If you’ve been writing songs for any amount of time, you know by now: you’re gonna subject yourself to some of the highest highs and lowest lows imaginable. I know we’re not talking life and death here, but...if dreams have a life, then maybe we are.
You could already be at the point where your songs are being heard by the people who can actually make some of those dreams come true or maybe you’re doing it yourself; playing live, making records. Either way you dream big. You wouldn't have it any other way. The idea that something could start in your head and make its way to someone's heart, create memories, help, heal, or just take them away for awhile is the stuff I’m talking about.
It’s the kinda thing family and friends might think is cute while you’re waiting for your real life. But you know better. It’s the most real thing in your life. You need to write to breathe.
When every star aligns and your song gets cut and other people actually get to hear what you hear, it’s the most surreal and amazing moment outside of the birth of a child. It’s big, big life and you can be forgiven for wanting everyone to feel what you feel. I've been blessed to have a few of those moments.
And... if you’ve been doing this long enough at that level there can be another part of life that comes in uninvited. Death. Death of an idea, a hope, or a dream. And it hurts. Feel like you flew too close to the sun. Sound dramatic? Maybe to those friends and family, but you know better.
You learn how to grieve. You don’t find a way to “get over it”, you learn what you have to do to “get on with it.” Some writers never do. They’re the ones who tell you how the business sucks, how unfair, fixed, broken and backward-thinking all the players in it are. I think if you reach that point the well hasn’t just run dry, it’s become poisoned.
Those feelings always scared tme to death. Anything but that guy. Lord knows it’s hard enough to succeed in art but without the ability to dream? It’s impossible.
You never get used to disappointment, but knowing it when you meet it and knowing how to deal with it is a great tool for a songwriter. It's easy to celebrate, grieving is hard!
A few months back I was inspired to write a melody after picking up an Epiphone Casino, the type John Lennon played. It seemed to lead me down a familiar road all on its own. Didn’t write it for a project, publisher, artist, or with any thought of making money. I didn’t have an idea for a lyric, just the melody and vibe. I did something else inspired that I wouldn’t normally do. I had my buddy Bob Britt put together a track before there was a lyric because I felt it would make the idea come to life. At that point, I gave it to my favorite lyricist and close friend Kye Fleming with the feeling she would ‘get it'. She got it, and Kevin Savigar in LA finished the demo. We all loved it but weren’t sure where it belonged, only that it was a message worth hearing in these times.
Forward to two weeks ago. The song found a home with Amnesty International who passed it on for one of their artists to perform on the John Lennon Tribute Concert last Saturday, to be a part of the AMC broadcast ( thanks Kenny Aronoff) and be a single the day after. Producers agreed, contract done, one HUGE dream about to come true. Except it didn’t. Here's the postmortem I wrote:
“The song 'What Would Lennon Do' that Kye Fleming and I wrote has been on some kind of journey! We found out about the John Lennon Tribute concert in NY this Saturday and with the help of some amazing friends we not only got Amnesty International to sponsor our song, but the concert to give us a slot for an Amnesty artist to perform on Saturday, for the AMC special on the 19th and as a single after the show. It's been given to Bono, Sting, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Bryan Adams, and even Yoko in the last few days. Long, long story and journey short, Amnesty has been unable to get one of their artists there on Saturday to perform it so far. Bono is still a long shot as is a filmed performance by Bryan Adams.They basically ran out of time with the short schedule and busy season for these artists. So, thanks and look for it to be a part of an Amnesty project in the next few months. Kye and I have donated all proceeds and Amnesty has been awesome. Disappointed as you can imagine, but there are big plans for this in the new year!”
Believe me, this one hurt
Sure I could put a positive spin on it, but for a few days after our deadline came and went...it got pretty dark.
I promise, I’m finally to my point. To survive the free fall that can come with a breathtaking ascent you have to learn to grieve. Acknowledge it. You have a right. And every good songwriter who’s still here has his or her way of grieving so they can move on to the next dream. Mine is to shut down. Maybe two days. I might rail against the powers that be, might give the corkscrew a workout, years past I might have put a dent in a few things in my studio but I did what I knew I needed to do. I still do. Whatever it takes to heal without bitterness.
This is the Tuesday after the rough week and I’m fired up over a few things today including new plans with Amnesty International for the song and I’m breathing just fine. Dream on.
Dec 9, 2015
Image : Shutterstock
Thanks to Taylor Sullivan for her mad editing skills!
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Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 15 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for this years UK Songwriting Contest, New England Songwriter Search , a contributing author to the USA Songwriting Competition a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.
Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.