Recently I asked several of my students and colleagues to share their thoughts about their daily routines on songwriting. As a coach, I hear many stories about the challenges and successes of being an artist and wanted to know what my own students were doing to keep their passion strong against the odds. Does practice time determine how much you will produce? Does knowing the right person help get you ahead in this game? I wanted to know what their journeys were like over this past year and if they had any wisdom to share.
Matt Roy is 18 and has been a student of mine since he was 14 and will be attending Belmont University starting this fall. Watching Matt week after week work so hard and improve on his skills inspired me to write this blog. @MattRoyLive
Kenny Jönsson aka Schunemunk is a new student who has been classically trained in voice since his youth.
Bree Rose is the lead singer for the band, The New Royalty, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and coaching since she was 16. @breerosemusic @TheNewRoyalty
Allison LaRochelle is the reincarnation of Janis Joplin without the drug addiction and lead singer in the band, Crimson Sky. @Alli_Bally @crimsonskynj
Guiseppe Lopizzo is a colleague, vocal coach, and singer/songwriter in Italy who is in the band, Tremo, with Simone Bortolami. Giuseppe and I share vocal tips constantly! @GiuseppeLopizzo @tremomusic @SimoneBortolami
Chris Keller aka Douglas Warren is a colleague, vocal coach, and singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN, and is a bad-ass singer! @chriskellersing @ImDouglasWarren
Morgan Celentano just started her original band, Crime Alert, and is a Music Business student at Rutgers University. @MorganCelentano @CrimeAlertNJ
My students refer to Erik Parian as H.I.G. – Hot Italian Guy - and he has the voice to match his looks. @eParian
Jodi Valentin is a student at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. @herfirstwords
John Russo is the lead singer in the band Reverse Order and they will be touring Russia starting in November!
Nicky Costabile is a music student at William Paterson University and went to my alma mater high school, Immaculate Heart Academy. @NickyyCostaa
Dan Toth likes to try anything and everything involved in the music industry and has the knack for being great at whatever he tries. @Talinday
It’s impossible to insist a student practices. Either they are committed or not. I’m not going to hold their hand and force them to do what should be a reflection of their passion to be an artist. Thankfully, my students and colleagues are great role models.
How many hours per day do you practice?
Matt Roy: Usually 7-10 hours per day…sometimes more but that’s the average.
Schunemunk: 1 hour sitting [at the] piano and actually practicing, but I’m always singing.
Bree Rose: I practice I’d say 3-4 hours a day.
Allison LaRochelle: I practice 1-2 hours a day.
Guiseppe Lopizzo: Thanks to the teaching I work on my voice many hours a day, but on my own voice I mainly do the warm up and sing some songs.
Chris Keller: I play between 2-4 hours a day. Hard core actual practicing, technique, timing, etc. is significantly less…sometimes just a few hours a week. For me, I already know how to sing and I don’t have ambitions to be the next Eddie Van Halen on guitar, so that’s where I’m at with that.
Morgan Celentano: [My band and I] practice for about 6 hours a week. I sing all day…does that count as practice? Then I’m practicing 25/8.
Erik Parian: There is no set amount of time I dedicate to practicing…it usually results as some impulse that I can’t control. Sometimes it will be to rehearse, but mostly to write – they sometimes overlap.
Jodi Valentin: I am always singing and thinking about how I can make myself a better writer and performer; frequency of disciplined practice isn’t even something I have to think about. As an artist, I am ALWAYS trying to improve.
John Russo: Honestly? I’ve never been good at practicing my instrument. I got to a level where I was comfortable and confident in my abilities, and then focused on my songwriting. That is a regret of mine that I will one day remedy, but tin the meantime songwriting has become my true craft.
Nicky Costabile: I normally spend my morning practicing 2-3 hours a day, but at times can turn into a whole afternoon of playing music. I lose track of time sitting at the piano.
Dan Toth: The best way that I like to answer this is to say that I am always practicing, mainly because I am always singing, unless I am doing a recording or other project.
If you are an author, you write. If you are a painter, you paint. If you are a chef, you cook. Why then are there so many temperamental artists who wait for some magic dust to cover them before they write? If you are a songwriter, you write songs. I am so lucky that I get to hear so many songs before they are released!
How often do you work on songwriting and for how long?
