With over 16 million records to his name, Mark now provides online coaching to songwriters at all stages through his website iDoCoach.com, and has recently released a book, Song Journey, which is a treasure trove of advice and techniques for writing and selling songs, with a liberal sprinkling of personal anecdotes and Mark’s own career lessons along the way.
If you’ve been listening to or watching this show for a while then you’ll know we are big believers that valuable learning often comes in indirect ways – and whenever we have a guest who plays a certain instrument or specialises in a particular kind of musicality, we like to encourage you to stay tuned even if it doesn’t seem on face value to apply to you.
This conversation was equal parts entertaining and enlightening and so we know you’re going to enjoy it, and learn some valuable new ideas for your own musical life.
We talk about:
- How playing alongside Fleetwood Mac brought Mark clarity on what kind of career in music he wanted.
- The four-stage framework which lets you quiet your inner editor and avoid writer’s block.
- And how writing a song for Tina Turner did not result in her recording it – and what he did later on that did actually lead to a Tina Turner hit…
This is Musicality Now, from Musical U.
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Mark: Hi, I’m Mark Cawley from IDoCoach, and this is Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show, Mark. Thank you for joining us today.
Mark: Thank you, Christopher. My pleasure.
Christopher: So, I was saying to you just before we hit record that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your book, Song Journey, and the way you weave together a lot of personal anecdotes and backstory with some very meaty and valuable advice on songwriting. I’ve kind of got bits and pieces of your story in my head in terms of your arc as a songwriter and how you came to be a hit songwriter, but I’d love if we could tell a little bit of the early story of how you got started in music and what your early music education looked like.
Mark: Yeah, of course. I’m an upstate New York boy, which means Syracuse, New York, Binghamton, New York, and grew up in the ’60s, and for me and an awful lot of my friends and my generation, pretty much the thing that started it all was the Beatles and Ed Sullivan, because in the U.S. in those days, which is what, ’64, that ages me, that dates me, but it was the Beatles. You’re plodding along as a kid, and all of a sudden that came out, and you looked at it, and again, so many of my friends, excuse me, identified with the same moment. You looked at it and went, “Wow. How do I do that? I mean, that’s incredible. I want to do that.” That was the beginning.
Mark: So, we formed bands, as you do. They’re called garage bands, and it wasn’t GarageBand the digital audio workstation, it was garage band that the guys in the garage, in your parents’ garage, making a hellacious racket trying to write songs and trying to be all-English. I was trying to be Brian Jones. But so were my friends, and you were just banging away, trying this stuff and trying to figure it out. Of course, nobody could write songs, but one of the things again with a lot of my friends of my era that are songwriters and artists that we talk about, that’s really funny, is we would see the British invasion and Motown, and everything was on at the same time, which was also pretty glorious. I mean, all this great music, all potpourri of stuff on the radio was amazing.
Mark: But we would hear these songs that were more sophisticated than we were capable of playing as kids, so that, at least for me, not as many of my friends in bands, but I thought, “I need to figure out how to write a song because I can’t play Procol Harum or whatever. I need to figure out something I can play with my guys in the garage,” and that was the very beginning. So many of the things we know now, like co-writing and recording studios and portable recording wasn’t available, so you really needed some guys and girls to make music with, to make a racket with, and that was certainly the beginning for me.
Christopher: That’s really interesting, so you were there in your garage with your mates, writing songs. How did you find that? Was it a struggle, was it easy, did you study up on a lot of theory to know what chords to put together, or what did that early songwriting look like?
Mark: It was definitely not theory-based. You know, I coach writers, and I try to get back to this kind of feeling with writers of being a kid where you don’t really have a million options to pick from. You pick what you can figure out. You learn a G chord, you learn a C chord and a A minor, and you play them endlessly until you try to reinvent something a little bit. So many of the things that are, again, accessible now were not accessible to at least a kid. Music school, theory, all this stuff. You were just learning. You drop a needle on a record, playing bass or guitar, trying to figure it out. Drop the needle again, figure it out. That was all that was available, but in some ways, it was necessity, the mother of invention sort of idea. You took what was available to you, and you learned from it. But, yeah, that was the beginning of writing songs, and again, most of my band mates kind of … There was a division even as a kid, where I loved writing, that part. Some of my other friends more wanted to be Paul McCartney without learning to play. So there was a fork in the road where I went, “I’m going to pursue this, and lots of your friends in those days went, “I’m going to something else. This is too hard.”
Christopher: Got you, and were you in a musical household, did you have parents who were musicians, or were they sending you to music lessons, or what kind of support did you have?
Mark: No, they … Well, that’s a good story that you ask, because it was kind of funny. I grew up in a household, my dad is from, he’s Irish, but grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and moved to America as about a 16-year-old. He played harmonica, but not professionally. He loved to write, but not professionally. I had three brothers growing up. I’m by far the youngest of the three, all have passed on by now, but three older brothers who did take music lessons, and took it all the way through school into the service bands. Air force bands, army bands, all three of them played and were studied until the moment they weren’t required to play anymore, and then none of them played again, which to me was always hilarious. Like, they’d get out of the air force, and they’d pack up the saxophone, put it under the bed, and it never came out again.
Mark: So, when it got to me, my parents went, “You know what? We give up.” It was the ’60s, and they went, “If you don’t want to do this, don’t do it, or do whatever you want to do, do it your own way,” and so I was the guy who ends up the professional musician out of all the boys in my family. Totally unstudied, just playing it by ear, literally going for it, which is always funny. But my parents were not musical, but they’re incredibly supporting. I grew up in upstate New York where you could legally play in a bar when you were 16. The drinking age was 18, but I was playing in bars at 15 and 16. They’d kind of turn a blind eye to you and let you play, and my mom was amazing because she would drive the car, the band car, sometimes toting a Hammond B-3 behind us, towing it. And she would drive knowing that I shouldn’t be in a club, but helping me pursue this dream, so she would sit outside the club for five hours and read a book by flashlight, and when I’m done, “C’mon. Don’t be hanging around the club. Get in the car, let’s go home.” At that age, you’re all “That’s not my mom. Ugh, this is terrible.” In retrospect, God bless her. I mean, that was incredible. So supportive.
Christopher: Absolutely. And so, when you talk about those bar gigs, were you writing your own songs and performing them there, or were you covering songs at that point, or …
Mark: Oh, always covering songs, sure. At that age you’re playing all the hits of the day, which is a great education as a songwriter and as a musician. You had to learn the stuff, and that was my education. That was my theory, my equivalent of theory, an equivalent of college to me. That was like learning all this stuff … What came later was, as I got a little bit older, maybe 17, 18, still in bands because that’s how you had to get out there and play, I would write some songs, and if the band would allow me to play them, learn them, we would sneak them in. So we’d play a club gig where you were not allowed to play your own songs, because they usually sucked. We’d sneak one in, and somebody’d go, “Have I heard that before?” And you’d go, “You know, that’s like a B-side of like an unknown Led Zeppelin EP,” and people would go, “Oh, okay.”
