Over the years, I have made a lot of mistakes that hurt my career chances in the music business. Without those mistakes for sure by now I could be in a much better place in the industry, but I don’t look at them as failures. Mistake, yes for sure, but failures, no, they were just the price I paid to learn something from each event, and this is all this book is about! To tell you about those mistakes before you learn the hard way.
Also, I’ve observed a lot of people crashing and burning because of miscalculations in their own music efforts. So, I thought I’d write about 5 of the big ones as a cautionary tale for those of you that would rather learn from other people’s mistakes instead of trying them all out on your own. Here we go. Here are some things NOT to do if you want to succeed in the business:
Any time people complain to me that they aren’t having the success that they want with their songs; I tell them to “write better song”. I’m not trying to be cute or clever when I say that, either. Writing better songs is the only answer I know to lack of success as a songwriter. Whenever I’m frustrated with my own lack of activity with my songs, I remind myself that I need to buckle up and write better songs. I recently found out that I had a song recorded by a rock band. I didn’t try to write a song for them. I had honestly never heard of them. And, no one I knew had a connection to them at the time. The day I wrote “Take Me To The Mountain” I was just trying to write a great song. I didn’t worry whether or not it was country or pop or rock. I didn’t agonize over who might record it. I just wrote the best song I could write that day. Fast forward about two years, they just liked the songs and cut them. Numerous times in my career, I got a cut “out of the blue” just by focusing on writing better songs and showing up to write day after day after day. That’s the ticket.
Someone asked me the other day, “What is your secret to co-writing with a band?” Over the years I’ve been blessed to co-write songs with some great Iranian and international bands. As a songwriter, it can be tricky to sit down with three or four other people in one room and make magic happen. Is there a secret to it? I don’t know about that, but over the years I have developed a few techniques that helped me. I’ll tell you the secrets but, shush, don’t tell anyone...
Do Your Homework. Whenever possible, I like to listen to the band’s material a few days ahead of time – very casually so as not to mimic what they already do or limit myself to their past material. I listen just enough to get a feel or vibe for who they are. This isn’t always an option with a new band that hasn’t recorded any albums yet, but you can ask management if demos are available. Just listening to their existing stuff will give you an overall understanding on what musical environment they are in and what is the general feel of their music.
In many ways, I am the least likely person to become a hit songwriter. I grew up with serious self-esteem issues. I’ve always been told by my father to be humble and never talk myself up and never express my thoughts and feelings directly - exactly opposite of the two main requirements for being a songwriter; be confident and be expressive! I was always extremely self-conscious for most of my life because growing up in a Persian family means no matter what you achieve, the family always say it’s not enough and you must do better. On the other hand, because of my rough attitude and just being into sports and being pretty much of a “boy-boy” I was never popular in school. Even until today that I am running my own label and dealing with a number of artists, producers and songwriters, I still am painfully shy and introverted. I grew up believing that you should always make the safe choice.
I believe that “perspective” may be one of the most powerful concepts in our lives. Your perspective can totally change your experience of an event. Siblings can have dramatically different takes on a traumatic home situation because they take different perspectives on what occurred.
When I was in high school, my English teacher and theater director was always challenging us to look at things in different ways and from different angles. He lived a small apartment and would grade our papers at a makeshift desk he laid across his bathtub. When we practiced our plays, we would sometimes look out to see him standing on his head in the seats of the auditorium, just to “get a different perspective” on the play. His unique view of life was a catalyst that made me start looking at my own life and challenging many things I had accepted as ‘fact’ before I met him.