Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wayne Kirkpatrick, Distance Mentoring, Songwriting

Ok, so my main reason for spending some time in Nashville is to try to pick up what I can by watching and talking to songwriters. Last time I was in this town (briefly) I was struck by a number of things that are "in the water" so to speak, so much a part of the culture that they are almost givens:
1. Cowriting and collaboration are normal.
2. Songwriting is good work that is worth doing.
Just experiencing a culture where these two ideas are normative was significantly impacting to me, and influenced my decision to do the Surge On Smith project, one of the musical highlights of my last few years.

Hearing Wayne Kirkpatrick at the Bluebird last night was profound. In my early years I tracked Wayne's activities and appreciated some of his writing and production. I lost track of his work over the decade and a half, so it was great to get glimpses of the varied and diverse fruit of more than 20 years of songwriting. He played songs he wrote that I'd heard other artists perform that I didn't know he wrote. One of my great privileges has been seeing a few songs I wrote develop a life of their own (other people singing or recording them or finding new meanings in them). Seeing the same dynamic on a much larger scale was inspiring.

I quizzed Kirkpatrick about his songwriting process afterwards. He was low-key, gracious and revealing. He prefers a balance of co-writing and working alone. He's not a 9-5 writer. He tries to follow inspiration (but ends up doing some writing most days).

I'm not sure why it's so helpful for me to ask these basic questions and hear the responses. Part of it is just being around people who take songcrafting seriously and spend significant energy at it. I did not learn a new technique or a novel approach to the craft, but I came away with something valuable nonetheless.

After tracking a person's work and learning from a distance, even short conversations I find that even short conversation and simple questions can be quite helpful and encouraging. Distance mentoring with a real life touch point...

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