Mark: So you get called out occasionally, but we’d sneak in a few, and it was an education for me because I thought, “If they go over well within this set of all these known songs, I’m getting there.” And I still to this day, writing songs and coaching writers, talk to them about doing that, creating kind of a song sandwich where you take pretty well-known songs and put yours in there in a playlist, play them all, see how you fare. Are you holding up? The moment I thought, “I’m getting there,” that was a big moment. To think, “Yeah, these are pretty good.” You know?
Christopher: It’s so interesting that you point to that experience of learning the songs of the day, and performing them regularly, as them being a good education for you. We just came off the back of a Beatles month here on the show where we were talking exclusively about the Beatles, and of course their years in Hamburg were very much like that, performing the covers and tuning their ear into how songs work so that even if they never studied theory, they had that internal understanding. It sounds like you were doing a similar thing.
Mark: It’s like our Malcolm Gladwell moment, the 10,000 hours. The Beatles did it, I did it. A lot of writers, a lot of musicians I know did it. It was the only thing you could do to get out there.
Christopher: And I love the way you talk about it in your book in terms of studying the songs of the day. I think a lot of people get a bit anxious about not exposing themselves too much to other music in case it spoils their own creativity and that kind of thing, but you talk very clearly about if you’re going to be out there pitching your songs, you need to understand what that environment is like in terms of the pop landscape or whatever genre you’re working in. You need to have listened to the songs of the day and adapted or adopted what you can from them into your own songwriting.
Mark: I think of that as deconstruction, which I didn’t understand the term when I was a kid, but now, to me, that means you deconstruct the current hit. It doesn’t mean you copy one, it only means you assimilate it. You learn it, you figure out … The term I always like using, it gets in your DNA as a writer. You think, “Okay, that song that is so successful did this. Structurally, lyrically, melodically, they did this, and let me just get it at least in the back of my mind.” It could be as simple as when your song is almost done you look at the structure and go, “Okay, I’m not hearing anything that has five verses in it anymore.” That’s just in your DNA now from deconstructing current music, and you go, “Well, let me at least take what I’m doing make it more palatable, edit it a little, make it more in-sync with what’s on the radio.” Again, which doesn’t mean you cater to or you dumb down, any of those terms. To me, it means you just are aware of it because that’s only smart, I think, for a songwriter.
Christopher: For sure. Yeah, that pragmatism comes through really clearly in your book, and it’s something I very much appreciate, the kind of down-to-earth practicalities of songwriting as well as the wonderful, more intangible creative aspects. We touched there on a couple of themes I really want to dig into, one of which is inspiration, and the other is editing, but before we move on, I do want to ask, were there any kind of breakthrough moments? You were there playing bars and gigs. Somehow, sometime later you were this hit songwriter, you are this hit songwriter. What happened in between?
Mark: Life. A lot of life. Seriously, you learn this stuff, and I think sometimes the difference between … If I go talk to some of the guys and girls I grew up with that were interested in music, usually, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a period where they drop off. To me, that drop off was to either jump or you settle, and I don’t mean settle in a bad way. Some of my friends had a family, they got a great job, and that’s where they should be. For me, it was a jumping point, and that’s what made the difference. I grew up in upstate New York, and I’ve gone as far as I can go. I talked to a band literally from Indiana who had a record deal that had heard me and said, “Would you come write a few songs?” I shut my place down in upstate New York and got on a Greyhound bus with a Marshall amp packed in the bottom, and a bass guitar and a guitar, and just went. And thought, “I had no plan B.” Ever.
Mark: I jumped in, and looking back, those are the big moments. I could have settled or I could’ve jumped, and when I jumped, it forced me to sink or swim. Not to use cliches, but it does. There’s a David Bowie quote I always loved about creativity. He said, “I don’t feel like I’m really creative unless it’s like walking out into the ocean. The minute I know I’m in a little too deep, that’s the creative zone to me.” Anything else is like, “Nah, I’m okay here.” You got to risk, I think. I hope that answers your questions, but those became the places where I can look back now and go, “I grew because I made myself.” I moved to LA, I moved to London, years and years ago finally to Nashville. You hold yourself up against the competition, and you start to go, “All right, this is where I need to do or this is where I am.” Those are big moments in your songwriting or musician life.
Christopher: In those early years, you were playing the part of performer, artist, and songwriter to an increasing degree. Was it clear to you that songwriting was the path forwards for you, or were you tempted to be the front man or the band member as much as much as that?
Mark: You kindly mentioned the book a few times, and I think there are two episodes in there that sort of zero in on this idea. And again, a lot of my generation, you looked at the Beatles and thought, “That’s all I want to do. I got to do that. I got to be MTV, I got to be chased by gobs of women or something,” whatever your vision of that was. That’s all you knew. I thought, “If I’m playing music, that’s the goal. I got to do that,” so I finally joined a succession of bands, get better and better, and I joined a band called Faith Band from the Midwest who had a record deal, and all of a sudden get a big record deal.
Mark: Now we have one hit single called Dancing Shoes, and we are opening up for … I don’t know if they’re my idols, but the bands of the day, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, Doobie Brothers. We were opening for everybody, and that was a gut check to me, because I always loved writing songs, and I never questioned that I wanted to be a star. But now I’m face-to-face and a few feet away from Fleetwood Mac for a few nights, for instance, and I’m looking at them and going, “That’s the real deal. That is, what goes into that, that is something else.” And I thought, “Do I have that?”, and that’s a gut check, a real gut check. You go, “Am I that good? Am I that driven? Am I that self-possessed, in some cases? Is that what I want?”
Mark: I grew to be friends with some of the people that you’re dealing with, and you think, “Uh-oh. They may not have a home life. These guys and girls are away from home. They give up a lot for that limelight,” and that became my first real inkling of, “Yikes. Do I want to do that, or do I like writing songs?” So I’m still in this frame of mind, right, and this went on for probably a few years. Not consciously all the time, but finally I started making different decisions. I quit the band that had had some success and moved to LA, one of the jump periods, and held the only real job I’ve ever had in my life other than music, which was Bullock’s Department Store in Sherman Oaks. I moved to LA full hubris, whatever the term you want to use, and also then went, “Oh, I have no job.” I was used to floating along, playing in bands, getting paid up and down.
Mark: Now, I’m selling shoes in a department store and thinking, “Wow, is this what I’m … Where are we now?”, but again, those jumping-off points made a difference, and it also really let me know the value of what I’m doing, but the end of this idea, the end of this part of the story is during this time of scrambling, I had a couple of songs cut by other people, primarily Diana Ross, and at the time … I mean, she’s still a legend, but at the time, for a young songwriter, that was incredible. So, now I’m thinking, “Wow, how could I do this and just not have to go out on the road, and not get onstage, not go through the whole other lifestyle that I’m not sure about?” Because, as I said, now I had given it up. I really took a shot up, going, “I did that. I don’t know where I’m going to go, but I’m going to quit, and I’m going to go see what happens if I go to LA.”
