When your peers start to recognize you, it’s an intoxicating experience. Especially when those peers are much further up the ladder of success than you are.
When I started getting better performance slots it was a kick in the pants. I did some shows at a place called Martini Blues. Several were styled after songwriter in the round style setups. Where they put 3 to 4 songwriters in a row on a stage and they take turns playing songs they’ve written and talking a little bit about the stories behind the song and it’s creation.
Particularly this is about the 2nd time I got invited to do this. I was on stage center left, to my left was Dee Biggs, to my right was Warren Sellars, to his right was James Grey. All these guys had been working with bigger artists as songwriters – I was the “odd” man out.
It started with James, then went to Warren and then to me. Because of the songs James & Warren had chosen, I opted to kick off with a song called Falling In. [if you’re paying attention to my emails, you know some history about that one].
I proceed to play the song and as the last note is ringing out Warren immediately said (I’m paraphrasing a bit because it was a bit more swearing than this) “Holy shit, did you see the way he was playing that?!? Not only is that an amazing song, but damn his fingers!”
Mind you, he blurted this out in front of an audience.
I may have blushed a bit at that statement. Because now the spotlight is on me and someone the audience is familiar with has exclaimed something to another of the more famous songwriters on stage in front of them.
Of course it made me feel amazing inside. Aside from the blushing I was feeling really energized as well. These are the kinds of things that give me a huge boost to perform even better.
For the 3rd time I was invited back, it was a similar situation but it was Warren, James, and instead of Dee it was another writer by the name of Kevin Fisher. You’ve likely heard music that Kevin has written – he’s had cuts by some very popular artists.
This time around, no one made massive exclamations from the stage, but then Kevin was on the opposite of the stage from me. What did happen is that when we finished the set, Kevin came over to me and asked for my phone number so that he and I could get together and do some writing.
That right there was a really amazing shot in the arm to me.
Yes, we did get to write together. I look forward to writing with any one of them again in the future.
There’s no doubt that anyone and everyone on the planet can relate to the hurt of rejection. Unless of course you’ve got a screw loose and have no concept of E.Q.
I don’t outwardly show a ton of emotion, but that doesn’t take the sting off of any rejection. Here’s one of the biggest stings I ever got in my music career…
As a fan of the show Heroes, I ended up writing a song called Hero Unexpected. This was a turning point in my songwriting and production chops. I knew I had a really awesome chorus. But the verses initially were translating to people if they didn’t know the TV show. I agonized over that and had nine rewrites of them until I was finally happy with it and other people could relate to it without knowing the show.
The recording process went equally as painstaking for me at the time. I really spent time thinking thru the arrangement. Making sure every layer of every sound I put into it would fit nicely with all the others. Most of the time up to that point I was winging it and sticking to primarily a two guitars, bass, drums, vocals thing. Expanding my potential was the goal.
What made the recording even more fruitful was having a good friend of mine, George Leger III, who wanted to help me record the vocals. He really wanted to produce the vocal recording. He felt he could draw the right performance out of me to really make the song shine.
We spent an afternoon into an evening as his Glendale studio where he guided me thru recording the vocals. Take after take, part after part. The lesson I learned from that session was valuable. He had a sheet of my lyrics and as we were recording it, he’d be taking notes on which take had the right inflection for each word, or phrase. Mind you I didn’t see him doing as I was singing in another room. I saw it after.
When we finished, I took the tracks back to my studio and spent a good deal of time working on the comps and mix of the song. I may have spent close to a week, then took a little time off and would come back to it.
As fortune would have it, in the months leading up to the finished mix of Hero Unexpected, I had befriended a mastering engineer who had won several Grammys. If I haven’t written about the lead up to that friendship, it’s probably being saved for a book on my career because it’s pretty damn random.
Gavin Lurssen and I spoke about the song for a rather lengthy bit and talked about what I was hoping to get out of the master for it. However, the best bit about the conversation was his reaction to finding out that I not wrote and performed it, but that I had also recorded and mixed it [minus the vocal producer George]. It was a two word response that started with F and ended with U.
Gavin did a marvelous job with the master and I was super happy with the end result.
Fast forward some months later when I find out about Iron Man. Since people up to this point were telling me how awesome the song was for anything superhero related, I made a valiant effort to get it in front of the music supervisor for that movie. Major brownie points to the lawyer that helped make that happen, Steve, you know who you are.
Anyway [enough of the long preamble], we were fortunate enough to get a phone call with the the music supervisor. He proceeds to tell us that he really loves the song and that it would be perfect for the movie. But… [here comes the brutality and I will quote this]: “You are not famous enough for us to be able to use it.”
Zing. Bang. Pow. Zowie. OUCH!!
Up to that point, I had never given a moment’s thought to a song getting rejected due to lack of fame. Usually they will pick a song because it’s the right song for the part. Then to be told that it is essentially the right song for the part, but you lack the fame?!? Oophff. That stung.
It came back to sting me again when the movie released and multiple industry people told me Hero Unexpected would have been the better pick over the famous song they did use. There are things you can’t control. I still hold out hope that it will one day get used for a superhero movie.
That moment really taught me rejection can hurt, but I can’t take it personally. No matter how much it hurt, I had to soldier on.
Once upon a time I had a discussion with a friend that ran a songwriter’s group. During that discussion we spoke about another mutual friend who was a bass player and how he sang and played bass at the same time.
Part of that discussion led to the idea of slap n pop, which is a technique used by some bass players to create more interesting rhythms for bass lines. I had mentioned the same technique could be used for guitars and be quite interesting.
The response was that it wouldn’t be possible.
Of course, I decided to grab a guitar and started messing around with playing a slap n pop style. What came out was a little progression that I wrote a song called “Falling In” too. Where obviously I’m singing over a slap n pop guitar part.
The irony, it won me an award a year later.
During this same time I was attending a large amount of songwriter events. Some were performances, others were song share type things, some judged, some for fun. One particular event was at a coffee shop in southern California.
At this event a song consultant guru type from Nashville was the moderator / leader for the evening. He was having people get up and play one song and he’d give some feedback. Kinda a performance thing, mixed with a little judging coupled with fun for hanging with other songwriters.
Everyone up to that point that had played, had played their song and gotten some great feedback on their song. Not much was said about anyone’s performance. Pretty standard fair as these things go.
Then I got up to play Falling In.
I proceed to play the song and something was very different about the venue once I got to the first verse. The room went dead quiet. For everyone else, there was some minor banter, not the kind of din that a musician couldn’t be heard over – but now… Silence.
When I got done, the moderator / guru / leader, aka Marc-Allen Barnette took a moment to think and then said “You are quite possibly a victim of your own coolness.”
I sat there for a moment wondering what the next words would be as I waited, like everyone else to hear what he had to say. Because what do you follow that up with?!?
He went on to explain how lovely he thought the song was. How the melody was really catchy and was already stuck in his head, but he was overtaken from enjoying the song itself by getting mesmerized in how it was being played on the guitar. He felt the actual performance of it was just as amazing to watch. Specifically with my hands, the movement and the stretch required to play it.
That was the first really wild thing said about that song, but it wasn’t the last. Though it was far from the craziest thing ever said about any of my music.
Needless to say, Falling In has been one song that tends to elicit some pretty amazing results with audiences. Whether it’s their rapt silence or their exclamations about how it’s played. Never ceases to amaze me how people react to it.
All because I was told it wasn’t possible to do something.