Q: Aside from continuing to develop his craft, what else can a young songwriter do to go from amateur to professional? In other words, how does he make it a career, in your opinion?
A: Well … I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but collaboration is everything. When I signed my first publishing deal, I told my publisher, with great sincerity of heart, that I was totally open to writing with other songwriters, but that I really believed that my best songs came from me just digging in by myself … and that that’s what they could expect from me out of the coming years. (He laughs) My publisher at the time, her name was Cindy Wilt, was very gracious and was like, “Okay yeah, we’ll see, we’ll see.” And I quickly learned that’s not the way to develop as a songwriter.
I think it’s important for writers to be able to get in a room by themselves and dig and write a song, and give something that is very honest and personal, and go for something that is really great by yourself. But the growing process, and learning to be a better writer, learning how to approach things differently, completely comes from sitting in the room with one, two, three other people that also engage the process with you, and you end up writing songs that you would have never written on your own. And you learn to approach songs … like … like in the writing process I can think, “Oh I kinda know how Brandon (Heath) would approach this. He’s amazing and I wanna approach this song that way … or I kinda know how Paul Baloche would approach this worship song, I’ve been in the room with him, he’s amazing and I admire him, so I want to approach this this way”. So it puts a lot more tools in your belt too, even as you continue to write, to have gone through the process of collaboration. And today I have a … this is so far from where I’ve come but … I kind of make sure every year that if I haven’t written a song by myself, I write a song by myself. That’s kind of what I’ve come to, seven years later, whereas in the beginning it was completely opposite.
Q: So how to you select a collaborator?
A: In the beginning, I just think anybody else that likes to write songs is a good collaboration. Because, for one, relationships are everything too, and so you never know where someone’s relational path might lead them, for one, for potential use of the song and two, just anybody that thinks differently than you, is going to offer you something as a growing songwriter, developing songwriter.. So, in the beginning, I just think just anybody that wants to write songs. Write a lot of songs, be dligent, be disiplined, be proactive in the process.
As time goes on, I think that any songwriter would be wise to hear from the music industry that your best collaborations are going to be, this might sound obvious, but if you’re a songwriter and you can write with an artist that is making a record, then that’s the best case scenario. That’s always the best case scenario. As the music industry has changed, there’s a lot less songs that land on a project that are just written from songwriters that just get placed on a record. And so, getting in a room with an artist, with a producer, … these are great angles. Or getting in a room with people in your church passionate about writing songs for your church.
And … if you find your strength is lyrics, get in a room with someone whose strength is chords and melody and music. If you find that you’re a musician and you you have a lot of musical or chord ideas, melodic ideas, but lyrics are your weakness, then get get in a room with someone that likes lyrics, That might be obvious to you, but that’s kind of big when I’m putting together a writing session … I think about whose strengths are gonna make up for someone’s weakness. Weakness is not bad, it’s just about knowing what you’re good at and then surrounding yourself with people that can fill in the gaps.