Mark: Now I’m seeing maybe the songs are the best part of what I do, and maybe that is the way forward. So it took a little bit of traction, let’s call it that, and a couple of things happening, that moved me forward away from the artist path and into the songwriting path.
Christopher: Cool, and one of the things we love to do on this show is to take these ideas or topics in the world of music that are kind of clothed in mystery and intrigue and airy fairy magic, and try and dissect how much is there clear, practical explanation behind that magic. Not to detract in any way from the magic of music, but just to understand what’s possible for any one of us as a musician. The story you just told, I’m sure someone could take that and go away and tell it in a way which was Mark Cawley, gifted young songwriter went all in, pursued his dream, immediately had a couple of hit songs with Diana Ross and never looked back, and tell it in a very easy way.
Christopher: I wonder if we could just, maybe the Diana Ross songs you mentioned are a good example, and we could just focus in and show behind the closed doors of what actually went into that in terms of writing those songs. Was it a flash of inspiration and they were immediately fully formed, did you just throw in a demo tape to a recording label on Monday, and you had a hit song by Friday? What went into that success?
Mark: That’s a really good question because, and let’s use the Diana Ross song because that is a … You and I were joking before we started the interview that I’m old enough to be dead honest. No one’s going to come after me or change my career at this point. So, when that happened, the Diana Ross thing was a real lesson in music business. I had hooked up with an entertainment lawyer who was huge in LA, and was actually the lawyer for a friend of mine, because I was doing nothing, but I managed to get in the meeting. He liked my songs and said, “I have clients like Diana Ross. Let’s see where we go here.” So, this is my first big experience with writing, and this is just unique, it’s not this way all the time, but he said, “Okay, you’re going to write a song with Diana Ross.” I thought, “Wow. Let’s prep for this. I’ve been prepping for this my whole young life, let’s go. I know Motown, I know Beatles and Stones. I know all this influence.”
Mark: He said, “Here’s a list of titles from Miss Ross, and call her Miss Ross if you deal with her,” which was also unusual to me at the time, but at that time, you’re going, “Anything. Of course. Yes, let’s go.” The lawyer said, “She would like a song a little bit like an old Motown song, and here are lists of titles.” Now, I picked one called Shockwaves, and I thought, “That puts me in mind of Martha and the Vandellas, “Heatwave”, that kind of stuff,” so I went right down that road, which you do as a songwriter a lot of the times, you start with maybe a bit of the obvious, or a bit of where an artist has already been, and you try to go out from there. This is something you and I can talk about a little deeper later, I think we will, but at that point in life, I went, “I’ll write something I think she’s going to like based on what she’s asking for.”
Mark: Now, this, I’m not knocking her, but this happens, it still happens to this day. I wrote the song with her and a guy named Bill Ray, who is a friend and helped connect this, but primarily, I wrote it. I’m happy with it, I think it kind of fits, we send it in, everybody loves it including Diana, so I’m thinking, “This is easy.” And now I get a call saying, “Well, Miss Ross would like to change the percentage of the song.” At that age, you’re thinking, “What? No. Pay me fairly,” but the other part of you goes, “Who am I? I really need this, so what’s the deal?” And again, I’m not knocking her. It goes on all the time, and I understand the leverage involved.
Mark: I had to make a decision. Would I give her more of the song, or would I be stubborn and go, “You can’t have my song?” Because now I feel it’s, I’ve done a lot on it, you’re not going to do this. But the music business can be a bit brutal, so long story short, down the pipe comes the idea of, “If you say no, probably not going to be on the album,” and I’m thinking, “I need this break,” so as happens with young writers and young artists, you give up. You kind of go, “Whatever you want. Sure. Make sure my name is spelled correctly. Let’s go.” So I did. The funny part of the story too is that I’m still thrilled, and it was still an okay deal, and it’s still a huge break, so I was very grateful, and she did the record with Tom Dowd, who is a hero of mine. Worked with Aretha and everybody.
Mark: The end of the day, I wasn’t thrilled with it, which is also something that I can say now I probably wouldn’t have said then. The part who is on me, I looked at it and thought, “I wish I’d written a better song.” I kind of catered to what I thought she had done before and would like, and I learned later as a songwriter without a doubt, go for it. I mean, go for what you want to do, not what you think they want, and if you do it well enough, hopefully you knock them out, and I did have that experience down the road. Didn’t know that then. So, the outcome was okay, and it was certainly helpful to me, but it was not the song I wanted to write later in life.
Christopher: I see. Well, that’s definitely a theme I want to return to is writing songs for yourself versus writing them for an artist or for the success you think they’ll have, but that’s a really interesting insight into the kind of business landscape you were thrust into. What about the creative side of that song you said you were writing with Miss Ross, and did it just pop into your head in the course of a day, was there a songcraft behind it that spanned weeks? How did you reach the point where you had it at the song?
Mark: Yes, songcraft, and I think the idea was that, and I would do this to this day, you do your homework. That’s part of the craft. I thought, “Okay.” I’d been paid enough attention that I was kind of ready for this, and I thought, “Let’s see what keys she tends to sing in. What kind of things does she sing about? Let’s make sure I don’t get knocked out here because she doesn’t get it.” So, yeah, you do some homework, basically. Yeah. You kind of look for things that you think they might like to talk about. Again, keys, just tempo, things like that. You do some homework, and then it’s inspiration. For sure. You set your parameters a little bit, and then let it go. Like, I didn’t do this at this time, but I did in later years all the time. I’d get a drum loop, for instance, that would put me in the groove of where I need to go, and I’m going to let that sucker play all that long so that I can’t get out of it. I’m at this tempo, I’m in this vibe. I’m going to keep playing here and keep playing here so I know I’m at least, I’m good in this area. From there, it’s certainly inspiration, and in the case of that song it was pretty quick, I think.
Christopher: Your mention of loops there reminds me of another great story from the book talking about the hit you had with Billie Piper, who for someone like myself who’s a Brit, is a household name. I don’t know how big she was internationally, but she was top of the pop scene for a fair while there. Maybe you could just tell the story there of how there was a particular loop that kind of gave you the spark to go off and write a melody there?
Mark: I’m happy to, yeah. That used to be behind me. I was joking with you that our house, we’re selling our house and moving to another house, so all the records are gone, but that used to be behind me. It was more fun to look at. But, it was a great story, because I was signed as a writer, which I have been three different times, to London publishers. In this case, Steelworks in Sheffield. Not exactly London, but. And Steelworks was a bit like Motown was when I was a kid. It was a factory in the best sense. They would have artists come through the door, the writers were in-house, they would write with the artist, the artist would go in and do preproduction, still in the same facility. Do the album in studio A, and they’d go home, and the whole thing is crafted from beginning to end in one facility.
