songwriting-habits-acquired-over-the-years

Songwriting Habits I’ve Developed Over the Years

artist, music, productivity, songwriting

My dad was one of the first people to start a blog. I think he started it in the early noughties, and it was called ‘Me and My Lada’ because we lived in Russia, and he owned a Lada. He wrote in it regularly, posting once or twice a week, but sometime after our move to Belgium, he stopped. I remember scouring through his blog a few years ago, and stumbling upon an article he wrote about how to write a song. It was the most popular article he had ever written, even though he’s not strictly a songwriter.

He disconnected the page a while ago, mostly because the number of comments on the post was overwhelming. Most of them seemed to be written by people who were disappointed that songs didn’t write themselves. That’s why I’m wary of writing articles like that, because no guide can guarantee you’ll get a song out of it, let alone a good song, but also because songwriting is highly personal. So, instead, I thought I’d just share some of the habits I’ve acquired over the years, and how I write songs. I don’t think I’m sharing anything particularly useful, but it might be interesting nonetheless.

1. I write about everything

My friends write very differently from how I write. I spill out onto the page – anything goes, no thought is too embarrassing and no confession too private to be made into a song. I process things quickly. After what turned out to be a traumatising date experience a few weeks ago, I woke up in the morning to pen down lyrics in bed, getting down a melody before brushing my teeth. That means that everything I write is constantly being worked into songs – things my friends say become notes on my phone when I go to the bathroom, if I have a melody, I’ll hum it into voice memos on my way home. I never sit on a lyric for more than a day or two. I don’t attach myself to my songs because I’m writing all the time. A lot of what I produce is utter shit because there’s so much of it. But I don’t take any of it personally, and none of my songs are special, even though all of them are

Other musicians can take weeks to write a song. One of my friends has a list taped to the wall above his bed with songs he has yet to finish, and some of them have been up there for months. He changes lyrics around, plays the songs until they jump off his fingertips. He never writes about things right after they happen – he gives his music breathing space so that the songs can come to life without being stifled by sentimentality.

2. I write regularly to fight writer’s block

I write regularly, aiming at one song per week. I have a friend who writes a song a day, although that sounds like complete insanity, and most of my friends write only when they feel they have something to say. I always feel like I have something to say, which I guess is the joy of being 22. But when I don’t write for a few weeks, coming back to an empty page feels much more daunting, like there’s a lot more at stake. This is why I sit myself down a few times a week, and this is why I write about everything – not enough earth-shattering stuff happens to me to write profound songs every week. I write regularly to keep my fear of failure at bay and to prevent writer’s block. The more I write, the surer I am I’ll still be able to write the day after.

3. It doesn’t matter whether I write lyrics or melody first… but I write lyrics first

Another question I often get as a songwriter is whether I write melody or lyrics first. This has changed several times throughout the years for me, and I think it’s nice to experiment with these things. I started writing songs when I was twelve and my English was pretty poor, but since I wanted to make it big and become world-famous, I refused to write in Dutch. At that time, nailing a good melody was much more important to me than having lyrics that made sense (and more often than not, they didn’t). Now, I know that writing is one of my strengths, and so is my urge to overshare, so lyrics have become increasingly more important, and I often write them first. When I’m having an emotional breakdown and want to process something in real-time, though, I grab a guitar and hum lyrics over a melody, doing both at the same time. In other words, the order in which I write is irrelevant. I have, however, been told that I should stop cramming so many words into my songs, and that good lyrics don’t make up for shitty melodies, which gave me some food for thought regarding this.

4. I always write songs down on paper

I never write lyrics on my phone, although I know that a lot of musicians these days do (although I’ve never met a folk musician who did). There’s something about writing on paper that I love, and I like that you can’t erase lyrics that don’t fit or move words around quite so easily. When I start singing the song, I always end up using some of the lyrics I had previously discarded. I also like seeing the process on the page, the struggle of my thoughts fighting their way out. I write down the chords I play, and if I don’t know the names of the chords, I’ll sketch the fretboard and write tabs. When I don’t do this, I can spend hours trying to remember what tuning I wrote something in, or what weird chord I used where.

5. I finish songs once I start them, even the ones I think are bad

I always finish songs once I start them. Some of my best songs I thought were average or even crap when I first wrote them. Had I decided they were worthless after writing the first verse, I never would have finished them, so I try to hold off judgement on my songs until I’ve sat on them for a week or two. I don’t know any musician who disagrees with me on this – we have all walked away from a songwriting session thinking we’ve written a hit to then listen back to the song and hate it. The opposite has also been true. I just know that when I don’t finish a song in one sitting (or at least its skeleton), I usually abandon it altogether.

6. I always record the songs I write on my phone

Once I’m finished, I record the song into voice memos on my phone. I didn’t always do that. I used to think that I wouldn’t forget the melodies to good songs. How wrong I was. Some melodies are good but not catchy, sometimes another song will worm its way into my ear, making me forget everything I’ve ever written, sometimes, the intricacies of a melody will be lost because I was too lazy to press record. So, now, I record it all. The bad and the good because you don’t know what’s bad or good until time’s passed. Some of my friends record a video of the song once they’re finished because it can also be used as song promo on Instagram later when you’re looking back to where a song originated.


These are just some of my songwriting habits, but everyone has their own way of doing it, and I’m sure you do too. Let me know if you have any questions, or if I’ve skirted over some important part of the process. I’d be happy to chat about this.

how-i-steal-from-other-artists

Here’s How I Steal from Other Artists – and Why Everyone Should

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

I don’t think it’s much of a secret anymore that all artists steal. Not because we’re not creative or original enough, but just because it’s inevitable. We’re building on hundreds of years of craft and creativity. This morning, I was listening to a meditation that described it perfectly: we’re like the wave that’s being pushed forward by the whole ocean of our ancestors.

