Write Anyway: Keeping Your Creative Pilot Light Lit

Photo by Michael Arnaud

Photo by Michael Arnaud

I’m coming up on my 60th birthday on Sept 14th of this year (don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia). In reflecting back on my path so far, I can say that among the many other things I’m really grateful for, I really appreciate having had the ability to make my living doing what I’d be doing anyway—writing and singing songs. Although being a songwriter is hard work sometimes, it is passion that drives me beyond the futility and frustration that is inherent. Passion fuels my pilot light. The job comes with a lot of ups and downs and certainly a good dose of rejection. But my t-shirt says “Write Anyway!” More about that later.

So much has changed with this new paradigm shift to digital and streaming, it’s not an overstatement to say that it threatens extinction for the working songwriter. By that I mean someone who was born to just write and doesn’t perform or tour as an artist. Historically underpaid anyway, the working songwriter’s income is controlled and limited by the federal government and now it has gotten minced to fractions of cents.

Lost somewhere between the promise of what the technology can offer and the suffocating sticky bonds of antique laws that even further restrict the paltry trickle down, working songwriters more than ever find themselves in a world of confusion, misinformation and greed unable to live off of the drops coming out the other end of the hose.

This has been beyond disheartening for me and all those who can clearly see what is happening. Music has never generated more wealth than it does today. That’s right. Don’t ever think just because it’s “free” that it isn’t generating energy and wealth to the gatekeepers. The fruits of music today are harvested through a different paradigm now, and fair compensation to songwriters has never been more blocked, usurped, withheld or hijacked. Attention, eyeballs, clicks, data mining, massive use of ads and other stuff, is syphoned off, consumed and controlled by huge billion dollar companies with little connection with or concern for the damage that has been done to this creative community. The “old gatekeepers” meaning the major labels and publishers have done their best to land grab what they can, in some cases making under the table arrangements with the “new gatekeepers” from their position of power of ownership of large catalogs. Ok. Enough attempting to explain. To simplify, the creators are not at odds with the fans or lovers of music. As always there’s plenty of riches to go around. But while there are some new opportunities for creators, the working songwriter working through a publisher (which is the majority) has been trampled.

I do not have the answer. I want to believe good humans will prevail and this will get worked out. But in the meantime what can one do? It might surprise you to know that even in spite of anger and frustration about this, I still preach the gospel of “Write Anyway.” If you were born to be a songwriter this is no time to be practical. We need to hear your voice more than ever before.

Think about how certain songs inform our lives. In one of my favorite Joni Mitchell lines she describes time as “marked by lovers and styles of clothes.” She could have just as easily said that about songs, too. The way songs enrich our lives cannot be measured. Those with the gift to write the most brilliant songs have provided our culture and humanity with something that is priceless. Once a great song is sent out into the world it carries it’s own replenishment as it’s shared from heart to heart. One of my favorite moments working with the great Waylon Jennings was when he turned to me as said “a great song don’t care who sings it.” Indeed!

I have grown to love teaching so much because it helps to remind me of the most important reason to “write anyway.”  Because we are all only here for the time we have. What mark do you want to leave on the inside of your cave? What leavings from your heart and soul can you gift to us, to those in your life and beyond?

The wonderful creative adventurers who come to my workshops are sometimes folks just burning to write songs for a living, and sometimes folks who never even tried to write a song but want to learn how to tap into that creative flow. The lesson is the same. You are the only one with your voice who can tell your story from your spot.

It’s wonderful to feel respected and fairly compensated for your work. But the irony is, in order to truly tap into creativity you have to let go of worrying about that and open fully into the flow. You are the CEO of your one-and-only unique point in all time and space, that one unique perspective—looking out from behind your eyes, through the filter of your heart and history. The sharing of your story and your life’s experience through creative expression is the most important work you can do as a human. Well, that and raising children with love.

I am actively involved in trying to be a part of the solution as far as how the business end can be sorted out. I’m working with a great organization called Content Creators Coalition (C3) made up 100% of artists and writers. Check out this link to become educated about what’s happening and what needs to change.