Mark: Now, I was a rarity because I lived in the States, in Nashville at that point, and still do, but I was signed to the Steelworks. So, I would go maybe four times a year and write with artists that were there, like Spice Girls and people like that. In this case, though, I’m back in Nashville, and my friend Elliot Kennedy, who’s incredible producer and writer, just one of the best, he’s in charge of the project. He runs Steelworks kind of, it’s his thing. And he calls and says, “Hey, we got Billie Piper in the studio,” and as you mentioned, she’s huge not so much in America, but at the time, Britney Spears equivalent for Americans, for sure. Big pop star, and I knew it, knew of her. He said, “She’s in the studio. We’ve got most of the album cut. We don’t have a single. Do you have anything?”
Mark: I thought, and I explained it in the book, and it’s very true. Songwriters tend to do, “Of course I do. Let me go find it.” I had no idea. Although I knew it needed to be uptempo, Elliot said, “We need something uptempo. Very poppy, but different.” Because we’ve been through, as happens with singles on albums, usually, they’ve heard everything. And if they haven’t found it, they’re looking for something they don’t know what it is. You got to supply something they go, “Oh, wow. That’s brilliant. Love it.” And talking about loops like we were, I was always using loops and playing with loops, and previously, I’d been published by Miles Copeland, who used to manage Sting, Police, ran a record label, and was just an amazing music guy, and I would quiz him about Sting, because I love Sting’s writing, and he said Sting would go assimilate himself into a culture, and then come away, he’d learned things. He’d learned how the music was put together. Then he’d bring it into his own thing. He wouldn’t copy it, he, again, assimilated into his music.
Mark: Desert Rose was a good example, which I love. That was so unique at the time, right? So, I’m aware of that, and I’m listening to Moroccan music, I’m listening to East Indian things, not knowing what I’m going to do with them other than I just want them to seep in. So, I was in the middle of that, this call comes, I’m working away, I’m working with a drum loop because it has to be uptempo, so I start there, and I start to sing and play a variation of what I’d been hearing, which is a little bit different than pop, but I still, to be honest, I got nothing. So as I said in the book, I just thought, and you still do as a songwriter, musician, you go, “Let’s get out of my environment, go somewhere for a little bit,” but the pressure was on. They’re in the studio, and I’m thinking I’ve got to figure out something.
Mark: So I go to the grocery store, and I walk in the store, and a melody starts to formulate. And I thought, “This is fairly well-developed, and kind of unique, and I must have stolen it.”. If it’s that good … You know, the Paul McCartney story of Yesterday is identical. He said he played it for people out of superstition. He said, “I dreamt this. Do you know this song?” Until people went, “No,” and he finally went, “Okay, I really did dream it. It’s mine.” But you have that moment of, like, “This is too good.” This is before iPhones, so I call my phone, answering machine, I lay it down, I sing it into the machine. Sing it all the way back from the grocery. Lay down a very rough version of it, and send it to Elliot. Elliot calls back and goes, “We’re doing the song now. We’re finishing it,” and that song was recorded, I think same day or the following day, finished, and debuted at number one in England. That’s as good a songwriting story as I could make up. It’s never happened since. Most writers I know don’t have that one. That was an immediate, it all just happened.
Mark: But again, when I coach writers, I stress the business part of it. Knowing the business, knowing the connections and the network. If Elliot was not recording Billie Piper, I have nowhere to go with this idea. So all this work from being a kid to getting to the networking, to getting a publishing deal put this in place for me to utilize all the stuff I’d been learning, all right?
Christopher: Yeah, there’s so much packed into that story, and I think-
Mark: Well, part of it I want to share, Christopher, sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt. One thing I tell writers is that some writers get very bitter and say, “Well, my stuff is as good as what’s on the radio. Why am I not a hit songwriter, a hit artist?” It’s that. It’s usually that there’s so much background that went into the moment that got somebody into the moment where they could show what they could do, and that’s necessary.
Christopher: You had a really interesting section in the book about how writers are often by nature introverts, and how that can make networking, as you refer to there, a bit of a challenge. What advice do you have for someone who feels like, “Ugh. Networking is not me. I don’t want to be schmoozing and trying to find my way into the right circles. I just want my songs to be out there”?
Mark: Another great question, and timely, because in a lot of what I wrote in the book, through coaching people, I really wanted them to know things maybe that I didn’t do well that I’m aware of now. Some that I did, some I didn’t. Networking to me was not an inherent thing. I have some, and you do too I’m sure, you have friends who are very outgoing, and they’re right in your face, and they’re the life of the party, and there are songwriters and artists that are that way, too. If you’re not, you would depend on someone to do that for you, almost. A publisher, a publicist, a manager. So I was lucky enough to, in the peak years of writing for me, to know good publishers. And because I was not very comfortable throwing myself right in the middle of something to go, “Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me,” which you almost have to do.
Mark: So I was somewhere in between. I could do it a bit comfortably sometimes, but really, a lot of the songwriters who had been very successful have an element of that. They have an element of being extroverted or somehow force themselves to be extroverted when they need to be. I have a friend who, I won’t give you these names, but it’s kind of funny. I have a friend who is incredibly successful country writer and wrote with, as a teen, and she would always tell me that they would go to parties and the other songwriter of the team would be right, like, if they met you, they’d go, “Christopher. Hang on a second, I got a song for you. Wait a minute, you got to hear this,” and they’d have a cassette or a CD, and they’d shove it right in your face. And my friend said, “It just freaked me out. I couldn’t do that. I would just die away from it and couldn’t put myself out there.”
Mark: And I guess the lesson is you network and you find at least a comfort zone of doing that. Social media now is a huge help. You can post your songs, you can do a lot from your room. You can get music out there, and that’s a big help. But I would say, back to the advice thing, networking is essential. Somehow you’ve got to find a way for people to hear what you do, or it won’t be successful, and if that’s going to a party, if that’s going to a workshop … Also good things. There’s so many of those out there now. I really urge writers, go to workshops, go to places where you might meet somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. As I talked about in the book a lot, there’s music, and there’s the music business. You and I are now talking about the music business, so that requires networking and some work.
Christopher: I’m really glad we touched on this, because I know that in this day and age, if you are an introvert, it’s very easy to say to yourself, “I’ll just put it out there. I’ll put it on Spotify, and my work is done.” Or, “I’ll throw it out on YouTube, and people will find it if it’s good enough.” And clearly, you still place a huge value on that personal connection and the established music industry, as it were.
Mark: I think that the key, Christopher, is probably to just have a plan. Maybe that plan incorporates the way you are as a person. Maybe your plan is that, “Okay, I need to network via social media,” but have a plan. The writers that I coach that worry me in the beginning, they go, “I write just for me. I write to write.” I’ll early on say, “What’s the expectation?”, and they’ll go, “I don’t know. Make a million dollars? To be a star?”, and you go, “Is there a plan for this?”, and sometimes they go, “Nah, that’s why I’m talking to you.” Fair enough, but I’m still going to say we need to figure out how you’re comfortable plotting this thing you want to do. Because it takes, it’s planning. For sure.