One of my friends and I often end up arguing about the throwaway comments I make. I say stuff like: “I hate Bob Dylan. He has a whiny voice.” First of all, I don’t hate Bob Dylan. I just don’t love him. And I recognise his contributions to folk and singer-songwriter music. But I also think he’s not that great of a singer and his guitar could use some work (although that’s rich coming from me). Anyway, my friend always gets incredibly worked up about me saying this, and I asked him why the other day. He said that you can’t deny that everything you do is based on what came before you and that, as musicians, we ought to recognise that. I couldn’t argue with that, although I don’t want to encourage any Bob Dylan idolatry here.

However, we are a part of a tradition. I came across this video of Paul Simon talking about how he wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. He describes how a part of the song slipped in from a Bach chorale, and how listening to the gospel group The Swan Silvertones led him to use gospel changes after he got stuck. Then Simon describes listening to an up-tempo song with the lyric: “I’ll be a bridge over deepwater if you trust in my name”, and pauses briefly before saying: “Well, I guess I stole it, actually.”

If this is how one of the greatest songs ever came about… well, I guess there’s a good reason to try doing it yourself. Here are some ideas on how to harness the greatness of the incredible songwriters of yore:


1. Recreate.


In her book ‘The Creative Habit’, Twyla Tharp wrote about dancing:

That’s the power of muscle memory. It gives you a path toward genuine creation through simple recreation.

Twyla Tharp, ‘The Creative Habit’

The same goes for music. I spent years trying to write songs only knowing a few chords and two different strums. Limitations are healthy and can become fertile soil for creativity, but not when those limitations stem from laziness. Deliberate practice tends to be effortful and exhausting, but there’s a bigger chance you’ll persevere with your practice and learning if you start by learning songs by an artist you love. I had a pretty extensive Joni Mitchell period. Some musicians never get out of it and spend most of their careers sounding like an artist that already exists, but most artists spend at least some time imitating someone they admire. With time, you’ll start adjusting the guitar licks you’d learnt, adding your own lilt to the accent you’d been mimicking, you’ll start whispering where you used to belt. Someone else’s style will slowly grow into your own. But you need to start somewhere.


2. Write down everything that sounds good.


I underline sentences in books and write them in the back of my songbook. Whenever I’m stuck with a lyric, I leaf through my notebook and look at how I can spin the lines I liked in a way that will fit my own song. Sometimes, a line in a poem or a story will spark a song. I was reading ‘She Must Be Mad’ by Charly Cox, and these words struck me: “I got a fork stuck in a dishwasher/ And now I can’t stop crying/ Whoever said depression was glamorous/ Has clearly never considered dying” from ‘all I wanted was some toast’. That sparked the song ‘Tomato Stains’ that begins with the line: “I can’t get the tomato stains out of my new faded jeans/ And I can’t stop crying”. It ultimately goes into different thematic territory, but it would’ve never been written without Charly Cox. But a lot of the time, the origin of a lyrical idea is wildly different from what makes it into the song in the end.


3. Listen to artists that sound different.


I’m currently listening to Jon Batiste’s new album ‘WE ARE’ that combines gospel, funk, and R&B with hip-hop, jazz, and classical music influences. It features Zadie Smith, how cool is that? But I only heard of it because there was an interview with him in The Cut. It’s a stellar album, and I’m glad I came across it, but it’s also so different from the stuff I often listen to that a lot of the elements that will seem obvious to regular listeners of Jon Batiste’s jump out to me as exciting and new. It immediately inspires me to learn more about jazz and to experiment with sampling voices. Imitating one person makes you a copy, but combine that with another influence, and you have an idea.

morning-routine

I Can’t Function Without My Morning Routine

artist, creativity, productivity

When COVID-19 hit, it was the first time in months that I didn’t have to jump out of bed in the morning, and didn’t have any structure imposed on me by the outside world. At first, I revelled in the freedom. I slept in, spent up to an hour in the morning scrolling through Instagram, washed my hair twice a week instead of every day. But after a while, I noticed my productivity plummet and my motivation wane. I spent hours reading books and watching Netflix, but little time creating. Then I stumbled upon the miracle morning routine.

Hal Elrod, the writer of ‘The Miracle Morning‘ – a popular productivity book – sets out these six steps to set you up in the morning: silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading, and scribing. If you do these things when you wake up (early in the morning!), he promised I’d feel happier and more energised throughout the day. Lacking any form of structure and being a big believer in the power of routine, I started building up my own.

Having a morning routine became a challenge, and I was set on keeping it fun. Whereas Hal Elrod’s system definitely works for most people, I adapted it to suit my own needs, and came up with a few extra ideas. If you’re getting sick and tired of this lockdown bullshit, you might get some ideas on how to spice up your life.


1. I set a challenge for myself



Firstly, don’t call it a ‘goal’. Calling it a ‘challenge’ tricks your mind into thinking you’re doing something fun and it reminds you you’re pushing your boundaries. Set a clear challenge for yourself of something you want to achieve, that you will steadily work on every morning for about twenty minutes. For me, it was writing 45,000 words. It has to be something that excites you and gets you out of bed. After writing for half an hour in the morning, I already started my day having done something productive, having worked towards a higher goal.


2. I write morning pages


Every morning, I need to do a brain dump and write down whatever pops into my head. Once I set all my concerns to paper, they stop taking up space in my head. It also helps to write down what I have to do throughout the day, set my intentions, and check in with myself.