But when I sit down to write a song I want and need to stay free from the undertow of all that chaos and craziness.

I go to my happy place surrounded by my whacky tchotchke collection. I keep a picture of Van Gogh near my piano. I know no matter what insanity is happening in the professional world of songwriting I must “write anyway.” Play best craps online games directly in Chrome browser

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25 Enlightened Replies

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  1. ken mcnally says:

    hi Beth, You even write prose well too . Brought tears to my eyes – your article. I am still not totally sure of what my motivations are to songwrite but am more open to experimenting and continuing
    for a while to songwrite because (to Paraphrase) its actually in us so to speak to do so. Perveresly it was heartening and relieving to read that the music biz monetarily , commercially is hardly all that relatively rewarding for even you these days , Also for me it of creates a sense of camraderie, trust and less aloneness in reading that from you. In closing -Grateful to read and sense your passion and insider’s concerns insights and caring for songwriter ,creators.
    Ken –
    (from Omega 2016 workshop). I hope to follow up with you via email on songwriting and stuff sometime soon.l

  2. ken mcnally says:

    hi Beth, You even write prose well too . Brought tears to my eyes – your article. I am still not totally sure of what my motivations are to songwrite but am more open to experimenting and continuing
    for a while to songwrite because (to Paraphrase) its actually in us so to speak to do so. Perveresly it was heartening and relieving to read that the music biz monetarily , commercially is hardly all that relatively rewarding for even you these days , Also for me it of creates a sense of camraderie, trust and less aloneness in reading that from you. In closing -Grateful to read and sense your passion and insider’s concerns insights and caring for songwriter ,creators.
    Ken –
    (from Omega 2016 workshop). I hope to follow up with you via emai on songwriting and stuff sometime soon.l

  3. Robert Lindsay says:

    Beth, thank you for this message, I love hearing what you have to say about the art of writing. Since meeting you, Lydia, and the rest of the gang the floodgates have opened for me. I may never make any money at it but my cave walls will certainly be covered… I still have not retuned my guitar by the way…it’s got some type of magic.

    Much love
    Robert

  4. Carol Lyman says:

    Hello Beth. Can’t tell you how transformative your PSCW Scotland workshop was for me this spring. I have never felt so empowered or inspired after a songwriting workshop. A day hasn’t gone by when I haven’t applied something I learned from you during the course of that week, (even while attending Richard Thompson’s “Frets & Refrains” camp earlier this month (my fifth). Can’t wait for the next opportunity to work with you again.
    Off topic, but guess what?
    My daughter is expecting twins!

  5. jim blyth says:

    Is there a definitive book on how the whole artist….song writer….publisher …..music producer receives compensation. I suspect there are some generalizations but maybe not.

    • BNC says:

      Hi Jim….It’s a bit of a mess right now. Much is changing in the music biz and there may very well be some great books on it….but I don’t have names. I just try to encourage folks to create in spite of all that for reasons that transcend the biz aspects! 🙂

  6. Amy Sky says:

    Beth- your description of the creative process for both creator and listener is as wonderfully evocative as your songwriting! Thanks for all you are doing to help keep the fair compensation pipeline open. xoxo

  7. Bart Erbach says:

    You inspire me. You inspired me at the Omega workshop last summer and this post rekindles the excitement I felt then. I love writing, and the relationships I formed last summer live on. I had one of our songwriting workshop classmates (from Nashville) perform at my house two weeks ago and just visited another in Boulder. If you haven’t read The Letters of Van Gogh, you’ll love them. As for me, I keep your words about my song near my guitar, and heart. I am so grateful for your voice, in all its forms.

  8. My solution to the craziness is to withdraw your labour like any good union member in your own personal union would. Then, sell your skill to another higher bidder. If the USA restricts your ability to support yourself as a songwriter, maybe Canada or Ireland will support and nurture you as a songwriter.