Christopher: To come back to the Billie Piper story, I think what made it stick in my head so much was there is so much packed in there, apart from the business side, is that kind of flash of inspiration and instant success, which is great, but there’s also the fact that you were immersing yourself in a particular sound that very directly lead to that inspirational breakthrough, and I have a notebook full of snippets and highlights from your book, and there are several on inspiration that really jumped out at me. One was a quote you shared from Rodney Crowell that “inspiration is earned”, which I thought was a really beautiful way of putting it.
Mark: Great quote, yeah. That’s great.
Christopher: And you also talked about how you can’t base your career in songwriting on inspiration, and so it’s clear that you do believe in inspiration, and you put value in it, and it’s been a part of your own journey, but I’d love if we could just to start to unpack some of the practicalities of the creative process, and what guidance you give in the book, and the kind of toolkit you’re equipping musicians with when it comes to going from zero to polished song.
Mark: Well, let me start from the start. If I were coaching you today, you came to me and said, “I’m a songwriter,” or an artist, I coach artists as well, but let’s talk about songwriting, creating a song. I would, number one, say, “Let’s create a ritual for you,” meaning let’s pick a time that you are going to show up all the time so that you value this thing we’re trying to do, because I think a lot of times, beginning songwriters especially, go, “Well, all right, all day long on Saturday, and then I don’t do it again for a while.” It’s pretty easy to look at that and go, “It’s not working, is it? Because it’s fragmented.” So, my advice for beginning is take two hours, pick a time you can show up, and show up. And then everything we talk about will play into the two hours. When the two hours are up, stop. I would give the same advice to a musician, someone trying to do this as a recording musician, or touring musician, or artist, is put concentrated shorter time in in the beginning.
Mark: Also, this is probably the biggest one to me as a lyricist, is that, and it plays into your point, I think, many songwriters I talk to in the beginning say, “Well, I only write when I’m inspired,” and I cannot help but go, “How many songs have you written? Because, wow.” It’s usually not many, and it’s like, well, this is the difference between someone who does this for a living, myself, people I know, you have to up that game somehow. You’ve got to find the inspiration, you can’t wait for it to hit you. So, you need tools. Not rules, but tools. One of the best ones I ever heard early on was to look for titles. They can be lines, they can be titles, but the way to find them, I’ll share the value of them, but to begin with, what I have done over the years always is take, now it’s an iPhone, but it used to be a pad and a pen, and go to a bookstore.
Mark: Walk up and down the isles endlessly. Go to a library, do the same thing. Watch TV and movies, same thing. Any time something caught my eye or my ear, it’s on the list. I just keep adding them, adding them, adding them, adding them. Then, when I sit down to write, rather than go, “Okay, I’m here, inspire me, muse,” I’d go, “What do I have on the list? Oh, there’s a title. There’s an idea. There’s something kind of fun.” That’s the difference to me is to, and that’s what Rodney Crowell’s alluding to, is that it’s earned. I earned that inspiration by spending, how would I put it, intentional time. I intentionally went and sought things that might come into play in my songwriting, all the time. Treated that as, and I still do, as part of the job. The job is not sitting and playing guitar and playing drum loops and playing keyboards and singing all the time. A lot of times, it’s like grunt work. It’s like going, “Let’s watch a movie,” and just see as a line pops up.
Mark: Because movies and television are made to have hook lines in them, and so are book titles. Book titles I love because they are made to do what a good song title does. You look at a book title and you think, “I’ll at least pick it up, flip it over and see what are they doing here.” Good song titles are like that, too, and for a beginning writer, a good song title is gold. That’s a whole nother road to go down, but talking about methodology again, I’m going to look for things to write about, and I’m going to look for a set amount of time that I know I’m going to show up. I’m going to start to utilize everything that I’ve been learning, but I’m certainly going to look at that list at some point and go, “I’m not inspired today. If I am great, then I don’t need this.” 99 out of a hundred times, you’re not. You’re looking for inspiration, and that hard-earned inspiration Rodney Crowell talks about is on my page. I’m looking for something to write about.
Mark: Now, if I do that, the next step for me is to write prose, and think, “Okay, before I just jot down everything in this world, what is this idea about?” That accomplishes a couple of things for a writer. You can write down prose and you can go, “Okay, zero this in, and let’s go. This makes it clear to me what to write about and what not to write about.” The funnier part of it to me is early on, I thought sometimes it saves me a lot of time. I’ll have a great title, I’ll write prose, and go, “I don’t think there’s anything here, because I can’t find it. Next,” and I’ll move on. So, looking for titles, looking for prose, having intentional time to write, those are really biggies.
Mark: One thing I would add too for a songwriter right now is when you have that idea of what you’re going to write about, take a second and think of a second concept. Second concept of writing is a level up, and it’s a great thing to do. For instance, if you’ve got an idea, I’ll give you a very quick story, but I have a client who I asked to do everything we’re talking about. The next week, I talked to her and say, “Find any titles or lines?” She read me a few, and one of them was called, 30 seconds from religion. I said, “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s interesting, what is that?” She said, “I have no idea.” So, that’s your first concept. She said, “Okay, I guess it is someone who’s probably in an old-age home, assisted living in the U.S., one of those kind of things, and they’re literally ready to meet their maker. They’re 30 seconds from religion, however you view it.”
Mark: I said, “Well, that’s not only not very uplifting, but it’s a first concept. Is there something else?” She said, “Not that I have.” I said, “Okay. Next week,” and I coached her every week as I do with some writers in the beginning, and I said, “Next week, your job is to have a second concept. Put the first one aside. What do you got?” Next week, she’s got a whole finished lyric that is now a country lyric about a woman who lives in a small town, still called 30 Seconds from Religion, and in the story, she’s married to what we call a God-fearing man. They go to church together, they have kids, they all sit in the same seat in church, they listen to the preacher, he’s a good guy. Good family. Then he has an affair and goes off and loses his mind. He’s having an affair in a small town, because it’s a country song. So she knows it, and she’s embarrassed, and now she’s ready to literally take the guy out, probably kill him. It’s country, again.
Mark: So, now in this song, you get to the chorus, she’s talking to the guy and goes, “Either you’re back in church with me this Sunday, in the pew, listening to the word of God from the preacher, or you’re up there in a pine box. Either way, 30 seconds from religion.” That’s like, that’s a second concept. That’s a brilliant one. And those are huge, it’s the difference between a song that somebody sometimes goes, “That’s nice,” or they go, “Oh, whoa. That is interesting.” All stemming from … I’m a title writer. I love titles. Not every writer is, some of my best friends who are really successful are not. Most of them are. Most of them are title writers and chorus writers first. So, there’s the last technique I might mention is too, I know Bryan Adams a bit, and talked to him one time and said, because he’s written so many hits. I said, “How do you write songs?”, and he said, “Chorus first. Always.”
Mark: I said, “Not me. Why do you do that?”, and he looked at me like I was stupid. He’s very direct, and he’s brilliant, but he looked at me and said, “You don’t have a hit chorus, you don’t have a hit song. So what are you doing?” Big point. I still don’t write a chorus first all the time, but I sure pay attention to them.
