Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hell on Earth

Hey there 5 followers!

This week I started re-reading Jimmy Webb's book, TuneSmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting. Here's what he has to say about the difference between professional songwriters and hobbyists:
So what is the primary factor that separates the rejected amateur songwriter from the accepted professional? Probably this: Most amateurs do not regard the writing of songs as serious hard work. Indeed, there are members of my family who believe that worrisome character flaws and much personal ruin have evolved from the fact that I've never had a real job. In reality, however, songwriting is Hell on Earth. If it isn't, you're doing it wrong. 
I get what Mr, Webb is trying to say, that most people think songwriting is easy and believe it's not a big deal to put pen to paper and in an afternoon's writing session, come out with something that's not bad. His point, I believe, is that it almost NEVER happens that way. Making an effective song, not to mention one that has what it takes to become a "hit," requires wading chest deep into the refining and rewriting process, which at times, can make a root canal seem like blessed relief.

Even in my fair city, the capital of songwriting, there are people that think they will get cuts by writing songs that are "just fine the way they are." There are still people that believe that songwriting is easy, and that inspiration is enough to build song out of. So yes, they are hobbyists trying this "songwriting" thing out to see if they can cash in quickly...and then there are the rest of us.

We are song geeks. We are obsessed with well-written songs. We hold ourselves to an extremely high standard. We don't let ourselves use cliche rhymes, we rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. We write songs because we are always thinking about them, because we can't stop.

But Hell on Earth? Really? I remember an NPR interview with Randy Newman, where he said something along these lines (I'm paraphrasing from a rusty memory, so take it for what it is): "You know, it's real easy for people in the entertainment industry to whine about how difficult their jobs are, but let's face it: it beats laying pipe."

I think it's sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. There are some people who can walk right past a half-finished jigsaw puzzle that's laying there on the dining room table and never give it a second thought the whole rest of the day. Then there are those that walk into the dining room, look at the puzzle, pick up a few pieces, try to fit them in, maybe even put some of the puzzle together, but they reach a point when they reach their frustration threshold, and they walk away, claiming to have done "enough." Finally, there are those that, upon seeing the puzzle laying there in the table, will not get up until it is finished, or they pass out from exhaustion.

So would jigsaw puzzle people say that being obsessed with finishing a jigsaw puzzle is Hell on Earth? I doubt it. Probably most people would say that because both songwriting and jigsaw puzzle solving are voluntary acts they cannot be Hell on Earth. Whereas, to use Randy Newman's example, there are probably very few people who have an obsession with laying pipe (insert your own joke here). Most people who find themselves doing that job are doing it because they HAVE to (read: because an outside force is MAKING them: an ecomonic force, a matrimonial force, the force of obligation), making it exponentially closer to Hell on Earth.

So to Jimmy Webb, I say, "Relax!!!! You are one of the few to have a career in songwriting!" It may be brain-straining, mentally challenging, frustrating work, but it isn't Hell on Earth.

Write songs because you are internally driven to do so. Not because you think you should, or think you can.

This Week:

I finished my new song!  It's probably playing right now! It's called "Checkin' Out." If it isn't playing, click on it in the player at the upper right-hand corner of your screen! Let me know what you think. Both of you.

I'm also having problem with Google right now, as they have pulled my AdSense Account and refunded all of their advertisers their money. Apparently you aren't allowed to tell people to click on their ads...a fact which you will not find explicitly stated in their user agreement. From perusing the complaints Google has received about this, it looks remarkably like they are using the "guilty until proven innocent" philosophy...just like the Chinese Government they fight so heavily against. I guess to Google, freedom is fine as long as it helps and does not hurt our business model....So here's the deal: not only do I explicitly advise readers of this blog not to click on ANY Google AdSense text ads, EVER on ANY webpage they may visit, but I also encourage you to use a search engine that does not gather information about you so they can exploit your search history to try and sell you things, like And watch this space for further changes, since blogger and blogspot are owned by Google, such as a migration of this blog to a WordPress domain. Stay tuned.

If you want to help me out, I guess the best way would be to donate using the Google(doh!) Checkout button underneath the music player (I like how they let you get signed up to Google Everything before they pull the terrible business practices).  But maybe I'll start sending out cds to those that donate, what do you think?

David Wilcox
Marc Cohn
Kris Kristofferson, still
James McMurtry
The Amazing Rhythm Aces
Todd Snider

...and if you don't have it yet, you should really buy Jodi Ann's latest album, "A Brief Moment in Time." I co-produced, edited, arranged, mixed, and played all the instruments. You can download the digital version, or you can email her to purchase a physical cd:

You repair guitars?

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