This episode about strategies for the advancing songwriter was previously published on the Profitable Musician Show.
Mike Errico is a New York-based musician, writer, and lecturing professor. He currently teaches at Yale and Clive Davis school. He has a lot to share about strategies for the advancing songwriter and he has written a book that has grown out of the questions he gets as a professor.
Mike didn’t really know what he wanted to do when he went out of college. He got into songwriting backwards. His father was a pianist who got into a popular songwriting course and decided he hated it because he is more of a classical person. Mike and his dad had the same name so he took the class instead. That was where Mike wrote his first song and it went great.
A few years later, he got signed, went out on the road, and put out records. Then he went back to teaching when he outgrew touring. He soon found out he needed a program to teach so he wrote his book, “Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter”.
As an artist, he has been on a couple of different labels. He has written for TV and film, done theme songs, ads, etc. One thing he reminds his students is to be awake and open to so many different types of music writing and songwriting because you never know where you will end up. There are a lot of artists who are not known but are making money in the background. Be as versatile as possible.
Mike made sure his book talks about other stuff that is not easily found on YouTube. He also references Janna Levin, an astrophysicist about how important repetition is when looking into the universe. She relates that to communicating through your song and repeating choruses so the audience can sing along.
You need to present yourself in a compelling and innovative way.
He was able to talk to Paul Stanley, the lead singer of Kiss, about the song called Rock and Roll All Nite, which changed the trajectory of their career. They had the greatest live show in the world, but no one understood what they were about. Their A&R person talked to them to create a song that talks about what they really want the audience to know. That was when the song was created.
One of the attorneys for the Marvin Gaye estate said, “There are only 26 letters. How many books are on your shelf?” This opened Mike’s eyes. There are a limited number of chords but 60,000 go up a day on Spotify. The way is to incorporate derivatives of things that you love.
There are a couple of ways. First of all, if you were to make a playlist of fifteen songs and there might be a song or two that would be the same, in that way, there is not a derivative nature between the two of us. When Coldplay came out, they were the derivative of Radiohead. They grew into their own thing. There is ambition. Then you have to start from somewhere and move forward. What Mike is saying is there is nothing wrong with being somewhat derivative at first because that is how we learn, but then, as we start to get our legs under us, we start to find new ways to branch out. An artist will be influenced and will be a derivative of someone.
The book also covers the business side of songwriting. Mike spoke with Shane McAnally, Leah Jenea, Madison Love, and several other pop songwriters. He talked to them about co-writing splits and how co-writing has become such a big thing. Justin Bieber’s Grammy had the largest number of co-writers ever in the history of Grammys. That is a function of the business.
Shane shares, “If you are lucky, you find your people before you are famous because they become your crew. When they become your crew, they understand you, and then you can start generating.” Madison, on the other hand, talks about people things. There are a lot of people skills involved. What you want to do is be in that group that begins to generate. The book talks about that. It talks about how to work out co-writing splits and how to be indispensable in co-writing. There is a lot of business stuff like that.
Everything goes back to relationships. Relationships are tantamount to making it in this business, whether you are writing, an artist, or a crew.
An A&R person who swore Mike to anonymity gave his advice about working with large artists. What they are looking for, in his opinion, is a song that does not sound like it is pitched, an artist’s song, a song that the artists will become a fan of, as opposed to like, “This would be perfect for you.” They get 100 million of those. Mike has an interesting advice that, if you can sound like Christina Aguilera, do not pitch to Christina Aguilera.
You also need to be yourself. Stop freaking out and know you are doing great. That is what people want.
For some people, it is hard to know what yourself is in order to be yourself. If you do not have a lot of life experience yet, how do you figure out what that is to be yourself and your songs? For the people in this stage of the journey, Mike recommends journaling every day. There are two types of written journaling that I have told them about. One comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, three pages a day, start to finish. That’s it. The other comes from a Pat Pattison book called Writing Better Lyrics, ten minutes a day, and then it is pencils down or pens down.
Mike says to them, “If you are going to journal and all of a sudden, you start talking about poetry or you are making a schematic for a guitar pedal or something like that, your journal is trying to tell you something and that songwriting might not be your thing. You might be here, but you are here because this is a point on a different line. Follow the line. If it means not being a songwriter but being happy doing something else, do that. Know that this is an important moment that you had to go through to get to another place to know yourself.”
You can buy Mike’s book, Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter, anywhere books are sold. You can get a signed copy on his Bandcamp page, MikeErrico.Bandcamp.com. His website is Errico.com. You can also follow him on TikTok at @Mike.Errico.
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Mike Errico
- Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter
- Janna Levin
- Paul Stanley
- Shane McAnally – Twitter
- Leah Jenea – Twitter
- Madison Love – Twitter
- The Artist’s Way
- Writing Better Lyrics
- Eric Bazilian
- Instagram – @MikeErrico
- @MikeErrico – Twitter
- @Mike.Errico – TikTok