Christopher: Terrific. I love that story, well, both of those stories, and I love that it gives an insight, I think, into the role of a coach for a songwriter. I’m sure that’s something we’ll talk a bit more about in a moment. I would normally say I’m not a songwriter, but at the beginning of your book, you make the point that if you’ve written even a few songs, you are a songwriter, and you should call yourself one. And so, I won’t say that, I will say I’m a songwriter to some extent, but I very early on hit what to me was quite a big barrier. I think now, 10 years, 20 years on I might be a bit smarter about it, but at the time, what I hit was that inner editor, the inner critic, that almost as soon as I wrote down a lyric, I was like, “Oh, that’s not very good. Oh, I better change that.” It made everything very slow and frustrating and, I don’t know, disheartening, and I love the way you talk about the role of the editor voice in your book, and where it does and doesn’t have a place. I wonder if you could share a bit about your perspective on that.
Mark: I’ll be happy to, and I will share with you too that the thing you described is the most common thing I deal with in talking to songwriters of almost any stature or anything. Sooner or later, that bites you. Me, too. Everybody. The editor is two things to me. It is the devil when it comes in too soon, and the total opposite when you need it. It’s the sum quotient of all the things you’ve learned when it’s good. You think, “Okay, I’ve written a song,” and amateur writer might go, “I’m done. Done is fun, I’m done, this is done.” Pro writer goes, “Okay, now I’m going to edit, and I’m going to use all the things I’ve learned and look at this and go, ‘What do I do? Should it be better, are the things …’” That’s good editing. Bad editing is what we all deal with that you described. That is the, now, I always picture it as a little guy on your shoulder, that’s been done many times, but it’s a little guy going, “Really? You think this is good? Sure this is good? You’re going to keep doing this?” No matter how enthused you are when you start, if the editor sneaks in too early, you can pack it in. You can either pack it in for real that day or whatever, hopefully not worse …
Mark: But the editor, it has a place, but the place is not early, and where we usually all fall down, me included, is the editor sneaks in, and editor is a critic, and it’s self-doubt to the point … It could be anything. It could be the self-doubt of, like, I don’t know if the idea is good. I’ve been with writers who have gone through the process, who are successful writers, and the editor gets him so bad they might stop and go, “I don’t even think I’m any good. I don’t know how I ever wrote a song in the first place. I can’t do this. No one’s ever going to record this song. What am I thinking of?” And they’re done for the day, hopefully. But there are, this was not my idea, but in a creative writing course I came across four stages, and that’s been something that helps me visualize this process, and that is to look at four stages of writing.
Mark: One is preparation, which is what we just talked about. Preparation to me is preparing to write. That’s going to a bookstore, watching a movie intentionally, television, eavesdropping, going to restaurants, listening to conversations, that’s all prepping to maybe write an idea. Second stage of this is incubation, which is also huge. That’s where second concepts come out of, usually. You let the idea sit, you don’t insist on writing it. You go, “What could it be?” Let it sit around for a while. Maybe 30 seconds from religion is not somebody dying, it’s somebody ready to kill their husband. That’s incubation. Number three and number four are biggies. Number three is illumination, which is something we have not talked about, but illumination to me means you write the real stuff that’s in your head. If you have an idea, you don’t try to rhyme and make it all pretty, and say, “Look, I’m a writer. Isn’t that nice?”
Mark: You think, “What is the real stuff?” If it’s a time of day, what time of day? If it’s a woman, what’s she wearing? Describe it. Show it. I mean, the Nashville term that’s very right-on is show, not tell. Show me an idea. Like a painter, paint it. That’s where that comes in. Illuminate. Shed light on your idea in the very best idea. Number four, verification. That’s the editor. That’s the critic. If you think of it as stage four in your writing, you’re way better off. Me, too. If I think, “Okay, I’m not going to edit. I’m not going to do this until I’ve done all the other things. Have I prepared, did I let it sit, am I writing the real stuff? Now, let’s edit.” Any time those things get out of one through four, it’s food for thought. Especially the number four. You could probably do this. If it gets in your head, these things, you start thinking, “Okay, I’m in trouble now because I have an idea, I didn’t really let it sit around, I’m editing right from the first second, third line. I’m in trouble. I’ve moved four up to two.”
Mark: If you can think in those terms, some days, it will save you. It’s really good. You think, “Okay, let’s stop. Back down to number four. Let’s quit judging. Let’s just shed light.”
Christopher: I love that. Yeah, looking back, if it’s preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification, as a teenager, I was just doing number three. I was like, “Let’s write the real details. Oh, and now let’s edit.” Those are number three and four. Brutally lacking thought.
Mark: You were doing better than me. I mean, number three to me was not really … I had to learn that one. In Nashville, probably. Because I don’t know that I had a number three. I would just go, “Let’s write a song, and now I know how to rhyme, so look at me go.” You’d write it and go, “I got a song. What do you think?”, and the people who can’t write a song go, “You are a genius.” First time I sat with a publisher, they went, “Wait a minute. What’s going on here? What’s that? How come there’s a cat in here? What happened to the woman in verse two?”, and you’re going, “Are you not looking at the rhyming I did?” Publishers, it was the very first line of them going, “I’m a listener for you.” That’s what a publisher does. That’s what I do coaching, too. I go into listener’s seat and go, “You lost me, or you got me, or whatever.”
Mark: But yeah, I didn’t know how to show the real stuff. I would just make up craft, and writers that learn just craft and they stop there, I wrote about them in the book, they can be tools in the worst way. There’s a very American term of, “You’re a tool,” meaning you’re a piece of work, because they will learn rules and they’ll stop there. They go, “No, no, no. Can’t do that. You can’t do this. You can’t do that.” That’s the death of creative songwriting. It’s terrible. You got to be able to play. So my point was, I’m laughing because I wrote a lot of bad songs without writing the real things in the song. I just wrote to be clever, to rhyme, and show off.
Christopher: Got you, and you do have lots of really good ideas and examples in the book of the difference between, we could just say for simplicity, good and bad lyrics, the really simple stuff versus the stuff that sticks in the listener’s head and really has an emotional impact. In particular you use one of your songs, Dance With A Stranger, as an example of being done right. I wonder if you could tell the story of that song a little bit?
Mark: Yeah, I’d be happy to. That was … I don’t want to bore your folks with every little bit of it, but it plays into some things we talked about. I’d worked my way up career-wise to having access to writing for projects. By that I mean someone would ask you to, which, when I was younger, I used to pretend someone asked me to. It turned into a technique that I still coach that’s like, pretend someone asks you to write a song. Now do all these things, so that when they finally do ask you, you kind of know where to go. So now, I’m having a little bit of success. Tina Turner is at the absolute height of her career. The greatest hits is coming up. I love Tina Turner. Always did. Someone said, “Well, how about writing something for her?” Which doesn’t mean they’re going to do it, it just means you’re in the game. You get a shot. So I did the things I’m talking about, I thought, “I’m ready for this. I know Tina Turner. I’m going to listen to the keys she sings, and the feel she’s in. I’m going to set up a drum loop that is what they’re asking me for. It’s got to be uptempo, kind of.”
