Thursday, September 4, 2008

Compass

They say there's no road map for success, but I say there's a compass. Your True North might be different from someone else's, but I'll wager plenty that you know where it is if you've really searched for it. Only a fool would look at his compass and then follow someone else's best guess about the route to travel. That's all it is-- advice I mean, a best guess. No matter who it comes from, it's a guess.

Can you look at where you are now and where you want to go, and navigate sensibly? All successful writers do this. If you have a mind, a heart, and some talent,
you can plot the course. The problem is not coordinates, it's courage. We need to have the resolve to go in the direction our compass points. If we seek advice at every step, we're undoubtly going in circles. Maybe an occassional reality check to be sure the needle isn't stuck, but nothing more.

The successful writers that I know all burned bright at the start. Even through their mistakes they remained true to their course. They made some adjustments
according to how others reacted to their work, but not major course corrections. The reason their song catalog is so deep is because they covered that much ground in the time that most of us spend zig-zag tentatively to our vague destinations.

If you don't know what you're trying to communicate, how you're trying to communicate it, and why you'd even bother, then you are going nowhere. If you must ask
someone else the question, "Is this any good?", it probably isn't. If you really feel the song, you don't need to ask.

What's the mystery here? Why is it so hard to connect with what we feel? We say we've lost objectivity, but is this a lie or a delusion?


Every time you eat an apple you can tell if it's sweet or sour. You've eaten the same fruit all your life but you always know if this is a delicious apple or a bad apple.
When you love someone you never tire of seeing their face. You don't lose objectivity about it. It remains beautiful as long as you feel love for that person. Could it be that you've never felt anything for your songs? Do you love what you write, or do you simply write songs the way you'd paint a wall-- cover all the spots, hit the corners, and roll out the rest as fast as possible?

I've mixed metaphors here, so back to the compass.


I took my eye off the horizon and the needle too often when I was younger. Now I never look away. This blindness, this lack of objectivity, the big lie we tell
ourselves-- it's a problem we must address. We must decide for ourselves what level of commitment, what depth of feeling we have about our own work. You might hate the hit that's sitting at #1 this week, but you figure it's a good idea to write one just like it. I guarantee you that if you do this you'll fail every time. The biggest copyrights are the songs some writer passionately loved, passionately wrote, and passionately believed in. That applies even to those tunes you happen to hate. Remember this : for every song on the radio that you dislike, there's a writer behind it who believed whole-heartedly (and even if I'm wrong, you won't fail by heeding what I say because you'll simply write a hit that you love).

If you don't believe in your songs; if you don't cherish them like children; if they don't make you cry or laugh or dance for joy; if they are merely exercises or
"completed songs", probably no one will record them. We must write what we love, write what tears us up inside and get to the bottom of the feeling, write what we're very intent on communicating, write what we can't live without expressing. Anything less will not move an artist to invest his or her career in our work.

Go ahead. Look at that compass now, and be honest about what star you follow. Because if you ask the person next to you what star you should follow, he just
might steer you off the edge of the world.



copyright 2008 by craig bickhardt

8 comments:

Nathan Bell said...

You, my friend, are good for the world. Writing is not to be taken lightly...thanks for the reminder.

N

Monty said...

Well said Craig! It couldn't be put any plainer than that..Very good advice for someone such as myself..

angelo said...

Great reassurance, so hard to live up to. Thanks, Craig!

Tim McMullen said...

Craig—
This one was unusual. It was passionate, articulate, thoughtful, as usual, but it had a more immediate tone. It almost contained a hint of exasperation—like one too many people in a row had asked whether their song was good enough or like the feeling we get when we throw our best stuff at an unappreciative audience and we wonder why we're still doing this; at the same time, it felt like both a reminiscence and a reminder to yourself to not fall into the trap of second-guessing your instincts.

Whatever the initial impetus, the message is a powerful and inspiring reminder of what it takes to be a great writer. As Emerson said, "Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string." (Maybe he was a guitar player...)

This particular entry can also be a reminder to yourself that after spending a significant part of your life creating songs for others and songs for the business, you have embarked on a new (old) challenge: putting yourself out there, night after night, plying your trade, telling your stories, picking your tunes, sending your voice. There really is nothing like making that personal connection. And if the songs that this new process produces are embraced and sung by others, all the better. I look forward to hearing some of the new tunes that emerge.

Thanks for consistently telling us the hard truth and for inspiring writers to find and follow their own compasses.

(By the way, if you follow this blog, and you haven't heard Craig's albums, you need to get a hold of them. He puts his heart where his mouth is; his songs reflect the goals he encourages us to achieve.)

Thanks, Craig, for the urgent passion of this latest missive.
Tim

chromehead said...

Thanks Nathan, Monty, Angelo, Tim. I get asked about a dozen times a day if someone's song is any good. "Compass" is the best answer I can give. The truth is, I only know what I love, not what's "good". I know me, and I know my passion and my preferences. Armed with little else, I managed to find some success.

We must be who we are to the bitter end. It's the only thing that makes artistic communication possible. I'm blessed to be in front of audiences now rather than depending entirely on other artists to get my songs out there. The only thing it has taught me is that back when I knew I was following my compass, yet facing constant rejection in Nashville, I was right and they were wrong. Those are the very songs the people want to hear again and again. I get encores for the very same work that used to get me lame phone calls from my publisher telling me "they passed".

Richard Murrey said...

craig...
as always, you serve up gourmet treats. most excellent food for the soul. i hope you continue to grace us with your culinary masterpieces... they are a joy and pleasure to consume!
cook on brother,
richard murrey

Jannie "Funster" said...

You are way too cool.
thank you.
Jannie

bobby said...

Mr Brickhardt, you inspire me every time I read your material. You sir are a true believer in the power of truth in a song. Since the day in Sheppardstown WV where I first had the pleasure of meeting you, I have been a fan, not just of your music, but of the passion and the soul which delivers it strait to the places its supposed to touch. Not many have the "gift" that you possess and you are right to assume that it is just that, a gift. A gift, unfortunately, some are not endowed with. Many songwriters do fall short and are not as inclined to create real art, and real art does have its purpose and the artist his responsibility. That purpose is to comunicate to the listener, the lover, and even the critic, those emotions, beliefs, and desires that the artist NEEDS to express. The responsibility is to do it honestly because it is the artist who inspires the masses to motion. It is the artists who stands boldly against the status quo and says that its ok to be different , its ok to feel something more, its ok to have your own idea and your own mind, so we must be truthfull. Thank you so much for being the light in an otherwise dark and shady business!!