It was exactly two years ago, give or take, that I started the commercial songwriting thing for real. I went to the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival, learned a bunch of stuff, participated in the song competition, got lost on the way home, ended up in Greene County an extra hour away from home, muttered "ain't got time to see Rock City" under my breath as I tried to find my way back to Maryville without GPS, ended up writing a song about that, and that was the beginning.
So today, the day after the Smoky Mountains Songwriter Festival, has become the end of my songwriting fiscal year. Accounting-wise I do January 1 like everybody else, but in terms of new ideas, new beginnings, taking stock, whatever: this is day 1 of my third year writing for (in spite of?) Nashville. Year Two, August 22 2014 until August 22 2015, was big. It started with me, sitting in the lobby at the Edgewater Hotel at last year's song competition. I was in the lobby because I had not made the finals, I felt sulky and ripped-off, and I didn't want to be in the room. But I heard last year's winner from a distance, without hearing the words; Charlie Katt's voice is beautiful and clear and I realized as I sat there that his songs lifted at least half an octave from verse to chorus. They soar. I realized that "chorus lift" was a thing I'm not naturally good at, and it was a thing I hadn't been doing well in my writing. I went home and put a jack underneath my choruses and cranked them up, even though it messed up the harmonics and made everything harder; then I realized that different (better) singers could easily soar into a higher chorus much better than I can. I also realized that "chorus lift" is a thing that Nashville insists on. A rule. And I had decided it didn't apply to me, but it does; and like so many Nashville Rules, when I started following it, it made my songs better.
It's a combination of laziness and fear and that kind of insecurity pretending to be arrogance that gets in my way sometimes, when I write down a good lyric and hope I'll get away with not making it a great one, or I write the lyric I want to write instead of the one I'm pretty sure Nashville wants. The tension between "be yourself" and "I can't pitch this" is where I have to live.
Year 2 was about me stumbling onto Music X-Ray and discovering the world of sync and library music; I have been offered 9 deals and signed 5. I have two exclusive contracts that I am afraid to sign, instrumental music sitting in libraries all over the place, songs and instrumentals on hold for movies, TV shows, commercials that might get picked up or might get dropped. It was also about me finding a couple of singers who take my songs farther than I ever dreamed, and me finding better ways to find more singers, a song or two of mine getting pitched or getting pitched to someone who might have pitched it (who knows). New cowriters have come out of the woodwork and a lot of things have happened to show that I'm inching my way forward. What hasn't happened? I have earned money from writing my play, from contest winnings, but not a dime in royalties yet. I had a shot at cuts on a promising indie project, but other songwriters got involved and suddenly it felt competitive and not in a good way. I told myself that getting my hands a little bit dirty to get a cut is probably "how it is," but I couldn't do it.
Since I wrote a musical and wrote songs for sync (film / TV), I wrote very few "radio hits" and I feel like I want to focus on that in year 3. The best thing about year 2 is that most of my crippling doubt is gone. The "can I do this? am I kidding myself?" feeling is mostly gone. Year 3 needs to be about me daring to be myself more, and seeking validation for its own sake less. I want year 3 also to be about music business friends and I long for a mentor or at least more coaches / teachers I can trust.