It’s YOUR music. Make it personal.
I’ve always appreciated the songwriting of Allison Moorer. Allison is wife to Steve Earle and sister of Shelby Lynne. She received an Academy Award nomination for her song “A Soft Place to Fall,” which was in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer. She did the single version of Kid Rock’s song “Picture” (most people know the female voice on that song as Sheryl Crow, but if you purchased the single version, it came with Allison Moorer’s voice). She’s had five singles on the Billboard charts.
Yet none of these accomplishments define Allison Moorer. Her music is far more than a Billboard hit and she is much more than an Academy Award nominee. I managed Allison for a few years, and I learned a lot from her during that time.
Songwriting is personal — very personal. That is something I was never able to fully grasp until working with Allison. Prior to Allison, most of the artists I had worked with were “hit-makers” or at bare minimum they were aspiring hit-makers. Previously, I primarily worked with artists who either had some radio hits, or who were constantly trying to have a radio hit. But that’s okay — that was their goal — that was their definition of success.
Allison didn’t care about hits. But not in a “I-don’t-have-any-hits-so-I’m-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-care-about-hits,” kind of way. She actually did have hits, and she had all the skills to have become a hit-making factory if she had wanted. But it likely would have meant some musical sacrifices.
Make no mistake about it folks, hits are a formula. There are actually websites that study current hits in an analytical fashion. They show you all the statistics of current hit songs: the average length of time before reaching the first chorus, the primary instruments, the average length intro, outro, etc. Practice that formula long enough and you too can likely have a hit.
But, it may come at a price.
Remember earlier in the book when I talked about defining success? You’ve got to clearly define exactly what it is you want in order to obtain it. You can’t be successful if you haven’t defined your idea of success.
Allison Moorer’s idea of success was not about how many hit songs she could chart. It was about writing songs that were deeply personal and meant something to her.
When listening to Allison’s songs, it was as if I could hear her reaching into the depths of her soul and somehow miraculously transferring those emotions onto a recorded medium. To her, that was success. If she could take her thoughts, feelings, and the very core of her being and translate that into a song, it was a successful song.
This isn’t to say that she would turn her nose up at commercial success, but she wasn’t willing to obtain it at a price of sacrificing her idea of success, which was doing songs her way, musically and lyrically.
I made a big mistake early on with Allison. I incorrectly assumed that her idea of success was similar to that of other artists I had managed. Commercial success at any price. Hit songs at any price. Mainstream acceptance at any price.
Nope, not Allison.
Allison did (and still does) things her own way. But again, let me make this very clear, she doesn’t do things her own way in a “Screw you! I’m too cool to conform. Down with The Man!” kind of way. She does things her own way because that is her idea of success. If the rest of the world likes it, then great. And if not, who cares? She is still successful, because she has clearly defined success.
Why are you doing what you are doing? Every single day continue to ask yourself, “Why am I in music? What is my idea of success?” Be specific and honest with yourself. I can’t drive it home hard enough: You have got to know in detail exactly what it is you want, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to achieve something when you’ve not even clearly defined what it is you’re trying to achieve.
How do you know whether or not you are successful if you have not detailed your definition of success?
You should not only clearly define success to yourself, but also to those you work with. Trust me on this one, if your idea of success is not traditional or mainstream, don’t expect those business people in your life to immediately understand it. Tell them and tell them again. Make sure they understand, and when they do, work with them in helping you achieve those goals.