The Music Business. Otherwise Known as the Land of the Unfair and the Unexpected. Otherwise Known as God's Playground.
You've probably heard the phrase, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." I've modified that a bit to create a songwriter's version: "If you want to make God laugh, write a song, tell Him exactly who should record it, when and where that should happen, how successful it should be, and then tell Him you'd like to receive a nice financial reward for your efforts.." Oh yes, I've made God laugh plenty of times.
My early writing career was all about writing songs to sing myself. But for much of the past 20 years, I've been writing songs for the purpose of pitching them to other artists for their records, musicals, sheet music, etc. I love the challenge of coming alongside someone else to help them communicate what they want to say. But challenging isn't the only word I'd use to describe the world of being a professional songwriter. I would also say it's frustrating, exhilarating, miserable, magical, and so much more. If you're in it for the long haul, let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart.
A few years ago, 2014 to be exact, I wrote a song with one of my regular co-writing friends, Lee Black. We were targeting a certain country group who was about to start looking for songs for their next record. We finished the song, Lee made a demo and we were certain it was perfect for the group we had in mind. Probably a hit. Probably their next number one song. Remember that whole God-laughing thing? Yeah.
If memory serves, we sent it off to a few of the powers that be. No response. That isn't unusual. If I had a dollar for every time I heard crickets after pitching a song, I could buy my own island. Those crickets can wreak havoc on your confidence as a writer. And it isn't just the crickets that make you feel less than. It's everything from no communication, to the politics that come into play, to the injustices regarding royalties, and more. It's brutal, in a first-world-problem sort of way. I'm aware that this is just the music business we're talking. I'm not walking ten miles a day to get water for my family. So yes, I do have perspective. Still, it makes me grumpy sometimes.
So the song we'd written sat for about a year and a half. I had another writing appointment scheduled with Lee and my friend, Riley Friesen. We threw around some ideas, which included going through old songs to see if we could recycle one that hadn't found a home yet. We came across the song we'd written in that earlier session and discussed our options. The style really didn't fit what Riley is into, so at some point one of us said, "What if we go a completely different direction musically?" In the next hour, what was an uptempo, country song, became an inspirational pop ballad. And we loved it. Again, we discussed pitching options, but I honestly can't remember the who/what/when of all that. I just know the song remained uncut. That was 2016.
Fast forward to last summer. The high school music teacher I work with was looking for songs to fit the theme of a show choir show he had in mind. He called and asked if I had any ideas. I started scrolling through my iTunes library, hoping something might hit me. The theme was to be about a journey of some kind so I was looking for uplifting songs about travel, destination, adventure, etc. Let me just say here, that when perusing my library, I intentionally didn't look through songs I've written myself. As hard as I try to get my songs placed with artists or publishers, I work equally hard at not forcing my songs to be used because of my role at school or my church. If I ever suggest a song for those purposes, it's because I honestly think it's the best fit, and even then, I feel a little reluctant to do so.
So, while looking for songs, my mind kept coming back to the song I'd written with Lee and Riley. I finally sent it off to the director with a plea for him to feel absolutely no obligation to use it. Long story short, it made the show. I smiled inside, thinking about our list of original pitch ideas for the song and how a high school show choir was nowhere on that list. God was giggling. Over the past few months as I've heard the kids I work with learn the song and make it their own, I have been moved to tears more than once. Partly because they sound amazing, but mostly because the message of the song is one I believe in and it feels incredibly appropriate for so many of the students who are singing it and the audiences they sing it to.
Just last week, I heard the show choir sing it for an auditorium full of kids. Again, so many emotions. I went home that day with a full heart. When I got home, I found I'd received an email that afternoon from Riley. He is not only a songwriter, but also an incredible producer who works with a variety of artists. A few weeks earlier he'd let me know that the same song was being recorded by a trio he was working with. I thought, "Well, that's cool timing," and didn't think much more about it. This time, he was emailing me to let me know the song was about to get major airplay in South Africa. What?! Wait a minute. So this song, which could find no life in the places we thought it would thrive, was now being sung by high school students in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska, and by a trio of grown men, one a Super Bowl winner, one a multi-platinum selling artist from South Africa, and one a Grammy-nominated artist from Canada. Excuse me? God was full-on belly laughing now.
For the record, I've never been to South Africa and I have no idea what "major airplay" means there but I really don't care. I'm still shaking my head over the fact that I, once again, have no explanation for what has happened with our little song creation. All I can say, is in a business that will likely befuddle me 'til the day I die, God chooses to do His thing exactly as He sees fit. And it rarely looks like what I expect. The truth is, I'd rather hear 54 high school students in 68th Street Singers, singing Even A Long Road to an auditorium of fellow students and their parents, over some hot shot country group at the top of the charts. And somewhere in another part of the world, three men in a group called reBORN are encouraging people to not give up, no matter how hard things might get. That's just cool. And I imagine Someone laughing. And it makes me laugh too.
Even a Long Road
Lee Black / Gina Boe / Riley Friesen
Recorded by reBORN
Video of 68th St. Singers coming soon.
Feels like a hurricane
Like the wind that won’t stop blowin’
Oh and it’s pourin’ rain
While you’re gettin’ where you’re goin’
It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other
Each day feels a little tougher
But you keep on, yeah you keep on
It’s a long road baby, it’s gonna twist and bend
When you think it’s over it turns and turns again
Keep goin, keep walkin’
You might even have to crawl it
Can’t tell you where or when
But even a long road, even a long road
You might not see it now
But that’s a mountain there you’re climbin’
And someday lookin’ down
When you see all that’s behind you
I bet you say it was worth the trouble
The blood, the sweat, the tears, the struggle
So you keep on, yeah you keep on
Even the strongest heart
Even the bravest soul
Can feel like giving up
Can feel like letting go
Even the strongest heart
Even the bravest soul
Can feel like giving up
All I can say is....don’t