The Bumpy Road to Becoming a Songwriter
I can't remember exactly how old I was when I wrote my first song. It probably wasn't even a full song, just mediocre poetry splattered on a page with very little thought to form or contextual cohesiveness. In other words - it was a mess, just chicken scratch. But it was a start. I use to write short stories in elementary school. One story in particular was so dark that my teacher called my parents in to make sure everything was okay at home. I guess you could say I had a wild imagination and probably watched too many horror flicks when my parents weren't paying attention. Sometime around middle school, the short stories that I wrote turned into poetry, and that poetry eventually turned into lyrics. Fiona Apple "Tidal" and Sarah McLachlan "Surfacing" were released during my transition between middle school and junior high and were the most influential albums for me in terms of songwriting. I remember laying on the floor listening to Tidal on my Sony Discman, connecting so strongly with her angst. I had just gone through a horrible divorce with my parents and was dealing with extreme depression and loneliness. These albums opened my eyes to the beauty of words and served as an important outlet for me during that rough time.
Throughout high school I filled notebooks with lyrics and wrote as many songs as I could. It wasn't until I turned 18 and my parents bought me my first keyboard that I really started composing melodies on the piano. I studied classical piano from age 6-18 but unfortunately, I really only learned how to memorize sheet music. None of the music theory I was taught really stuck with me.
After graduating high school I headed to Belmont University in Nashville, as I was in preliminary contract negotiations with Word Records. On my way to pursuing my dreams, I was writing and composing a new song almost every day. Two months before school started I had to drop out of Belmont for financial reasons and a few months later was dropped from the group I was in at Word Records.
I remember like it was yesterday, sitting in my little one bedroom house on the University of Oklahoma campus, and laying out the last 4 or 5 songs I'd written on the piano, playing them back to back. The feeling I got when I was done was complete defeat. All the songs sounded exactly the same. At that moment I let every negative vibe and experience get to me and I told myself "well, Sarah, you're just not cut out for this." So instead of digging myself out of my pity party I stepped away from the piano, songwriting, pretty much music in general - aside from the occasional karaoke night or American Idol audition. I went to school for Marketing instead. I convinced myself I was a shitty writer and I had no place in the music world. I believed my own poison and I let it push me away from the thing I loved the most for almost a decade.
My amazing coach, Cari Cole, said to me the other day that some of the best songwriters are in their 40's and 50's because they've lived. They have a story to tell, an ability to relate to the joys and pains of life that most young people don't possess. My goal is to be one of those writers someday. It's been a long road to get to where I am today and it's taken all of the experiences in my life to bring me back to songwriting.
The last 3 years have been an incredible journey in so many ways. I've been blessed with some very influential people in my life who's honestly and dedication to my career have helped me grow and realize how much I love to write. Co-writing has been one of the best things to happen in my career. I've learned to put my ego down when it comes to my art and push myself to be better with each and every song. I've written some pretty awful stuff over the years but my love and appreciation for the art grows every time I work with another writer or start on a new song/concept. I always say that if you really want to grow and achieve you have to work with people who are better than you. I try my best to surround myself with individuals that I can observe and learn from, and those that I feel comfortable enough to share my story and my emotions. Together, we turn those experiences into music. It's the most beautiful thing I've experienced and yet again, I'm obsessed.
I'm excited about this part of my journey. I'm co-writing every week with some very talented individuals in NYC and continue to work with the amazing Josh Goode here in Dallas. Like I mentioned in my last blog, I'm headed to NYC in October to work with the production team, Noise Club. We'll be working on writing some new music as well as recording two songs. I feel like it's taken me a lifetime to get here but I've never been more mentally sound and prepared for this kind of work. Who knows where it will lead but even if it's just touching a few people with my story, the joy of creating music from a place deep within me is the most rewarding thing I've ever done.
So here's to digging deep, writing 1000 crappy songs to find the gems, pushing myself to be a better songwriter and musician with every lyric, and sharing my story with all of you! I'm excited about the road ahead!