Mark: I’m ticking all these boxes, right, and I go through, in the book especially, and in workshops when I talk about this song, because it’s a good learning tool. I did everything I know to do, and are still very good techniques, and get to the end of it, and I think, “This is really good. This sounds like Tina would sing it.” Everybody that hears it goes, “That’s a slam dunk. That is her. That’s a hit single.” So, these are the moments you dream of. I’m in LA, my publisher goes … By now we’re too confident, way too confident. My publisher goes, “I’m just going to go up to her label’s office in LA, in Hollywood, and let’s knock on the door and give them the song and just go, ‘There you go.’” It’s kind of how we felt, which is awful thing to do. Anyway, it worked for a minute.
Mark: So he gives them the song. We go out to lunch, his phone rings, and they go, “Yes, this is brilliant. We love it. We’ve played it for everybody in-house here. We think we’ve got the single for the greatest hits.” Now, what I joked about in the book is it’s not final till it’s final is a good saying that I wasn’t aware till later. But I’m thinking, “What kind of car can I get? This is going to up the game with my house and my kids. She’s at the top of her game, this is going to be the single. This is life-changing for me. This is it.” This is somewhere you should never go as a songwriter or an artist. Anyway, it’s looking great. I thought, “This is it,” and it was a good song, a really, really good song, I thought.
Mark: So, it gets all the way to Tina herself, and Tina says no. We’re devastated. This is probably only a week later, so I’ve gone from a Mercedes showroom to thinking, “Am I going to get kicked out of the house because rent’s due?” Anyway, so, I learned later what it really was was it got to Tina, everybody around her said, “This is the next single for you. This is so you.” She said, “I’ve already done this. I don’t want to be what I was. I want to be something new. I want something that I’m excited about, something fresh.” She had the power of an artist and an artist with vision, a true artist, to go, “No. Done it. You’re not going to shove this down my throat. Not doing it.” So, I’m devastated. There’s a whole nother story later with Tina that is wonderful, but at this point, I’m devastated.
Mark: Little bit later, I get a phone call. I’ll just re-enact it, because it was funny. It’s out of nowhere, and nobody told me it’s coming. I pick up the phone, this guy goes, “Hey, Taylor Dayne’s going to call you in five minutes,” and I went, “Who is …”, and it clicked. And I’m thinking, “Okay. Maybe it’s a hoax? I don’t know how they got my number or what …” Five minutes later, phone rings. She goes, “Cawley,” which already made me a little nuts. Getting called by your last name is not huge to me. So she said, “Cawley, I love your song.” I said, “Cool.” So, same song. Dance with a Stranger. It got to her, I don’t even know how. She said, “I want you to make one change, though.” And at that point, I think back to Diana Ross, so when you hear this coming and go, “Uh-oh. Are we asking for a third of the song and I’m going to change the phrases?” Write a word, get a third, for a lot of artists, because it can be like that, and I thought, “Oh, here we go.”
Mark: It was a minor change. I made the change. She said, “I’m going to call you in five minutes, and have something different.” I said, “Of course I will.” She called five minutes later, I had three or four things. She liked one of them, said, “Okay, I love that,” and hung up. Did the song, the song ended up being on a gold album. I love what she did with it. But so a happy ending to a long journey of getting myself in position to write for the biggest artists, not getting there, picked up by lesser artist but a good one, successful, not taking me back to the Mercedes showroom successful, but, you know, good. It was a big lesson to me, for sure, but the better, if I can share it with you really quickly, the better part of the lesson was years later.
Mark: I’m having more success, I’m older, and I’ve been at it a lot longer. Tina Turner’s still around, and most writers of my ilk were always trying to write for her. I’ve written with Graham Lyle who wrote What’s Love Got To Do With It, the biggest Tina, but I hadn’t had mine, and I wanted a Tina Turner cut. I’m writing with Brenda Russell on a given day, and Kye Fleming, both of them amazing writers. Brenda co-wrote the score for The Color Purple, wrote Get Here, Piano In The Dark, it’s brilliant. The other writer is one of my other best friends, Kye Fleming, who wrote I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool, hall of fame country writer. Sleeping Single in A Double Bed, all these huge, iconic country songs.
Mark: Three of us sit down and go, “Okay, we’ve all tried to get to Tina Turner and some of these other artists of the day with varying degrees of success,” but none of us had Tina, and we loved her. We said, “You know what? Screw it,” basically. We said, “Forget it. Forget it, forget it. Let’s not worry about what a publisher says. Let’s just write to knock each other out,” which now is back to garage band for me. Now you’re like a kid again going, “What do you think of this?” You’re trying to impress your friend. But now we’re all, we’ve got a lot more skill, but we’ve let it go. We kind of go, “Let’s just get in the room for two days in Nashville,” which is what we did, “and write something that kills us.” And we did. We wrote one of my favorite songs of all time, Dancing In My Dreams, together, but it’s an odd song. Very odd, it started with a drum loop as I tended to do, but I took a Celtic drum in there, like a tribal-sounding thing. Not pop, not country. I don’t know what it was. Resonated with me, with my Irish background, I think. It kind of went to … I played keyboard on it.
Mark: One did these simple paths, so that was my part of it. Brenda is brilliant at everything, and starts coming up with a gorgeous melody over it. Still no lyric, we don’t know what we’re writing about, but now we don’t care. We’re not writing to a brief, we’re just writing to write. And Kye Fleming is a lyricist, period. This was another lesson for me in life. I had been with Kye enough to know, but Brenda didn’t know, so it was kind of a funny story. Some lyricists and some songwriters, and artists, too, process totally differently than other ones. Some throw out ideas like a hamster on a wheel, and something’ll stick. Others will be quiet all day long, processing really slowly. So, all day goes by, and we’re fired up about what’s going on with the chord changes and the feel and the melody, but there’s no lyric.
Mark: So at the end of the day, I knew both Brenda and Kye, but Brenda and Kye had never met each other till that day. Kye left first, if I remember correctly, and Brenda looked at me and said, “Are you sure about her? Because I haven’t seen anything.” Not so much her skill, of course, she’s brilliant, but Brenda was going, “Does she like what we’re doing? Do you think maybe … Are we off on the wrong foot here?” I said, “Trust me.” Following morning, Kye comes in and goes, “What do you guys think of this?” Finished lyric that was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Now the fun began, because now we think, “Mission accomplished.” We’ve written a song that all three of us think is the best thing we’ve done, and we’re going away going, as songwriters tend to do, this changes, but on a day like that you go, “We don’t care if anybody ever records it. Don’t care if it makes a dime. This is why we do what we do,” and you go like this, just play, you know, and you play the song endlessly, and you call each other and go, “Are you still listening? I’m still listening.”