3. I do yoga


I don’t always meditate in the morning, but doing yoga most days brings my focus back to the breath, gives me a break from my thoughts, and gets me moving. It’s also perfect for those who are working in a home office all day, so you get your stretches in before you sit down in front of a computer. Same for musicians who practice with the same posture all the time. While I wait for group classes to resume, I use Leslie Fightmaster‘s Youtube channel. It’s slightly more energetic than Yoga with Adriene, although she’s also class.


4. I visualise


For ten minutes every day, I visualise my perfect life while listening to a guided meditation. It helps me to stay motivated and focused, knowing what to focus my energy on, and what to-do’s don’t align with the bigger picture. It’s also a great way to start your day if you believe in manifestation.


5. I take a shower


Taking a shower is my quiet time. It’s time I use to reflect and prepare for the day ahead. In a time where many of us lack the motivation to go outside or put on pants, it helps to feel clean when you start the day and serves as motivation to change out of my pyjamas.


6. I eat breakfast and catch up on messages


After my shower, I make porridge or eat some yoghurt, while catching up on Facebook and Instagram messages. With most people communicating through social media during the pandemic, it helps to get this out of the way before I start work because otherwise, I spend hours obsessing about whether I forgot to reply to an important message. I never even get important messages, but it’s the FOMO that distracts me from getting anything worthwhile done.

female-non-binary-songwriters

10 of My Favourite Female & Non-Binary Singer-Songwriters

artist, music, songwriting

The day after International Women’s Day on Monday, Pitchfork published the results of a study highlighting that women are still underrepresented in music. Women make up less than 23 percent of artists, less than 2 percent of producers, and less than 13 percent of songwriters. There’s progress, and some women are taking the music industry by storm (Billie Eilish, for example), but we’re still far off from a gender balance.

Instead of stating the obvious this week and talking about how we must do better, I thought I’d just remind you of some great female singer-songwriters without whom this world would have been a much bleaker, sadder place (they’re mostly folk artists because that’s what I listen to most of the time, but feel free to make your own suggestions). Just a disclaimer: I have left out the super obvious ones, like Joni Mitchell and Carole King because everybody knows them (or should) and loves them without me preaching about how marvellous they are.


1. Gillian Welch


“I wanna do right but not right now” is a line that I have copied into my diary. I was listening to ‘Look at Miss Ohio’ over dinner with my best friend the other day, and we both laughed at how relatable it is. There’s something about Gillian Welch’s voice that sounds like she just gets you, like it’s an older version of you singing specifically to you. I remember showering at an ex-boyfriend’s house while ‘The Way the Whole Thing Ends’ played through my phone speaker and feeling the acceptance in her voice wash over me. She’s essential listening.

Recommended album: ‘The Harrow & The Harvest’


2. Cat Power


‘Lived In Bars’ is my favourite song ever, it makes me feel melancholic and grateful to be alive whenever I hear it. I’d listened to it many times while walking around Regent’s Park in London, trying to figure out where the hell I was going to live if I ever managed to get out of the hostel I was staying at. But it was when I heard her album ‘Wanderer’ for the first time that I spent the whole day writing lyrics trying to imitate her style. I’d never wanted to be someone else before, but Cat Power seemed so adventurous, wild, yet exuding the confidence of someone who knew exactly what she was doing.

Recommended album: ‘Wanderer’


3. Ani DiFranco


Ani DiFranco is a feminist icon we all need in our lives. She’s also a lyrical genius. I have spent hours pouring over her lyrics that read like the finest poetry, with its puns, wordplay, and clever rhymes. She’s also kind of terrifying. When one of my friends was cooking me dinner, and I put her on in the background, we both jumped up as she strummed her guitar violently in ‘Dilate’. There’s something incredibly powerful in her songwriting, and listening to her I feel her energy reverberate in my bones.

Recommended album: ‘Dilate’


4. Kae Tempest


I’m always amazed when people don’t know who Kae Tempest is. Their narration is captivating, pulling you in with vivid and unsettling images of London life, guiding you through the lives of different characters that often sound familiar. I listened to their album about Brexit ‘The Book of Traps and Lessons’ on the double-decker bus on my way to work, with the rain beating down on the windows, and with the sound of their voice, my desperation usually ebbed away.

Recommended album: ‘The Book of Traps and Lessons’


5. Courtney Marie Andrews


Courtney Marie Andrews was the one who helped me through the second lockdown. Most of December, I fell asleep humming along to ‘Rough Around the Edges’. She transcends country, making music that speaks to the soul and makes you (read: me) wail at the sound of her voice. There’s something very simple and honest about her lyrics that translates into the avalanche of feeling in the arrangement of the songs.

Recommended album: ‘May Your Kindness Remain’


6. Lianne La Havas


I saw Lianne live when I was seventeen and then spent a week volunteering at a jazz festival so I could see her again for free two weeks later. She was funny, playful, clever, confident. She was the young woman everyone dreams to grow up to be. My friends and I sang along to her jazzy songs during that second show, having already learnt the lyrics to all of them by heart. Listening to her voice is like being coated in honey.

Recommended album: ‘Blood’


7. Mary Gauthier


Before I heard Mary Gauthier, I heard a cover of her ‘Drag Queens In Limousines’. Pulled into the story in the lyrics, I looked her up right away. I was stunned by the pain, honesty, and fear in her songwriting. Her confessional songwriting was different from anything I’d heard before – she wasn’t singing about stuff she was comfortable sharing, she was singing about topics that needed to be shared. In ‘I Drink’, she sings about dealing with alcohol addiction, in ‘Slip Of The Tongue’, she sings about fear of commitment. Her album ‘Drag Queens In Limousines’ is so raw it always grabs me by the throat. It also inspires me not to be afraid of the truth in my songwriting.