    Only that level of embarrassment will bring the law and ultimately, tech shareholders into line. Imagine if all US songwriters suddenly became digitally associated with a foreign songwriting collective in protest?

    And as a songwriter myself, i cant not write, its my happy place in thus world.

  9. Denis mc grath says:

    Hi Beth had the pleasure of seeing you in Whelan s in Dublin last time you were here and the reason I went along was because I have always gone to the inspiration of songs and as a young 63 Year old I have had the pleasure of listening to a multitude of brilliant songwriters and still.look out for new talent recently.discovered Kandace Springs from.Nashville but agree with everything you.said in your article but how do you stop technology which has become so much part of all our lives taking over and songwriters fall through the cracks

  10. Josh Connor says:

    Poignant words from a true and inspiring teacher – passing this on! Thanks Beth!

  11. Kurt Freund says:

    The tragedy of “the music industry” affects us all and is unbearably painful. Without music to feed our souls we are reduced to our defective brains and their garbled output.

    You are a hero in my world, Ms. Chapman. Your music and your lovely voice have nourished me for months and continue to do so. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I love you.

  12. Joi newby says:

    Beth Nielsen Chapman- thank you for posting this.
    It is my intent to check out the link-
    I have been signing petitions and passing along information. However I am finding very few music consumers actually understand what is happening and why they should care…..
    so I suppose:
    If we were to tell our Congressmen “Hey we the people rewrote your pay scale to $5,000 a year without benefits…and… Umm…the retirement plan is gone too” I am sure heads would be rolling…I mean they sit in chairs and co-write bills all day- how can they expect to get paid well for that?
    What goes around comes back around
    I am also writing this in my sleep- hope it makes sense ? Oh the pressure! LMAO
    Write On! Hope to see you soon

  13. Mike. Davis says:

    I can think of quite a lot of songwriters who are very wealthy. I guess it’s the same in all the arts, once discovered or gotten the break you make loads of money.
    I love your songs- keep writing.

    • BNC says:

      Hi Mike! Well I can say from personal experience having written 7 #1 hit songs (most of which were hits before all this digital stuff) that my personal income dropped significantly with the dawn of this age. And I know a lot of songwriters more successful than me who are far from “very wealthy”. But being able to do what I love and make any kind of living I know is still a gift!

  14. MARIANNE DARWIN says:

    Hi Beth,
    This was awesome!!! What a beautiful reminder to Keep writing!!! Last year was beyond any human limit.Lost my brother, my dad, my aunt ,2uncles, 3 close friends…2 were suicides…all in 6 months….I was asked to sing and play some of the funerals…To vent my grief I prayed and wrote songs…I even prayed one night for Joey Feek and as I wrote the prayer it became a song…
    The writing saved me …. liberated me…comforted me…I suppose I was able to express my feelings to myself and my guitar with God watching!!!

    I will be in Buffalo NY end of August so I will miss the workshop. AUGUST 6 I will be brainstorming with Larry Dalton he has one of Elvis’ s pianos..he toured with Rick is Van Shelton for 10 years..also Willie etc.. this will be an adventure to hear his ideas..he is good friends with Martina McBride etc..when I felt overwhelmed with my teenage girls and working 65 hours and being a single mom…it was the writing that released me…Happiest Great Birthday !! You are lovely inside and out…you reminded me to have courage…and I thank you for alI that I walked away with on the inside!!! Marianne Darwin

    • BNC says:

      Thanks for writing Marianne! Sorry for all your loss….hope you can channel some of that grief into beautiful songs!

      🙂
      BNC

  15. Christopher says:

    Love this post! Thank you so much for writing it, sharing your perspective, your wisdom, good information, and yes, hope! I’m not a songwriter and I don’t think I aspire to be one but I would love to leave some good (instrumental) music behind me, whether or not it’s ever published. Can’t stop writing it and don’t want to, but I feel the words of artists and professionals like yourself are critical to keeping us in the masses informed. We are with/behind you with great love for your music and appreciation for your contributions to a better world. And, of course, we look to you for leadership. Thanks again and Love!

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