Matt Roy: Songwriting is usually six hours a day, some days more or less, whether it’s working on stuff I’ve already written that need revisions or if it’s a blank page I need to fill. I have become much more disciplined realizing how much opportunity is in front of me.
Schunemunk: Whenever I feel something that’s worth writing about. I can’t force myself to write a song. It has to come organically.
Bree Rose: I song write on the weekends and jam.
Allison LaRochelle: I feel like I’m always writing in a way. There’s something so inspiring about each day that always brings a melody or line to mind. Sometimes I pursue these ideas to make them something full and complete, and sometimes I let the melodies and lines remain as simple as they are.
Guiseppe Lopizzo: At least once a week, for one hour or two.
Chris Keller: Songwriting depends on the week or my mood; depends on if I’m working with the band or myself. I need motivation. I tend to do it best in the mornings for about 3 hours.
Morgan Celentano: I write any time I get an idea, which ends up usually being at 2 am; this is generally a few times a week.
Erik Parian: Songwriting is no longer a job or something I “should do.” It has become a force, a need that will kill me if I don’t address it. When I really committed myself to being an artist, I opened up the floodgates of vulnerability and emotional instability. These songs, whether finished and polished or in their infancy, help to keep me balanced. A songwriting session can last 15 minutes or it can be for the entire day.
John Russo: I write every day from when I wake up until I fall asleep…probably 8 hours a day at least. Through songwriting I have also advanced my guitar playing, bass playing, and programming.
Nicky Costabile: Part of my morning routine is working on my original songs. I play them over and over again to make sure they’re at their best. I never force songwriting though. That is something I only do whenever I feel a song coming on.
Dan Toth: I am kind of always working on songwriting…because I am constantly thinking of new ideas to write about, or new melodies and instrumental parts in my head.
There is no correct answer to the number of songs you write or complete. The point is: write!
How many songs would you say you have written in the past month/year?
Matt Roy: I’m not sure…there are so many, but in the past month 30-40. Some are unfinished, some need polishing, but ballpark in the summer I try to start a new one daily.
Schunemunk: In the past year I’ve written about 20 songs.
Bree Rose: This year I’ve written 15 completed songs and over 25 songs not completed.
Allison LaRochelle: I would say I’ve written about 12 songs in the past year, 8 completed with full band backgrounds, and I feel my songwriting rate will increase as time goes on.
Guiseppe Lopizzo: 10
Chris Keller: This year I’ve written about 20 songs total, but I’m a perfectionist with my songs. If they’re just “ok” I bail very quickly and don’t finish them.
Morgan Celentano: I write a lot of songs that don’t end up being used, but in the past few months I’ve written about 10 I’ll actually use.
Erik Parian: This past month was spent down in Nashville. I was surrounded by musicians, a vibrant music scene, and a slightly different culture. I think I wrote 5 songs in the 16 days I was there…and lyrics that might be able to be used for 1-2 more songs.
Jodi Valentin: I don not have an exact count to how many songs I’ve written this year, but I know for sure that I have a group of songs that were written this year that will be on my EP that’s coming out in OCTOBER.
John Russo: Countless. But, I’m a perfectionist to the point where 75% of them make it into my trash bin.
Nicky Costabile: I can’t really give a number of how many songs I’ve written in the past year because I’m constantly recording things on my phone and writing random things down at all times.
Dan Toth: When I write my songs, I don’t just make lyrics or an acoustic instrumental to go along with it. I spend time on the songs that I think are worth it, and move past the ones that don’t work for me. Since I do things this way, the process for writing can be a bit slower than usual. When I write songs that I truly love and feel can be great, I work hard to get the song tracked and get the production at a decent level. This process can take anywhere from a couple days to a month. It just depends on the song. Because of this method I have written just over 30 songs so far this year, but they could all be hits, no extras in the bunch!
You may think that your progress is going slower than everyone else but if you log your work over the past year, you will see how much you have truly accomplished. Be proud of your work!
Looking back on the past month/year, how much have you accomplished?
Matt Roy: I have accomplished a lot and fully believe it may be some luck, but if you’re not good enough it really doesn’t matter how much luck you have.
Schunemunk: I’ve accomplished a lot in a year. I’ve made my first EP and played more open mics/shows, and have had more success with auditions.