Recommended album: ‘Drag Queens In Limousines’


8. Adrianne Lenker


Adrianne Lenker really has the DIY aesthetic down. The hiss in her last recordings, the homemade video for ‘Zombie Girl’ – all of it exudes such warmth and authenticity. She ultimately sings about vulnerability, the kind that soothes with its honesty while it secretly breaks your heart.

Recommended album: ‘songs’


9. Valerie June


‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ is a song that inspires me every time I hear it. Not to do anything in particular, it just inspires to feel. I was walking down the street last night, it was dark and empty and terrifying because I’m a woman. But Valerie June was singing in my headphones, and I couldn’t help but be grateful for her voice cutting through the silence, as if she had my back wherever I went.

Recommended album: ‘Pushin’ Against a Stone’


10. Laura Marling


Something fell into place when I heard Laura Marling’s last album ‘Song For Our Daughter’. The album is one of those perfect song compilations that sounds complete. Nothing sounds out of place, the songs float through the air with the grace and elegance of their songwriter. I’ve listened to Laura Marling in many different places – on trains and at bus stations, in bed, and while walking around Ghent, London, and Berlin. The first time I heard of her I was twelve, and ten years later, she’s still as relevant to me as she was then. I will carry her around with me always.

Recommended album: ‘Song For Our Daughter’

Other singer-songwriters that are worth checking out: Bedouine, Josephine Foster, Lotta St Joan, Lael Neale, Julia Jacklin, Mone

why-i-procrastinate

Why I Procrastinate

artist, productivity, self-love

I just spent all morning scrolling through Instagram, and my only achievements of the day thus far include: an Insta Story, commenting on a friend’s post, sharing a new song I’ve listened to. I also had breakfast.

Mornings like this make me feel guilty and useless, and I often end up overcompensating on other days, crashing late at night with a headache and back pain after sitting in front of a computer a whole day. Wouldn’t it be nicer if I could plan my days to be structured, if I went for walks in the middle of the day after having a productive morning, instead of wasting it all away on social media or staring into space? Yes, it would. And I know it would. Yet I still do this without fail, procrastinating into oblivion.

We all know why we procrastinate: to put off something that stresses us out (like emailing blogs about my upcoming single out of fear for rejection), to put off something that’s plain boring (like starting an essay about the Lydian Chromatic Concept that’s due in April), or because deep inside, we’re convinced that what we’re doing won’t lead to anything anyway, which means that procrastination will lead to the abandonment of the project altogether.

I’m a fairly organised person – I love my morning routine, I have a bullet journal with daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists. I clean my room at least once a week. But I’m also addicted to my phone, I wallow in self-doubt at every given opportunity, and I have no curtains in my bedroom, which means that I often wake up sleep-deprived if I’ve had a late night. All these form a perfect breeding ground for procrastination, and I’m currently on a journey to learning my triggers.

There are other reasons for people to procrastinate, though. My dad called me last weekend to tell me he started learning shorthand. Why he’d ever need shorthand is beyond me, but he has talked about writing a book his whole life. More so, he’s been writing every day for the last month, actually coming close to achieving his goal. And all of a sudden, he starts learning shorthand. When I pointed that out, he waved me off, saying he has a right to enjoy his life occasionally, which is true, only I don’t buy it.

Humans tend to self-sabotage. I know I do, anyway. Procrastination is the main weapon in our battle against ourselves. When we don’t believe we deserve something, or we don’t think we’re up to the task, or any other reason we’ve convinced ourselves something is not worth trying, we procrastinate. So, next time you watch Netflix instead of working on your new song, ask yourself: what are you afraid of?

I noticed that I procrastinate when 1) there’s an external reason for why I don’t feel capable of doing my best work, or 2) I am scared shitless of failing at something. These days, when I notice I’m procrastinating, I ask myself why first. Identifying the cause quickly leads to solutions. Here is my little list of things that I do that help me keep procrastination at least somewhat in check.


When it’s an external thing


1. I go to bed early


When I’m sleep-deprived, I can’t get anything done. At all. Sending an email will take me hours. Now that I know that, I don’t spend the night with other people before a big day, I value my routine even more and try to go to bed at regular hours, I go outside every day so I can fall asleep more easily. When you’re procrastinating because you’re tired, there’s nothing you can do until you take a nap, sleep it off, and recharge.


2. I put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’


I’m horrible with my phone. I check it all the time even when I know I have no messages, and when I do, I often don’t reply to them anyway. It’s a tic – I just want to hold the phone in my hand. So, now, I’ve started putting it on airplane mode not to give myself an excuse to look at it. I have specific time blocks when I check my phone – after breakfast, after lunch, but not during the hours I’m supposed to be getting something done. I say that. I don’t always do that. (But I should.)


3. I take breaks and dance around my bedroom


Sometimes, I start procrastinating just because I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for hours. Everybody needs breaks, and it’s recommended to have a break every hour. With the weather now, my hands freeze after an hour of typing anyway. So, every once in a while, I turn on Frank Zappa and dance around the room, hoping the school kids outside my window won’t look. It gets my blood pumping and my energy levels up, so I can sit back down at the desk feeling motivated.


4. I try to avoid sugar during the day


When I start my day with a croissant or a doughnut, I feel energised, for sure, but it’s scattered energy that doesn’t allow me to focus. Despite what some people assume, sugar slows down our cognitive function. It doesn’t help us get into gear, it holds us back. So, I try to be a healthy, mature grownup and have porridge for breakfast or yoghurt with fresh fruit. Whenever I do that, I feel much more productive during the day and it’s easier for me to stay on task. Of course, I’m not perfect. I make up for it by binge-eating chocolate before bed.


