathetic. I hate being condescended to (it is, however, not The Worst Thing You Can Do to Me), and I was newer at this than I am now. I couldn't sleep that night and I felt raw and miserable from that kind of critical assessment.

She was right, and she helped me. A lot. I realized that it did not bug me that she didn't think my song was good. It struck me that my song made her angry, and I couldn't sleep until I understood why. I figured it out, I think. My song, which wasn't good and was euthanized shortly thereafter, was what I thought a country song could be. It was (to be fair) what a country song might have sounded like 20 years ago; it was kinda jokey, kinda hokey, and made fun of itself the way country songs used to.

So obviously my song was dated. But this pro hears dated songs all the time, and she doesn't get as angry as my song made her, she's actually really really nice with newer writers. So that wasn't all of it, and my sleepless night was productive because it finally occurred to me maybe that she felt I was condescending to the entire genre. And you know what? she was right. I hadn't noticed that contemporary country takes itself very, very seriously. In general, it seems like country music is somebody's little brother who is very tired of being the cute sidekick or the joke, and is now demanding to come into its own as a serious art form celebrating sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And trucks.

That pro helped me so much. For a while after that she heard several songs of mine, and for a while she continued to be blunt. In three sentences she has told me that my song is good (or not) but she can't pitch it because the idea is flawed or no one will want it. She's liked one of my songs very much, and she's hated some and she's been crystal clear about what needed to be fixed. I have valued her opinion so much, and I had decided that getting a thumbs up from her on a song was a significant goal.

But now, for no reason that I can understand, she has been nice. Neutral. She's said that she likes the song, there's nothing she would change, that it works. She doesn't want it, she's clearly not excited about it, and in the online session I hear her thinking "Next!" The first time she told me a song was good, she likes it, wouldn't change anything, I then submitted it to her for something and she turned it down. I was puzzled and went back with a couple more songs, but she's now consistently a brick wall of it's-fine-I-like-it when there is a big ole "but...." that I don't get to hear.

I do want to say that industry folk like her who listen to millions of songs, most of them bad, and still have reserves of kindness and patience to conduct feedback sessions, are doing good in this world and I appreciate and admire them. I also think it's right to save the most kindness for the beginners, and if there's nothing left for the likes of me I'll be okay.

I wish there was a "preferences" tab for relationships. I wish I could turn the "nice" slider way down so that people wouldn't say they would love to hang out with me when they don't, or that they're not mad at me when they are, or that they'd love to work with me but they're just SO busy right now.

This is the worst thing you can do to me. There is something she doesn't like. The song is maybe just not what she would pitch because it's nothing new. The song is maybe just technically good but not likable. It could be me. Lots of people don't like me. I wish I'd tried harder to be the most polite and least objectionable version of me with her, but I always wish that. Might not have helped anyway.

It's confusing. Had I been, maybe, nicer at the beginning, she might now be nicer to me by continuing to be honest in that harsh but helpful way that I love. It's like I'm trying to catch more vinegar with honey.

But I'm confident that I can find some industry person who believes in me enough to not be nice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I wrote this with my co-writer Adam Byrd, who is a great writer and we have a great cowriting relationship that features millions of text messages, long arguments featuring lots of bad language, and good songs that actually get finished.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This was fun

Really, really, really fun.

This is "Bear With Me," at the Open Chord Brewhouse. Which is a great venue and I can't wait for my chance to gig there. More about that later.

Special thanks to Diane Shelton for filming this. What I am saying before the clip starts is that I wrote the song with Fish: "he writes with everyone. He's kind of a songwriting.... slut..."


P.S., I am not really this fat. The camera adds at least 35 pounds.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

CDs go on sale Monday December 14th


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Get Back, again

Country music is like a mean girl in your class at school. You try so hard to get her to like you. Well, you probably don't, but I do. And every time I try to do what might make me cool in her eyes, she hastens to tell me that whatever it is I'm doing is so last year. The country genre, from the songwriter's perspective, is ruled by oligarchs who are mostly men hogging the top 50 with songs about, well, you know. Those sex-in-a-pickup-truck songs we hate. Although I couldn't help noticing a great lyric in a Florida Georgia Line song about Friday night at the swimmin' hole / creek / bonfire / cornfield / dirt road / place where country boys get country girls to undress, which is "Victoria's secret ain't a secret no more." Well done.

The genre is also ruled by gatekeepers who want an unforgettably hooky, fresh-yet-comfortable, witty-yet-conversational, relatable-yet-not-cliche thing about something we can all understand that has never been written about that way before, with an irresistible groove and guitar licks that they definitely absolutely have heard a million times before, that is always anything but what I have just written. It reminds me of a scene in "Tootsie," (an old, old movie from the eighties with a lot of truth in it, kids) where Dustin Hoffman is auditioning and the director says "we want somebody taller" and "we want somebody older" and Dustin Hoffman keeps showing that he can be those things and the director finally says "we want somebody else." Oh. Okay.

To be fair, I started listening to country music when I wanted to write country music, and if you had to pass a test of country music literacy, I would fail. (In Yoda voice: "hmm, maybe your problem that is.")

Anyway, I finally wrote a country song last year that They liked, and They liked it a lot; except for the lyric. It was a great lyric, but it was all wrong. Too young, too dated. And isn't that horrible - putting words in the mouth of a young person that are the words of an old person. Yeesh. And it took almost a year for me to get the critique where people finally told me every word and idea that was wrong, and it took five of them to do it, but finally I got it.

Because God is merciful, I was able to re-write it, anticipate three things that They wouldn't like, re-write those, and find a new singer who is a fine replacement for the girl who used to sing my country songs before she went off to get famous.

And so far, in 6 days, my preliminary impression is that They like it. They might even like it a lot. Oh and go click and like Chelsea Stepp because she has a great sound and is a good writer too.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Apparently it's all about Karns

I know that internet radio isn't exactly the big time, but still, it's fun. My song "Feel This Way," featuring Sydni Stinnett, will be played starting at 5 today here.

She's a 14-year-old from Karns.

And then there's the girl who sang this song of mine, Emily Roberts. She's on "The Voice" tonight. Somebody let me know how she does because I have rehearsal. She's also from Karns. I don't know what's going on up there but I like it.