The first time I ever played any of my songs for a Nashville decision maker was at a big publisher’s office, shortly after moving to Nashville. Cindy was super nice, and I felt like she really wanted to be helpful. I played my most personal song for her, “Turn My Eyes Upon You.”
“This one’s too personal.” She said too matter of factly.
“Oh really?” I thought that was a good thing. Obviously I was ignorant to the ways of real songwriters. “That was my goal with that one. You know, to be personal. Don’t you think too many artists sing songs that don’t mean anything at all?”
“That doesn’t matter.” The clock was ticking.
She explained how as a publisher she was looking for songs she could pitch to other artists to record, and how they need to be able to make the songs sound like their own.
“Like you could change the line, If you see a smile on my face, it’s not that everything is going just fine to When I see the smile on your face, I know it’s not blah, blah, blah….” I couldn’t hear anything more. This was my incredible song that she was altering. People back home in Minnesota liked my song. Are they dumb? I didn’t think so.
I wish I could go back in time and have coffee with that Mark, just after that meeting.
“So, how did it go?” Mature Mark would ask.
“She hated me.” I’d respond.
“Oh really. What exactly made you feel like she hated you?”
“She said my songs were stupid. And too personal.” I think I’m starting to sound like a 13-year-old girl at this point.
“What had you hoped she would do for you?”
Silence. I had no frame of reference. I had no idea what to expect, except opens doors of opportunity and lots of pats on the back.
“I hoped she’d like me and want to help me.”
“And see your overwhelming potential drenched in brilliance?”
“Exactly.” I’d high-five myself.
“Well, I can see it.”
“Thanks, me.” I’d reply, awww-shucking.
“Let me give you a little secret.”
“I’m all ears.” I have nowhere to be, so what’s a little free advice from the future going to hurt me?
“Some of these people, these decision-makers, these gate-keepers, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“That’s exactly what I thought!”
“Of course, there’s a but.”
“But, they are still the decision-makers. So it becomes your responsibility to make it as simple as possible for them to make the decisions you want them to make.”
I chuckle. “Right. How am I supposed to do that?”
“Don’t be offended by this. But you can do this best by being excellent.”
“Excellent?” I’m not getting anywhere with myself.
“How long have you been a songwriter?”
“Um. About a year.”
“So do you think that in a year you have developed to the level of excellence as a songwriter that you can walk into a publisher’s office in one of the largest music cities in the world, and expect them to roll out the red carpet?”
I took that one right in the kisser.
“You need to work on your songwriting. If you want to be a published songwriter you have to learn how to write songs that publishers are looking for. Today sounds like it was a great first lesson.”
“You’re right.” I’d say, swallowing hard.
“You can’t move to Italy and expect to speak Italian right away. It’s going to take time and a lot of work. Don’t waste your time fretting over how people don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Learn the dang language. Be patient with the dance. You thought you’d move here and find someone who would tell you you’re a great dancer. But in fact, you moved here to learn how to dance. In time, you’ll be dancing like no one else. And people will pay money to watch. And they’ll be trying to learn how to dance like you.”
“Okay, that’s just weird. Are you telling me I’m not a dancer?”
“Not yet. But don’t give up. No matter how ready you think you are to be on stage.”