When it’s an internal thing


This is much harder. When it’s not a physical factor holding you back, but a mental block, you need to identify it first. Recognising it is the first step, though.


1. Affirmations


I often find myself watching too much Netflix, waking up late, and shirking all my responsibilities exactly when I need to get a lot done. I find it much easier to show up when I’m sure I can handle everything that’s coming my way. When I’m filled with self-doubt and anxiety, I just want to run in the opposite direction. Writing down affirmations and saying them out loud throughout the day helps me to stay motivated and battle the fear of failure that often keeps me from doing what I need to do.


2. I protect my time and energy from the people who don’t respect it


It may sound harsh, but I’ve started spending less time with the people who leave me feeling drained. Sometimes, our limiting beliefs come from internalised comments from friends and family, and I have enough of my own insecurities not to add other people’s to that list. When I set out to do something and feel like a friend might disapprove or think I’m dreaming too big or being too reckless, I tend to make a mental note of that. Difficult discussions are part of every relationship, and I always want my friends to be honest with me. At the same time, friends and family are supposed to be a support network, and when that’s not what it feels like, I feel justified taking a break from them.


3. I journal it out


Again, I’m a massive fan of morning pages. They hold you accountable. I can’t lie to myself every morning, that would just cost too much energy. Even if you don’t do this every day, journalling once in a while will help to know when you’ve picked up a new hobby just to avoid working on a project that really matters.


4. Visualise and remember why you’re doing it


It’s hard to stay brave, or motivated or focused when you don’t know why you’re doing something or what you’re working towards. A quick visualisation exercise, or making a Pinterest mood board (which I guess is also a form of procrastination) is what usually gives me the motivation to get going again.


These are the things that work for me, but different stuff will work for different people. There are also two great talks about fear of failure and procrastination for those who want to dig deeper into this.

Also, my new single ‘River Water’ came out today! Listen to it here.

releasing-music-is-an-act-of-bravery

Releasing Music Is Terrifying

artist, music, self-love

I haven’t been very good at announcing this so far, but I have a single coming out on 5 March, called ‘River Water’. It’s about getting over a breakup, having casual sex, falling in love, and wondering if love and sex are mutually exclusive. With the way artists are expected to promote themselves: posting five stories a day on Instagram, following the adagio of ‘a consumer has to see something seven times before they take action’, bombarding followers with self-promotion, some non-musicians start thinking that releasing music is an ego trip.

Gearing up for my release, I talked to a tutor at my university, who said: “How come you haven’t started promoting anything yet? Where is your pre-save link? Why are you not posting on Instagram?” I made up some lame excuse about how I didn’t realise it was already time to start the promotion, but really, it’s because I hate it. I hate self-promoting because it makes me feel uncomfortable, imposing, egotistical. “We’ve talked about this, Erika,” my tutor said. “The release cycle is three months. You’ve got to really get in gear.”

Few artists are comfortable with sharing the pre-save links to their songs three times a day. Few artists think their music will blow your mind. But we’re still expected to do it and do it regularly because in those early stages, if we don’t do it, no one will. And it’s a thin line between doing enough and doing too much, pushing friends to unfollow you on Instagram because you’ve posted the same ten seconds of your music video ten times in your stories. But it’s also a learning curve and something that’s a part of being a musician.

There are other sides to releasing music that require you to have thick skin. I got on SubmitHub a week ago to start sending out my single to blogs and radio stations. When I went to my account, I saw all the rejections I ever got for previous releases collected in my feed. It was disheartening reading all the feedback I ever got, although none of it was particularly harsh, and I’ve heard from friends that SubmitHub can be outright brutal (so maybe I’m even lucky?). I submitted the song to a few blogs and then watched the rejections stream in over the 48 hours the portal sets as the deadline, without a single affirmative. When I joined Musosoup, the offers I got were paid, and I wondered if it was now a standard thing for musicians to pay for reviews and how ethical was this, really? (Thoughts?)

As the week progressed, I started feeling increasingly more incompetent, uncomfortable, and overwhelmed, wondering if my shaky relationship with social media was a reflection of whether I was a good musician, and if those SubmitHub bloggers had a point, calling my melodies anonymous. Then it was my birthday (I turned 22), and one of my friends said: “Billie Eilish was 16 when she became famous.”

“Releasing music should be fun. You should be excited!” my university tutor said, and I wondered when releasing music had ever been fun. Sharing music was fun – playing it live and seeing people’s reactions, feeling a part of a community, and playing a part in creating one. But releasing music digitally – the promotion, the endless emails, and the following rejections – had never quite carried the same appeal. So, why do we even bother?

I release music so I don’t feel like a fraud when I call myself a musician. I also hope some people will recognise themselves in my lyrics and feel less alone. I release music because maybe someone will care enough to let me know they want me to keep going. There are a lot of small reasons for why I keep doing it, and big ones, like wanting music to be a full-time career. And they make all the other stuff that scares the shit out of me worth it. But for everyone else who’s struggling with their music releases now: releasing music is not an ego trip. If anything, it destroys your self-esteem. But it is an act of bravery, and if it doesn’t go the way you want it to go… Well, at least you tried and you created something. And that’s what we live for, isn’t it?




