Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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Writing About Current Events From a Different Perspective

“With history piling up so fast, almost every day is the anniversary of something awful.” – Writer & Artist, Joe Brainard

Recently, while cleaning out my closet, I happened upon a small book of Daily Meditations given to me by a friend a long time ago called The Promise of a New Day (copyright 1983). The book goes through each day of the year and offers a quote and a short spiritual reflection.  I hadn’t opened this book in well over a decade, but last week I found myself turning to the February 7th meditation which begins with the quote at the top of this page. 

At first I was surprised to read this quote from the 1980’s that felt so relevant for today’s world. But then I realized that in every decade, at every point in history change is inevitable, and with change comes discomfort, fear, anger, and as the quote says, “the anniversary of something awful.” Joe Brainard died in 1994 of AIDS. Can we take a moment of pause to reflect on how incredibly scary and sad that time in our history was until, thank goodness, we found a treatment for HIV?  Our amazing scientific and medical community created an antidote to something horrific.

Obviously, as writers and artists, we have a responsibility to reflect the trouble in the world around us as songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan did in the 1960’s. But can’t we also create an antidote to the daily assault of awful news? If history is comprised of times of trouble, war, disease, hunger, and hate, isn’t it just as important to highlight the love, compassion, simple moments of trust, help, hope, and success?

As a songwriting exercise, try making a list of the little things that have kept you motivated, inspired, happy, or brought you peace of mind, during these difficult times. Kissing your loved one good night, scratching your dog’s tummy, taking a walk near a stream, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, holding open a door for a stranger and exchanging a smile. Keep a section in your “title book” or idea journal specifically for a daily dose of positivity. See if you can practice a heightened awareness for the the good things that we often take for granted like a compliment from a friend, being in the fast line at the grocery store, having enough gas in your car, birds chirping when you open your door, or a warm coat when it’s cold outside. Write it all down.  These specifics will inform your lyric with a universal theme of gratitude and  provide a different perspective on our current events. Bring this perspective into your next song.

 


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Finding Time to Write

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.” 

— Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Headspace meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  • Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  • Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  • Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  • Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
  • “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .

Wishing you all contentment and time to explore your muse in the new year!

 


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November. How Do You Feel?

“The days are long, but the years are short.” – Gretchen Rubin

It’s the first of November and sleigh bells ring…are you listening? I walked into the local bagel shop this morning and heard Winter Wonderland streaming through the speakers. I caught myself humming it all day long. The song itself makes me feel festive, but the idea that November marks the official commencement of the holiday season and the beginning of the end of the current year, well, that makes me feel a little…I dunno. Relieved? Accomplished? Anxious? Hopeful?

If you’re like me the last couple of months of the year are bittersweet. On the positive side, I can look forward to a little time off from work and school, a few days to sleep in, some shiny new stuff for the house, a chance to see friends and family. On the other hand, I’m running out of time to clean out the closet and bring those old clothes to Good Will. I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t even start the book I was planning to write this year. I’ll notice that the extra pound or two or ten that I was sure I’d work off are still there and my bike is still gathering dust in the garage. Above all, the next two months will be a time of reflection. A time to remind myself to practice gratitude.

As the year is winding down and the new year is almost here, how do you feel? What’s the first word that comes to your mind? Feel free to share it in the comments area.


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10 Facts About Music Licensing That Will Put You In a Good Mood by Diona Devincenzi

Let me introduce you to my friend, Diona Devincenzi (isn’t that one of the lovliest names you’ve ever heard?).  I met Diona, a talented singer-songwriter, in the early 1990’s when we were both fairly new to the “Nashville thing.” Perhaps she’ll remember the story about how back in the day, when we were all pretty broke, she invited Danny and me for a dinner at her place. Having gotten used to eating a lot of vegetarian Pot Lucks with friends, I was shocked that she and her fella, Jerry, served us a REAL meal…appetizers, main dish with meat, dessert…the whole kaboodle! She chuckled at my delight. Ah, those fond memories of being a starving artist. 

Diona has remained on the cutting edge of the songwriting business, traveling back and forth from Nashville to the West Coast.  I’ve always admired what a hard worker and go-getter she is. Here’s one of my favorite articles from her blog Savvy Songwriter. You can find out more about her (besides that it’s grand to be invited to her house for dinner) at her website dionadevincenzi.com

-Sara


10 FACTS ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING THAT WILL PUT YOU IN A GOOD MOOD

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of doom and gloom about the music industry lately. Articles which lament the demise of the value of music and the dwindling earnings from making and selling it. So I wanted to present a different perspective in an area of the music business that is actually thriving: MUSIC LICENSING.

Here are 10 facts about music licensing that will put you (or should put you) in a good mood.

1. YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE SOME MONEY AT IT
Yes, you actually can. You’re not going to get rich with just one placement, but if you are a prolific writer with many songs that are placeable, you can make some decent money. BUT, be prepared to be patient because it won’t roll in over night.

2. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO PLACE YOUR SONGS IN FILM/T.V. AND MULTI-MEDIA EACH YEAR
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) there were over 2,000,000 opportunities to place your songs in film & television just last year alone.

3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE 20 SOMETHING.
Those years are past me and many others I know in the music licensing business, but that doesn’t matter because what people need desperately are songs to place with their visual production. And they don’t care how old you are. They only care how good your song is and how it might fit their project.

4. IT’S A RAPIDLY GROWING INDUSTRY.
In fact, it’s the only part of the music industry that is growing, besides touring. Need we talk about CD sales? No, already done. But as content is king, so are songs.

5. YOU CAN WRITE IN MULTIPLE GENRES.
If you want to, you can write in every genre imaginable, and even some that are new hybrids. If you want to write a pop/rock song, go for it. If you want to tackle a Bollywood tune, no problem. You get to write whatever you want, as long as it’s commercial.

6. IF YOU WRITE BOTH LYRICS AND MUSIC, THEN YOU BASICALLY HAVE YOURSELF TWO TRACKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE.
Many times a music supervisor (decision maker) will ask for and use the instrumental track versus the vocal one. Well, no problem, you literally have 2 songs – one with both lyrics and music and one with just the music. You double your opportunities as well as your catalog. And that’s just a side benefit.

7. YOU’RE GOING WHERE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS HEADING.
We all see the writing on the wall when it comes to CD sales. It’s all about streaming these days. If you’re writing for the music licensing opportunities, then you’re at the forefront of where music will be in the future. Sure, no one can really tell the future. But with all of the cable channels and new networks and “screens” popping up to enjoy content, there is a growing marketplace for usage of songs. If you’re not thinking about music licensing then you’re out of the game.

8. YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A PUBLISHING DEAL.
Middlemen are disappearing in the music industry, much like a lot of other industries. There are more and more opportunities to pitch your songs directly to the gatekeepers, thanks to technology allowing for direct access.  You couldn’t do this 20 years ago. So welcome to the directness. Just make sure you are prepared when you do pitch your songs though, because as the saying goes, “You only one chance to make a first impression”.

9. THERE ARE RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING.
I scoured the four corners of the earth to find out all I could about music licensing when I started getting involved. I still consume all things music licensing in the way of books, blogs, articles, podcasts etc. In fact, I’m in the process of writing an e-book right now on it.  And thanks to Google search and the like, all the stuff you need to know about music licensing is at the tips of your fingers.

10. IT’S A THRILL WHEN YOU HEAR YOUR SONG IN A FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW, MOVIE OR AD.
We all write songs because we love it. Well, this part of the glory of your hard work is really gratifying. ‘Cuz you get to tell all your friends and family about your latest rockstar placement.

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Diona Devincenzi is a songwriter/producer born in San Francisco and hanging her hat in Nashville. Check out her blogs at Savvy Songwriter .


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As the Waters Rise…

Watching the images this week of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey wreaked on the greater Houston, Texas area –  the stranded families being rescued from their submerged homes, the floating cars, the highways under water, the neighborhoods turned into islands – has stirred in me the powerful memories of living through the great flood of 2010 in Nashville, TN.  Besides the obvious disbelief we all felt as the rivers and streams crested and overflowed all around us, in the end the real story was how friends, neighbors and complete strangers came together to help each other in any and every way they could. Somehow, no matter what else we believed politically, religiously, or any other “-ly” didn’t matter during that time of crisis. Instead, the spirit of American volunteerism, neighborliness, and fortitude completely took over. I see this spirit rising for Houston right now and feel reassured.

(Photo May 2010, Sara and Danny assisting volunteers remove dry wall that had been damaged by flood water from the home of one of our local elementary school teachers.)

It seems like the right time to repost the heartfelt article, SongU.com co-founder and CEO, Danny Arena,  wrote that was originally published in Music Row Magazine on May 6, 2010…The names have changed but the idea remains.

Our City

I have been asked by friends, family and SongU.com members from around the world how they can help those in TN affected by the flood. I realize it’s hard to completely understand the magnitude of what happened here. I live here and I can’t comprehend it. This was a historical record rainfall for Nashville and middle TN. We had more rain than we’ve ever had since they began tracking rainfall. We topped the state’s record for rainfall in the entire month of May before sundown on May 2nd. We had about 40% of Seattle’s annual rainfall in less than 2 days. If this was snow, we would have had the equivalent of 13 feet of snow in less than 48 hours. This is not a once-in-a-while kind of flood. No, this one’s in the record books. It’s a once-every-hundred-or-two-hundred-years kind of flood.

