50/50 in 2020 - Songs and lessons so far

Hey all,

If you had a chance to read my last email, you may remember that I set a goal for myself this year that I'm calling, "50/50 in 2020". Long story short, I want to learn 50 cover songs this year and write 50 original tunes. So, that's basically one per week, which is proving to be both pretty doable and also pretty intense.

Here's the songs so far:

And here's what I think I've learned:

  • Creativity feeds on itself. I was initially concerned that I would be struggling to have enough ideas for original songs each week. It turns out to be the opposite, though. Last week, for instance, I wrote on song completely from scratch, wrote lyrics and a melody to an existing guitar part (and recorded a guitar, drums, and vocals studio demo...to be released this week once I figure out how to edit multi-cam video), wrote totally revised lyrics and revised melody to make a completely different version of my week 1 tune, "Warning Sign", and then I have like 5 promising lyrical snippets and ideas for new songs. In short, it turns out that I actually can't keep up with the pace of my own ideas. So, the real challenge may be the combination of prioritizing and finishing. 
  • Revisions are dangerous. Lyrics are often one of my biggest areas of anxiety. Are they good enough? Are they clear enough? Too clear? Are they effectively telling a story? Does anyone care? And so on and so forth. I wasted a lot of time writing and rewriting lyrics too quickly without giving myself space to ponder and let what I'd already done sink in. Nothing like staying up super late to record a "new and improved" version only to wake up tired the next day just to realize my first version was way better.
  • Revisions are necessary. I may have "wasted" a lot of time, but I also think I am figuring out how to hold myself to a higher standard. For this week's song, for instance - "Your Trustin' Heart" - I did multiple versions, but just kept feeling like my chorus is really strong and my verses kinda weak. I could be wrong and maybe this will fall into the category of "revisions are dangerous", but I think I finally rewrote them yesterday morning to fully tell the story and paint the character that I had in mind. (And now, of course, I feel the need to re-record a demo, which brings us back to my first bullet...too little time!!) In short, I feel like I often quickly get some crucial part of the lyrics down - often written immediately following the guitar part or at the very start of the concept - and then it takes repetitive work to bring it to completion. I think I run into problems when my revisions steer me too far away from my original idea. It's like some sort of inspiration strikes and is true in some mystical artistic sense, but then my conscious brain shows up and ruins the party. It takes work to figure out how to flesh out the inspiration without ruining it. As Jason Isbell recently said, "Songwriting is like attempting to solve the NYT crossword during a therapy session" 
  • Videoing and recording myself relentlessly is gonna teach me a lot. Man oh man...it's brutal hearing and seeing myself on camera multiple times per week. I just learned a John Prine song, for instance, and it took me hours to get a take I felt like was acceptable despite it being an extremely simple tune (3 chords, simple melody, memorable lyrics). And ya know what...I still don't think it's a great take. I think the first verse is trying to be too uptempo or peppy somehow and the tune doesn't really find itself until the last verse and chorus where I seem to settle in and focus more on the sadness in the song. John's version, on the other hand, feels a lot less sad, but I just couldn't make a peppier version work. Maybe because I changed the key? Maybe just because of the tone of my particular voice? I don't know, but it sure is interesting. And humbling. With one guitar and someone else's song, you really have anywhere to hide.

    I don't have any fully formed thoughts, but I think I'm gonna figure out how to be truly compelling by the end of this year. Watch the John Prine video...isn't my whole body language and screen presence more compelling at the tail end of the song? I feel like it is and somehow the key is in dialing in the right balance of sadness and intensity. I'm not a party guy at heart, so that's probably why my attempts at that make a visual/audio disconnect. Even if I sell it musically (which I think I rarely do), I don't LOOK right...I look boring somehow. But that problem goes away when I embrace something a little more...I don't know...thoughtful and sad (or even angry or frustrated). The counter-argument is that maybe I need to just work on my facial expressiveness...but hey...either way, I'm following breadcrumbs. I think it's gonna pretty instructive to watch my performance videos at the end of the year vs. the start of the year. Or, at least, I hope it will...

    As a side note, apparently I wear the same set of flannel shirts an awful lot. Yikes. 
  • I love the limitation of one guitar/one voice. I've struggled a lot to figure out how to balance my love of playing solo vs. making music with a full band. I'm realizing how much I love the challenge and constraints of just working with my voice and an acoustic guitar. Like I said above, there's just nowhere to hide and every single little thing makes such a huge difference in whether or not the song really carries over to an audience. Turns out I'm really enjoying that. It's like a high wire act and I can feel it coming in and out of focus. It's such an amazing feeling when it does and I want to be able to do that reliably. If I can do that, I think bringing it to the band will only make it exponentially more powerful whereas working the other way around might mean I sometimes get lost in arrangement questions, guitar tones, etc. at the expense of the song. That said, I'm trying out everything this year and we'll see how I feel in a few weeks/months.  

Alright, hope some or all of this is of interest to anyone. But I'm enjoying myself at least, so that's not nothing!

Hope you all are well. Let me know about your projects, too. I like this notion of surrounding my brain with artistic activity and ambition as much as I possibly can...

With love,