For those of you who are interested in the new song, you can pre-save it here. I appreciate it so, so, so, so much.

manifest-visualise

I Probably Spend Too Much Time Visualising But Here’s Why

artist, creativity, self-love

I have a sweet morning routine going: I write my morning pages, do yoga, meditate, have a shower, and have breakfast. One of my best friends has been pressing me to add in visualisation. When I told her about all the other stuff I was already doing, she was uncompromising. “You need to do it. It keeps you motivated. It helps you work through your limiting beliefs.” In case you’re wondering who the best friend is, yes, she is the same person who had already coached me through my limiting beliefs once.

I had tried visualisation earlier. If you’re unfamiliar with it – you basically spend some time during the day imagining your perfect life to the tiniest detail, which is not very hard. Imagining nice things is – it turns out – pretty easy. But when I did it in December last year, it left me feeling anxious about everything I was doing. When you have a clear vision of where you want to be, you get really fucking stressed about ruining your chance at future happiness by doing something wrong.

“You can’t visualise your whole future every day,” one of my lecturers told me when I shared my dilemma with him. “You’ll burn yourself out.” Wait. Huh? “Sure, plan ahead. But remember to stay in the moment, too.” I love how a lot of self-help advice is contradictory. Live in the moment, but visualise your future. Dream big, but be happy with what you have.

I told my friend this, and she didn’t seem fazed. “Of course you need to stay in the moment. But you need to spend a few minutes every day remembering what you’re doing it all for. Visualisation is the framework that makes the small stuff fall into place. It gives you purpose.” Actually, I don’t know if she said that, but that’s what I took from that conversation. The key was only doing it for ten minutes every day, instead of spending every waking minute imagining how a decision might affect my visualised ideal life.

I found a guided visualisation on Insight Timer, a free meditation app that I was already using (if you don’t know it – it’s great and free and features talks by Elizabeth Gilbert, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield) and did it in the morning instead of an ordinary breathing exercise. I still think breathing exercises are valuable, but visualising what I actually want from life first thing in the morning – similarly to morning pages – set me up for the rest of the day. I was way more productive and in a much better mood than usual. So, I did again the day after. And the day after that.

For someone who always takes on too many projects, most of which are usually completely irrelevant to what I actually want to do, visualisation has proven extremely useful. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know what to work towards. If you don’t believe you can have something, you’ll never bother trying.

The other upside of this is the energy you put out. This is not just spiritual babble, it also just has clear psychological benefits. If you know what you want and believe you can have it, you’ll be more hard-working, focused, positive, and will bounce back from setbacks way more quickly. (I confidently proclaimed having no psychological training whatsoever.) Positive energy is key for artists who deal with rejection on a daily basis.


Visualisation Ideas:

  1. The classic letter exercise. Write a letter to yourself in five years. Then in two. Then next year. How are you going to get there?
  2. Write a list of the qualities you want your future partner to have. I was told to do this by my friend, who said: “It was insane when I did it. The guy I met after I wrote down what I wanted matched everything word-for-word. I only forgot to add mentally stable to the list.”
  3. Guided visualisation and manifestation exercises online.
  4. Sometimes, I just spend ten minutes or so in bed thinking about how I want my life to pan out, visualising everything in the smallest detail: how I will finally be able to afford organic vegetables, the soap containers I will buy to pretend the cheap soap I buy at ALDI is fancy, etc.
  5. Pinterest! It’s like… almost useful.

why-limiting-beliefs-are-holding-you-back-from-committing-to-music

How Your Limiting Beliefs Are Keeping You From Committing to Music

artist, creativity, self-love

I was curled up in the chair by the window of my childhood bedroom, my head resting on my knees. It had been a week of decision-making, and there was nothing I hated more in my life than making decisions. My notebook was lying on the table on the other side of the room, with pro and con lists taking up the last five pages. I wondered if my parents had reached the point where they just wanted me to leave so I would stop talking about my inability to make a choice. I felt like everyone was tired of my indecision by now, including me.

The choice was this: going back to London or Berlin. With Brexit, if I didn’t go back, I wouldn’t be eligible for settlement status later down the line, effectively losing my chance to build a life in the UK. But if I didn’t go back to Berlin, I was losing another thing: the chance to focus on music and stop obsessing about making a living and surviving, the way that London forces people to. Berlin meant more freedom, more music and creativity in my life, and probably sanity. But it wasn’t as easy as choosing the fun thing. What if I wanted to stay in London? Or go back in the long run?

I messaged my best friend in London with the words: “I feel so fucking confused. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.” Two minutes later, she called back. Her voice sounded like an anchor pulling me back down to earth, from the hectic mental space I had been floating in that week. “Talk me through it,” she said. “Why are you afraid of going to Berlin?”

“It’s like that Sylvia Plath quote,” I said. “The one about the fig tree – she’s staring at the tree, trying to pick the ripest, best fig and while she’s staring at the figs, unable to make a choice, they all rot in front of her. That’s me. I’m Sylvia Plath, bar the head in the oven.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“You do know.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I really don’t.”

“Stop convincing yourself that you don’t,” she said. “You’re starting to believe it, but it’s really just you that has convinced yourself of this. It’s a belief that you can’t make decisions, that you can’t trust yourself. But you can. You have that inner voice that already knows. What scares you the most? What will make you grow the most? That’s what you need to do.” I wondered when my friend had become a life guru.

“Maybe you’re right. I feel like I should go to Berlin, and do this creative thing…” I said, feeling stupid as I was saying it, so I added for good measure: “Though I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I should probably do a master’s instead.”

“What do you mean? Why would you do a master’s?”

“You know… To get a job.”

“Why do you think you won’t be able to get a job without a master’s?”

“As what? A musician?”

“Why not? That’s what you want to do, right?”

“Of course, in an ideal world!” I exclaimed. “But I also want a family and kids and a normal life. Maybe a house and a dog, that kind of stuff. Not now, but I want to at least have the option.”