Bree Rose: As a female fronted band, we’ve accomplished this year: main stage at Skate and Surf, opening for We The Kings, opening for Emblem 3, a new sound, currently on the runaround pop tour with Hit Chelle Rae, Brigit Mendler, Jake Miller and more; a new EP, a Christmas album, music videos, band member changes, radio interview in NYC, two shows with Jacob Whitesides. Independently, this past year I’ve learned to play guitar and can now play songs and [accompany] myself.
Allison LaRochelle: This past year has been a huge transition year for me. I’ve learned so much about myself, my voice, and the underlying truth of life. I’ve allowed myself to become much more focused in the practice of all things: music, yoga, and in general just daily life.
Chris Keller: I’m really hard on myself, so until I’m playing out consistently and have that EP out, I don’t feel I’ve accomplished shit. But my guitar playing is worlds better…that actually is a huge accomplishment for where I was 3 years ago always needing a player or playing with a band. I can actually hold my own now. Oh, and timing. My timing is worlds better. That is actually a huge accomplishment as well – should give myself credit for that.
Jodi Valentin: Looking back on this year (2014), I am proud to say my artistry has advanced immensely. I had set a self-challenge for all of spring to write a song a day. Now, this may sound like discipline, but it was more a game to me to see how much of myself I could give on a daily basis. I wouldn’t stress about it if I didn’t write a song one day, but I would definitely make up for it on other days, organically.
Nicky Costabile: Looking back mainly at this summer my daily routine of working on music has helped me be motivated to accomplish more and more.
Work hard and the luck will follow. If you don’t work hard, luck may come your way but it may not be the good kind.
Do you credit your self-discipline for your accomplishments or do you think luck is a factor?
Matt Roy: If you do not polish your craft to the point where you are the best you can be, luck will never be a factor. Luck may get you there, but hard work keeps you there.
Schunemunk: I guess a lot of it is right place at the right time but if I didn’t do the work or I wasn’t prepared I wouldn’t have gone very far.
Bree Iafelice: I give myself credit for most of my accomplishments. I’ve been very lucky as well to get some of the opportunities I’ve gotten as far as performing with bigger artists. Luck is always a factor. I’d say I’ve worked my ass off to get to where I am, but I love what I do and even though I could call it work, I wouldn’t wanna be doing anything else. I’m home on stage. As far as self-discipline, I know that in order to move forward and improve you need to practice, learn from your mistakes and push yourself every day to be better.
Guiseppe Lopizzo: Luck has to find you ready, and being ready needs self-discipline.
Morgan Celentano: I like to think of it like this: luck is great and all, knowing the right people is a massive benefit, but if you’re not great, it doesn’t matter how great your luck is or who you know. I’d credit what I’ve accomplished in the last few months definitely to knowing the right people, but also having the self-discipline to get them to care enough to help.
Erik Parian: I definitely credit commitment the most. This last year has been a huge transformation for me. Before, I wasn’t really living and breathing music – I guess I thought other things were as or more important. It’s probably the same in any field – when you dedicate yourself completely and give it everything you have, your chances of “getting lucky” improve drastically – which implies that there really isn’t much luck involved (outside meeting the right people, etc.). But 90% of your success, despite incredible marketing, despite labels that have incredible tools at their disposal, despite everything we often think guarantees success, comes down to the product, which is YOU.
John Russo: I look back and see tons of things I’ve accomplished all through self-discipline: the national tours, America’s Got Talent, Warped Tour, Bamboozle, news appearances, radio appearances, etc. There is no such thing as luck. Luck is being prepared for the moment you need to outperform everyone else, and you will have that moment.
Dan Toth: Someone once told me that luck is just a myth and that we make our own luck by putting ourselves into situations that will bring us success. I have always followed this, and it has proven successful over and over again. I work hard and do my best to get myself to where I need to be in order to make the connections and to network myself. Luck has a little to do with it, but you’re going to have to meet it halfway.
Any final words?
Matt Roy: It’s all about the work you put in; nothing is given in this business.
Bree Iafelice: I couldn’t be happier.
Allison LaRochelle: In becoming more present minded, it becomes much simpler to accomplish tasks when you don’t get overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done.
Chris Keller: Timing matters in the real world.
Erik Parian: If you want to be an artist, or rather, if you need to be an artist, you have to embrace all that makes you human.
Jodi Valentin: I would say being aware of people’s reactions to songs live is key to great songwriting.
How about you? Please share your answers to these questions!
Peace out and rock on!