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Inside Songwriting
Inside Songwriting
Getting To The Heart of Creativity

by
Jason Blume
  Reviewed by Jace Carlton
Originally published in
The Songwriter's Connection  -  June  2003
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Last month I said I had SO many great books to review, and I truly didn't know where to start!  I
figure that when I get to that point, the old stand-by option usually works best ... first come, first served.  For a while I was reading three books at once, but I realized all too soon that if I wasn't careful you'd read a review that led you in three different directions at once, and that can by pretty hard on the body and the mind.  So, since Jason's book was the first one of the three that landed in my hands, it won.  I knew I was in for an adventure.

More than Just Another "How-To" Book ... It's Honest

"Inside Songwriting"
is so much more than just another "how-to" book for songwriters.  Jason talks about the basics and adds his own unique experiences to make them come alive!  Questions are answered from the perspective of knowledge; knowledge gained from real life experiences and not just something he may have heard or read somewhere else.


If you've ever had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jason in one of the many songwriting workshops he conducts each year, you know about his PASSION for everything he does.  Some may call it intensity, others may call it focus.  Call it what you will, Jason KNOWS what he's writing and talking about and we're lucky that he also has the desire to share that with others.  The songwriting community is better off because of individuals like Jason who give of their time and talents to teach others.

"Inside Songwriting" is, above all, honest.  Jason doesn't gloss over the tough parts of a professional or semi-professional career in the music industry, he tells it like it is.

"Songwriting is an art of communication.  It may sound harsh, but listeners don't particularly care what you felt when you wrote your song if they don't feel it when they listen."

The honesty helps you clearly recognize what you're up against, but, by reading carefully, you also realize that you're not up against those forces alone.  Others have trod the road you may be on right now, and their experiences may be an example of what may or not work for you.

For instance, in the chapter on "How To Get A Staff-Writing Deal", Jason offers several possible suggestions that have worked for others and urges the reader not to get too discouraged with their own attempts (some discouragement, disappointment, and frustration are naturally inherent in this business).  Before settling in Nashville, Jason had been a part of the songwriting community in LA for many years.  On one of his trips to Nashville, he met and co-wrote a song with A.J. Masters that would begin to turn his struggles into "some" success.  That song was "Change My Mind".

"Three-and-a-half years and more than seventy-five rejections later, the Oak Ridge Boys recorded it.  The Oaks were enormously successful artists at this point and our song was set to be their next single, following up a Number One hit for them."  (For what happened with the Oak Ridge Boys version of "Change My Mind" you'll need to read the book.)

Jason was one of the fortunate ones, having co-written "Change My Mind" and getting a major group to record it prior to landing his staff-writing deal with Zomba Music.

" ... I wasn't joking when I stated that the easiest way to secure a staff-writing deal is to bring a song to the table that has already been recorded by a major artist.  Every writer doesn't have that opportunity, though.  How do you get a staff-writing deal if you don't have a major track record and you don't own the publishing on an upcoming major release?  There's no easy, cut-and-dried answer.  But when it gets discouraging (and it will), remind yourself that every person currently earning a living as a staff-writer started out with a dream."

Speaking of "DREAMS"

"One of the only guarantees life offers is that if we don't pursue our dreams, they won't have any chance of coming true."

While maintaining complete honesty about the business, Jason consistently encourages the reader to never give up.  Sharing his own struggles, frustrations, even moments (hours? days?) of anger when his work was rejected, he makes things more real for those who are still struggling.  "Inside Songwriting" puts us behind the desk of an A&R rep, a publisher, and even a radio programmer, to discover what their world is like from the business side.  Understanding their roles and responsibilities can help us develop better relationships with them, which can then lead to better contacts, and that first published song on your way to grabbing that first hit.  It's not about "using" people, it's about developing friendships.  And in this business you can never have too many friends in high, low, or mid-level places.

PASSION and PURPOSE

A few months ago I experienced an event that brought me to tears.  A family had just recently moved into our town and began attending our church.  Two of their daughters, Sierra (15) and Marisa (13), are very musically talented and they were invited to play a piano duet.  They had the music in front of them, but they played more than the notes that appeared on those pages.  They played with such feeling, from the heart ... with deep PASSION!  They hadn't just learned how to play the song, they had learned it so well that there's no doubt in my mind they felt how the composer felt when he wrote it.  That's rising to the level of PASSION in something you love!  We all have songs in our heart (whether written by ourselves or others) that truly move us.  Oh, to write a song like that!  And, what a tremendous feeling it is when others hear it, sing it, and love it as much as you do and want to make it their own!

I've said it before in this column, you HAVE to have a PASSION for this business in order to have a chance to survive.  The competition's too stiff to enter into it half-hearted and half-committed.  There's no guarantee of success, or even continued success for those that have already had a taste of it.  You have to be consistently on your game in order to continue to make a living.

The intrinsic rewards for your effort, though, go far beyond whatever your financial record says.  The feeling you get from writing a song you KNOW is special, regardless of what anyone else says about it (including publishers) is tremendous.

"It's a lot tougher to write from your heart, but well worth it.  If your song never becomes a hit on the radio (and most of them won't), at least you'll have written something that you're proud of.  Write songs with artistic integrity that mean something to you and will touch listeners, and you will feel good about your work, even if the only ones who hear it are your friends and relatives."

"I've read that the 'average' professional songwriter (there's an oxymoron for you) typically earns royalties from only five percent of his or her songs."

"Inside Songwriting" is filled with experiences that are worth their weight in gold to Jason; opportunities and events that he wouldn't trade for anything (like being invited to put on a workshop in Jamaica, and in the middle of his weekend they tell him Hurricane Iris is rapidly approaching and he has to shorten his workshop by a day but still try to get all the info into the hearts and minds of all who had paid their hard-earned money to attend the workshop).

Along with that, count the valuable lessons learned along the way, like the one he learned after winning a songwriting contest and being invited to Ireland to perform his entry on TV before a panel of judges and 30 million viewers (with a chance to win $10,000!)

"I stood out on that stage, buck naked before a firing squad with thirty million witnesses.  Well, that's how it felt."

Why?  Well, have you ever forgotten the words to part of a song right before or in the midst of a performance?  He learned early on to ALWAYS carry a lyric sheet with him!

When All Is Said And Done

"Luck has a habit of visiting those who don't depend on it, and fate seems to smile upon those who work hard and are prepared to deliver when the opportunity presents itself."

If music is our PASSION, if we truly believe we're destined to be songwriters, then we must consistently develop our craft and ourselves, finding our own unique "voice" (singing has nothing to do with this voice), and then believe in ourselves enough to give ourselves the chance to dream, the chance to play in the game, and the chance to fulfill our dreams.

"It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are." - e.e. cummings

Jason Blume's "Inside Songwriting: Getting To The Heart Of Creativity" is probably the most well balanced book on the craft and business of songwriting that I've had the pleasure to read.  And I'll be reading it again.  Right along with those other two books.

Copyright © 2003 by Jace Carlton

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Jace Carlton is a Nashville based songwriter, music publisher, artist manager, and freelance writer.  As a songwriter and collaborator much in demand in the Country market, he also enjoys writing for A/C, Pop, R&B, Smooth Jazz, Contemporary Christian, and Cabaret.  As a Freelance Writer he has contributed reviews on new CD's to online newsletters and artist websites, and occasionally  ontributes book and concert reviews along with personal commentary on the music industry to Nashville's Songwriter's Connection e-Zine.

He was recently honored by being selected to be a part of Nashville's Shine On Foundation, assisting talented songwriters, artists and musicians.

Comments regarding this review may be sent to Comments@1423MusicNashville.com

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