“Who says you won’t have that as a musician?”

“Because that’s just not how it works. I’ll never make that kind of money as a musician if I make any kind of money as a musician.”

“But that’s a belief. That’s just what you’re telling yourself. Who says you can’t have it all? If you’re gonna believe that and not even try, then, yeah, you won’t. But ultimately, you can craft your own narrative. You can decide that you can have it all and work towards it. There is no set outcome attached to anything, but by believing certain myths about life, we start manifesting them.”

“Maybe I do want to be a musician.”

“Honestly, it’s clear to anyone but you, Erika. You’re being ridiculous.”

“And I do want to go to Berlin.”

“Yup,” she said in the least surprised tone I’ve ever heard in my life.

I’m in Berlin now, and I’m fine. The world didn’t come crumbling down when I didn’t go to London. I’m not in a financial pit of despair (yet). I have started writing music reviews for a music blog, and I’m gearing up for a song release in a month or so, and I’m looking into other ways of making money as a musician that hopefully won’t involve babysitting, but honestly, who cares if I get to make music. The point I was trying to make here is… If I hadn’t noticed how I was talking myself into believing I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come back here. And I would have started down a path that wasn’t meant for me at all. This is why it’s so important to identify the limiting beliefs you might hold, so that you know what you’re choosing to do and what you’re talking yourself into doing out of fear.

Apart from talking to wise, loving friends, there are other small tricks for identifying and battling limiting beliefs in decision-making that I’ve been using for the last few months. Here are some of them, and I hope they’ll help you, too:


1. List your reasons for doing something, and notice when fear is a driving factor


Lists aren’t the be-all and end-all in decision-making because I found that rationalising things often only complicates the process, getting in the way of that part of you that already knows the answer to what you really want. But seeing your reasons written down can help you understand whether you’re making a decision from a place of love, acceptance, and support, or if you’re making a decision from a place of fear. Fear and doubt are the worst motivators. If you recognise that they are the main driving factors behind a decision, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the beliefs that led you there.


2. You can’t “keep your options open”


I have trouble committing to decisions, to a certain life path, to a partner, to a place. Not because I don’t think that something or someone wouldn’t be good for me, but because I fear that there might be something somewhere that might be better. Or that down the line, I’ll realise that it hadn’t been the right decision all along, and I’ll want to try something else. Or that I’ll change and my priorities will shift. But that’s life. People do change, priorities do shift, but if you never commit to anything, and always go for the thing that gives you the most freedom to back out, you will never pursue anything wholeheartedly. And half-assing life is not something that anyone wants, really.


3. Decisions that you can go back on are not decisions


I’ve been living in limbo for a while now. I’ve never signed a lease on a flat without checking what the breaking clause in the contract is, and so far, I’ve always used it. I’ve walked away from jobs I didn’t like, I’ve broken a lot of promises to a lot of different people. I’ve made a lot of decisions that I then went back on, which means they weren’t decisions at all. I came to Berlin with the thought that if I hated it, I could still return to London. It left me just as stressed as if I hadn’t made a decision at all – I was constantly evaluating whether to go or to stay. I’ve decided I’m staying because there’s no satisfaction in making a decision that gives you an out. Sometimes, it actually is easier to commit.


4. Discussions and affirmations


When I started unpacking the reasons and beliefs that were keeping me from committing to what I really wanted to do, I started wondering how to battle them. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, you have to dispute and energise. When you encounter a limiting belief, ask yourself what the effect of that belief will be on the rest of your life. Are the consequences of that thought destructive? Then explain to yourself why you’re catastrophising, and why your belief has no basis. Finally, energise by changing the limiting belief for one that motivates you. Here’s a short example of how I go about it:

Limiting belief: I can’t make decisions at all. I’m always going back and forth on stuff. I’m a flaky person.

Consequence: If I keep believing this, I will always distrust my gut, which will make decision-making even harder. Believing I’m flaky also makes it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating the cycle of indecision.

Why it’s not true: I have actually made a lot of commitments in my life. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree, I have spent three years living in London, I’ve stuck with a long-term relationship before, and I have worked through problems in friendships to keep the people I love in my life.

Affirmation: I can make hard decisions and commit to things that are important to me.


These are the little tricks that work for me, but I’m sure that different stuff works for different people. Let me know if you’re struggling with this, too, and what works for you. I’m still very much in the process of figuring this out, so I’d love to hear more tips!

albums-versus-playlists

Why You Should Be Listening to Albums Instead of Playlists

artist, music, songwriting

When my friends used to ask me to put music on over dinner, I always defaulted to a Spotify playlist. In the mornings, while taking a shower, I would often put on a singalong playlist, or the road trip one when I was in the car with my dad. I make my own playlists, too – songs to dance to, folky tunes that make you cry your heart out, new discoveries. I love playlists. But this hasn’t always been the case. I only got a Spotify account two years ago, but before that, I only ever listened to albums, apart from the occasional music video on Youtube.

I hadn’t noticed how much my listening pattern had changed until I was having coffee with a friend and he put on some music in the background. As I was listening to it, I realised it was all the same artist, and I thought to myself: “How boring.” Only an hour later, as I was walking down the street and listening to my ‘Bad Bitch Playlist’ (obviously), I realised what had occurred.

What was the point of musicians making albums anymore if other listeners reacted the way I did? Did they? Or was I an anomaly? But talking to other friends, I realised most of us didn’t listen to albums anymore, apart from, maybe, some albums we had grown up with and didn’t know how to listen to differently.