Mark: So, Brenda and I literally ran out of the writing room and found the first studio we could go to, a friend of mine in Nashville, Bill McDermott, and recorded a rough version of the song. I played, she sang, Bill played a little guitar. Now we’ve got our demo to hear, but now it’s still like this is a weird song. What’s going to go on with this? We don’t know. And this is the anti-career move. You’re not giving your publisher what they’re looking for, or the label, and the label always has a brief. They really want part B of their hit artists. The artist doesn’t always, but the label does. So, now we’re on the opposite side of my Dance with a Stranger story. The label gets this and is not going, “This is it.” They’re going, “This is not it. Why would you even waste our time sending us this song? Somebody’s losing their mind here, folks.”
Mark: We’re all going, “We don’t care. We love it.” We really didn’t care. But of all people, somebody at one of the publishing houses thinks this is Tina Turner. This is how funny it was. And they, when they did an end around the normal channels and got it to Tina, and long story short, we see Tina on Oprah now, going, “I found the song that’s going to shape my direction. This is my new album. Everything’s based on this song I just found called Dancing In My Dreams by these guys.” We’re going, “Okay?” So, the long story, but the lesson that was incredible for me career-wise was that write what you love, and if you love it enough, a true artist might love it, too. If you copy, like I did with the Taylor Dayne song, true artist is going to go, “Yeah, but I’ve done it. Good song. Been there, done that.” Tina had not been in this direction, and she loved it. It wasn’t a single, but the album sold six million.
Mark: I’ll end this story by saying all three of us said, “Let’s adopt this attitude more often. Let’s write something,” and sure enough, for me, I took that attitude big time. I thought, “I’m only writing what I love and trusting that I’ve learned my craft,” learned all these things I’m talking about in the book and we’re talking about, “and I’m going to let it rip, try to be original.” Right after that, Joe Cocker does one I’ve been trying for him. Chaka Khan does one. All these artists of the day start recording the songs that on the surface don’t sound like them, so incredible lesson, and even tailing into the book in another place, Wynonna Judd years later, who was huge at the time, records a song that was nothing like what they’d been asking for, absolutely nothing like it. And song written from the heart.
Christopher: Tremendous. Know there is so much there to learn for any musician or creative type, and especially obviously for songwriters. I said earlier I have a notebook full of highlights, and I do, and there is so much I still want to pick your brains on. You touched on one big topic there, which is co-writing, but there’s also do you need to know music theory, and you talk about the importance of going to different places, like yourself from New York and London, and Nashville now, and you talk about the importance of knowing different lingo. I’m just going to have to direct everyone to your book, Song Journey, which I can’t recommend highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I do want to wrap up though by letting people know what else they can find on your website, idocoach.com.
Mark: Thank you. Yeah, as I mentioned, I coach writers, and that is one-on-one coaching through my website, and it’s all via Skype. I do workshops as well, and behind the book, we’ll be doing a lot more of those this year, but my coaching, there’s no curriculum. It’s kind of what we’ve been talking about. There’s some people I don’t coach. If I talk to them and they go, “My goal is this,” and I think I can’t help you, then I don’t, but most people I can figure a way around making them a better writer, helping them open up some doors. I figure out their goals and their expectations, and then we plot a course together. I don’t have a curriculum. Again, I’m not going to go … This is not music theory. This is not stage one, two, three, four. This is talk to me, let’s see how we’re doing from week to week. Let’s get the best out of you. That’s what I enjoy doing. I’ve been doing that for now seven years, basically, and then workshops on top of it. So, that’s the coaching side.
Mark: And then the book, as you were kind enough to talk about, I know you read, which I appreciate it. The book was a real effort to take the coaching that I’m doing, the life I’ve had before coaching, and to make sort of anecdotal teaching. things not to do, things to think about doing, things to hopefully put you on the right path, things to help you on the business side of it, because most songwriters and most musicians really shy away from the business end of it. So did I, but you do it long enough, you need to learn it, because you’ll get burnt by it, which I did. In the book, couple of huge stories, big deals that I did not pay attention to how it was done other than to go, “Wow, I’ve got a record deal. Thank God. I’m going to be so big it won’t matter what the business end of it is,” but it will bite you, so that’s a big part of my coaching too, from publishing deals all through this.
Mark: But I also, I want to finish that thought by saying I coach teachers, I have a brain surgeon I coach, I have a hospital director in London. People who just want to be creative to be creative. To me, that’s huge fun. I don’t know if it’s more fun, but it’s as fun as someone who goes, “I want to be a hit songwriter.” I like to coach about the creative process, and I love seeing someone do what they’re doing the best they can possibly do it, or have new ideas to do it, and enjoy it. That’s the whole coaching idea, and the book was a reflection of that, for sure.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Mark, for joining us on the show today and sharing so generously. I did want to ask you one last thing, which is that we think back to the early stages of your own songwriting journey, if you could wave a magic wand and travel back in time and talk to your younger self, is there any songwriting wisdom you’d want to impart that maybe the listeners and viewers of the show can take on board themselves?
Mark: You know, yes, of course. That’s one of the values of getting older. You hopefully have some wisdom built up. When I look back, I think … I want to make sure I say this correctly. We discussed the idea of jumping sometimes, making big moves in your life. If I could look back at my younger self, a part of me would be proud that I did it, because my older self goes, “You idiot. You had no plan B.” If I were one of my kids, who are now grown, I’d have been hard-pressed to go, “Yeah, of course, do that.” I’d be going, “What? Are you nuts?” So, it’s a funny question, because I could look at my younger self and go, “No, you fool,” but that’s the value to me now, as I get older, I think, “You had to have done that. It’s good that you did.”
Mark: I would say one thing to artists and songwriters, and that is to, it’s an age-old adage, but be nice to the people on the way up and all along this path, because you will meet them again. It’s a very small music community even though it looks like a big world. Some of the people that I still deal with, I’ve known for 30 years, and some of them even, I’ll give you one very quick example, one of my publishers, when I was having a really downtime in my career, very down, wondering what I was going to do next, somebody came back to me, a guy named Torquil Creevy, who now, he was like the lowest guy on the ladder of a record deal I had. What they usually call tea boys, I think, and he’s just bringing the tea. Nice guy.
Mark: I didn’t really remember him that well, and now he’s running the publishing portion of Miles Copeland’s publishing empire. Miles is doing Sting and the Police and everybody, and he calls me and goes, “I always loved your writing and liked you, and I always remember you were really kind to me. What are you doing now?” I mean, that was such a lesson. He threw me a lifeline, really, and looking back, I think, “Had I’d been a jerk to him,” as artists and writers can be on the way up, “I’d never got that call,” and things would have maybe had a different trajection totally. So, yeah, be aware of everybody around you, and be kind and be nice, because you do this long enough, they’re all going to come around.
Christopher: Tremendous. What better note to end on. Just a big thank you again, Mike. You’ve given so generously of your time and your wisdom today, and I strongly recommend everyone head to idocoach.com and check out your book, Song Journey. Thank you again, Mark.
Mark: Thank you.