If You Can Write One Good Song, Can’t You Write Another?

I am an artist. At heart. At home. At work. I’m an artist. I’ve been writing songs, singing, acting, or performing in one way or another for as long as I can remember. The earliest story I remember my mother telling about my performance driven life was the day I showed up in front or her guests completely naked, save for a belt & a guitar like toy, singing along to some music playing on the Hi-Fi. What can I say? I was an ambitious 3 year old with the ability to shock & draw attention. I guess we could philosophically argue I’ve been an artist all my life, or, really, we all are in some form or fashion; if we care enough to see the creative forces moving us from within our souls.

To bird walk a little on this, I would argue we are all artists, but have different canvases from which we create. I don’t care how un-creative, straight laced, or scientific any action is on its face, it holds art & creativity. There is something beautiful in well written computer code. There is something inspiring about a well done job, in any field. And, let’s be quite clear, if you don’t think it takes creativity to properly file an entrepreneur’s tax return, then the possibility exists you may not appreciate art in any form.

This might be a good time to discuss the definition of art, or at least my definition of art. The dictionary.com definition I found states, “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”. I think we all probably have an idea, or maybe even a well-defined picture in our mind, of what constitutes art, at least from a critical perspective. However, when we examine it more closely, I think it’s really more personal preference than respect or recognition for the art itself. It will also depend on how you define art.

I remember when I first started banging around on an acoustic guitar & writing some tunes. I played one for a friend of mine (Aaron) & asked him what he thought of it. I’m not really sure if he was trying to spare my feelings because he was one of my best friends ever, or if he knew how profound what he told me actually is, but I’ve never forgotten it & it formed the foundation of the lens through which I view art. When I asked him to critique it, when I asked him what he thought of my song, he simply said, “It doesn’t matter what I think.” I didn’t understand. He went on to say it was my expression & what really mattered was how “I” felt about my creation. It didn’t matter if it was “good” or “bad” or how the rest of the world might view it. It didn’t matter if the structure was non-traditional or if there weren’t any hooks, stop time, or bridges in it. What really matters is it is a true expression of who we are, being shared outside of ourselves. Sharing it with our world in a raw & vulnerable way. A way that leaves us exposed for the world to see the beauty, the sadness, the desire, the despair, the hope, the love – and so much more residing within our soul, behind the daily masks we wear. After some reflection, my definition of art is as follows: Art is an honest expression of one’s self from within (regardless of medium); a sharing of the heart & soul.

I’ve held this specific personal definition of art since I was a teenager. I found real world validation many years later while at Camp Copperhead in Big Indian, NY. The camp is an artist retreat headed up by Steve Earle, a singer-songwriter whose song Copperhead Road births the name of the retreat. While discussing the craft of songwriting during the week, Steve said something which resonated with me in a way I could feel in my heart. I will paraphrase his words. It was something to the effect of “As a writer, your job is to express how you feel. To raise your hand & say ‘I feel this way’ & if you do too, you are not alone” After the class was over, I had to talk with him about this thought process. I asked him what his definition of art was, and his response excited me to my core. He said (I’m still paraphrasing here), “It’s an expression of who you are”. I think this was the moment I first truly believed I was an artist. We all are artists if we are willing to share & connect with our fellow human. Art is intrinsically valuable. To some degree, because you are intrinsically valuable, and, in part, because your expression, effort, & time holds value. The approval or disapproval or critique of art, by anyone, including the artist, doesn’t necessarily diminish or enhance its value. It holds immense value, and so do you.

That was quite a bird walk, for sure, but I wanted there to be some background for where we are going next. When I first started writing songs, my expressions, I was paranoid about people stealing them. I mean, these creations are part of who we are. They are like our babies in some ways. We feel the need to protect them. We want the best for them. We want them to be treated with respect & the love we feel for them. If these topics are on your mind, then a discussion (or a number of them) will be commonplace. I read up on the law. This was pre-internet days so it was tougher to get verified info, but it was there. We talked about the poor man’s way of copyrighting a song. You know, the old, mail the demo to yourself. We talked about the cost of registering the song and the challenges there. But one time while I was having this discussion with some musician friends of mine in a small town music store in Northwest Arkansas, one of the owners, Gus, said something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If you can write one good song, can’t you write another?” Wait. What did you say? He went on, “there’s no real need to copyright a song. Just write another good one.”

I’ve struggled to come to terms with that moment for years. In some sense, Gus was 30 years ahead of the times. With the state of the music industry the way it is today, songs are worth less & less in the marketplace, while packaged acts sounding the same are worth more. At the core of it, I think, are competing philosophies. Abundance & Scarcity. We either believe there is plenty to go around, or we subscribe to the belief there is not. I think, this penetrates who we are & how we make decisions. I’m not suggesting artists shouldn’t do their due diligence to legally secure their intellectual property. They should. What I’m suggesting is a realization the IP of artists, especially music artists, is not fairly protected in the US. Because of this, the technology, and the industry, the product has changed. It had to. While the music used to be the product (and this is the reality most artists desperately desire), it is now the connection between the artist & the audience which has become the product. We must adapt. And while it might appear I am focused on music, this is actually about everything. It’s about changing perspective & paradigm shifts. It’s about opening up our eyes to a new reality & fully embracing it.

This is why you don’t find my original music online. This is why I have put off writing for you for so many years. Because I have these ideas, these thought children I was trying to save for a book, or a speech, or an album someday. I have been protecting them, partially because I was afraid I wouldn’t have any more, partially because I was afraid I wouldn’t get paid or get credit for my work. I was afraid to let them grow up & stand on their own. For them to live the lives they should. Today I realize I have been doing a disservice all around. These ideas need to be shared. They need to connect. They need to be the hand that is raised and says “if you feel this way, you are not alone”. Today I am going on record and choosing abundance as my belief. Going forward, I will be sharing. I will be expressing. I am leaving the fear of scarcity behind & embracing what Seth Godin calls The Connection Economy. What Gary Vaynerchuk calls jab, jab, jab, right hook. There is plenty out there to go get. Go get it. There is always more.

Plain Ordinary Dragon Resources & Such
If you ever get a chance to go to Steve Earle‘s Camp Copperhead – YOU SHOULD DO IT!
Seth Godin on The Connection Economy
Gary Vaynerchuk & jab, jab, jab, right hook

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