The devastation is so widespread, it’s unbelievable. You would probably have to submerge my entire home state of NJ in water to cover as much area as this flood has covered in TN. While a few of these areas are flood prone, the majority are not and a large portion of the people affected do not have flood insurance. Just to give you a better picture of my little world, I could easily draw a one-hour radius from my house and barely scratch the surface of people affected. Across the road from our development, one of our daughter’s elementary school teachers lost everything in the flood. Just up the street at the Fieldstone Farms development, they were rescuing people in boats – one house in Fieldstone caught fire and blew up. Drive south for about 30 minutes, you would get to my friend Dale and Carol’s farm which is home to the annual Blackberry Jam Festival where Michael McDonald played a couple of years ago. Their entire first floor of their house was submerged in water. It took a group of four of us about 3 hours just to clean the mud out of one bathroom in their house.  Drive west about 40 minutes and you’ll get to Bellevue, an area I lived in when I first moved to Nashville. Entire neighborhoods are underwater. Our friend Gary and Robin’s house managed to escape with about a foot of water, but the rest of their cul-de-sac was submerged. Cars were floating upside down on the road in front of the nearby Belle Meade Kroger. Two people died when their car turned over. Two others drowned behind the Belle Meade Kroger. Head northeast about 40 minutes to Hermitage and you’d get to my friend Denise’s house. The water level is at the top of her garage — she needs a boat just to reach her house. Head north another 30-40 minutes to Goodlettsville and Hendersonville and you’ll find the houses of some of my students and faculty at the college where I teach that were destroyed due to the flood.

Somewhere in the center of all this is downtown Nashville. The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Schermerhorn Center, Broadway and Second Avenue all flooded. The Titans Stadium where my seven-year old daughter, Mia, ran the Country Kids Marathon a week ago was flooded up to the level of the first row of seats in the stadium. Other historic landmarks that are synonymous with Nashville are badly flooded and damaged, including Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry. It is going to take a lot of time and resources for Nashville and all the areas affected by this catastrophic flood to recover. Here are some ways you can help:

Donate money. You can donate to the middle TN Red Cross online at http://www.middletennredcross.org. If you’re a texter, you can text REDCROSS to 90999 on your cell and a $10 donation will be sent to the middle TN Red Cross through your cell phone provider.

Donate stuff. People lost everything. While you can’t replace possessions with sentimental value, you can give someone a shirt to wear or sneakers for their kids or towels or rags so they can clean the mud out of their bathtub. Check out the clothing drive for middle TN residents at: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=113883681985618&ref=ts or the cleaning supply drive at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=111188545589696

Participate in clean up crews. If you live within driving distance and have the time or skills and want to help cleanup and rebuild, go to Hands-On-Nashville at http://www.hon.org They need volunteers immediately.

Donate food. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle TN is continuing to provide a central distribution center for companies, groups, and individuals to help provide food for Middle Tennessee’s affected families. Check it out at: http://www.secondharvestmidtn.org/

Plan to visit. Nashville is a great city that has many businesses and jobs that depend on tourism. Come see us. Plan your next family summer vacation or next year’s business conference here. Check out the Nashville Chamber of Commerce for more information at http://www.nashvillechamber.com/Homepage.aspx

Spread the word. Others may not necessarily realize how bad we were hit because of the way the media industry and news organizations work. People are going to need assistance down here for a long time in order to rebuild their lives and restore our historical landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel, Country Music Hall of Fame and historic Second Avenue.

I love Nashville. It’s a big name city that has a small town feel. Contrary to its sequined, cowboy hat and boots image, Nashville is an incredibly diverse city where the music industry, universities, and lifestyle brings together people from all walks of life, whether they’re writing a song or watching a TN Titans or UT football game. We have one other thing in common – we love our city. If you’ve seen some of the videos and pictures that have been posted, you can probably see why we are referred to as the “Volunteer State.” When the time calls for it, we simply roll up our sleeves and get down to it because there is work to be done.

And there is much work to be done. One of my friends who works at one of the major media outlets in the New York-Metropolitan area relayed to me that Nashville hasn’t been getting a lot of national coverage because our story lacks the “hook” of some of the other currently hot issues like the oil spill and the bomb in Times Square. I get that. I’m a longtime songwriter who certainly understands the power of a “hook”. Truthfully, even if we had our “15 minutes” of full-court press media coverage, it wouldn’t begin to touch how many months or years this recovery is going to take. And it could never cover how many lives have been affected. So spread the word and pass it on. From donations to positive energy and prayers, it is all welcome and needed. This is my city and these are my friends and neighbors.


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Natural Influences in June

“There is nothing more musical than a sunset – Claude Debussy”  

Debussy asserts that musicians “read but too little from the book of Nature.” What sights, sounds, or places in nature do you find musical? Share your thoughts in the comment area.

Thanks to @liveloveFranklin for this photo of my hometown


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May the Month of May Make Your Creativity Blossom

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Each May, I watch in awe as the flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that bloom in abundance here in middle Tennessee magically transform the landscape. Spring renewal – it really does seem to make everyone and everything in life just a little more tolerable. Unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb, but I’m trying (again) to plant and nuture a flower garden in the corner of my yard. I’m finding the task to be very inspiring, sometimes a little frustrating (where’d all those Canna bulbs I planted go?) and hard -yet rewarding- work. It’s pretty much the same way I can describe songwriting as a matter of fact. 

In what ways will you let your creativity blossom this month? Do you have specific goals or are you going to let your muse guide you? Please share your thoughts in the comment area.