I went back to that friend for another coffee, and, while putting on another album, he said: “I never listen to albums on shuffle. It had taken me weeks to figure out what order to put the songs in on my own album. They’re meant to be in a certain sequence.” It’s true. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage would sound ridiculous on shuffle. The transitions between the songs on Kate Tempest’s The Book of Traps and Lessons wouldn’t sound nearly as smooth. For any musician I listened to, there was a thought process behind the tracklist.

That hadn’t answered my question, though. Why did we still bother making albums? And what was the benefit of listening to an album over a playlist?

I had always been the type of person who would become obsessed with a certain album and listen to it until it made me sick. I got to know the artist behind it, their inner world, by spending time with them and only them for the duration of the ten, twelve, sixteen tracks on their LP. Now, I was the person who listened to a mishmash of different songs, forgot artists’ names, and only vaguely knew what a certain lyric meant in whichever song. I wasn’t diving deep into music anymore, it felt more like window shopping. I wanted to learn to listen to albums again.

I started with Josephine Foster’s I’m a Dreamer. Listening to an album again felt like watching an arthouse film after binge-watching a Netflix show. My attention span was not trained for such a sustained effort. I hated it and told my friend as much. But a week later, over breakfast and coffee, I listened to it again. Maybe the combination of a mellow Sunday morning and Josephine’s voice was a good combination because I couldn’t stop listening. I felt like I was on a journey.

Now, I can’t listen to playlists anymore. It feels like a job half-done. I don’t get to know an artist by only hearing one song. I listen to playlists to find new artists I want to hear more of, but that’s different from never stopping to find out more about specific musicians at all. That’s why albums remain important. A single doesn’t tell the story of an artist. It’s the elevator pitch, the business card. To get to know an artist, to know what they’re worth, what message they’re trying to convey, what they sound like when they’re not trying to get on the radio, you need to listen to the album.

Since I started listening to albums again, I started remembering the names of the musicians I listen to. Not only that, I started listening to more music. Knowing more about the people I listened to, I started feeling more in control, and less like I was being spoonfed songs by Spotify. I became more curious and adventurous in my listening instead of relying solely on the Discover Weekly playlist. Do yourself a favour and listen to an album today. And if you catch yourself thinking how boring it is, keep listening.

deliberate-practice-matters

Why I Started Incorporating Deliberate Practice Into My Daily Routine

artist, music, productivity, songwriting

This is me putting on a circus show for my parents. I spent weeks (or maybe really just a week) learning how to juggle, teaching my cat tricks, and mastering the magic of the disappearing thumb. Then I dressed up and made my parents watch me and applaud my endeavours. My dad sent me this photo this morning, and it made me chuckle and think about how much I’ve changed. He replied: “Actually, you haven’t changed at all.”

It’s true. I still get a kick out of people watching me perform. I would probably still rock a synthetic purple glitter blouse. It made me think of other ways I’ve stayed the same. A couple days ago, I showed a friend a video of the first song I’d learnt on guitar. My mum diligently videoed all my performances until I moved away from Belgium. After that one video, I started scrolling down and looking at the rest: me at twelve, at thirteen, at fifteen… But what struck me was how small the difference was between me at fifteen and me now.

“You’ve definitely learnt how to strum better,” my friend said. Which, by the way, I don’t think is true. He just hasn’t heard me strum yet. But everything else was pretty much the same. I was always slightly embarrassed about my fingerpicking style (I learnt one pattern when I was fifteen and decided that was enough) and spent years justifying my laziness by finding examples of successful musicians who weren’t great guitarists. What I didn’t realise was that by doing that, I was standing still.

I have always been proud of having started performing early – my first gig was when I was twelve and I’ve gigged regularly since. But I haven’t spent much time over these ten years practising – most of it was spent writing songs, singing songs I could play already, and doing everything other than playing the guitar. A while ago, though, I read ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, where she wrote that hours spent doing something didn’t always translate to mastering a skill better. And then she wrote this:


Without effort, your skill is nothing more but what you could have done but didn’t.

‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’, Angela Duckworth

I realised that if I didn’t put the effort in, becoming a musician would also be something I could have done but didn’t. That effort was called deliberate practice.

Two months ago, I started practising every day for two hours. I want to say without fail, but of course the holidays became a two-week Netflix binge. I’m back on track now, though. I started playing scales, learnt Travis picking (fucking finally), learnt one or two covers a week (and this time, didn’t skip the solos and the intros), started reading more about music theory, and doing ear training exercises. For the first time in ten years, I also started doing vocal warmups.

I’m still getting the hang of deliberate practice, but I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s not always fun. It’s supposed to be hard and make you sweat just enough so you still have the courage to come back the day after. And it’s worth it – I’ve grown more as a musician in these last two months than I had in all the years of gigging combined.

Of course, when I wanted to show off my great new skills to my friend who had encouraged me to practice more in the first place, I choked and fucked up. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not getting better. It just means I have to keep practising.

Here are some resources I use in my deliberate practice sessions and some talks that have inspired me to keep going:


Talks


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance | Angela Duckworth

The famous TED talk by Angela Duckworth about work ethic, effort, and consistency.

Music Lesson – How and What to Practice on Your Instrument

Rick Beato talking about how to structure your practice routine.

I practiced 10,000 Hours in 6 Months

Again, Rick Beato, bragging about how much he used to practice in his twenties. Whatever.


Guitar Resources


Scales

The ten essential scales you need to know. This website is generally good for guitarists who want to improve and includes tips on practice, books to read, exercises, etc.

Fingerstyle guitar lessons for intermediate guitarists

LicknRiff is a Youtube channel with guitar lessons for intermediate and advanced lessons on fingerpicking. It’s geared towards those who play a nylon string. The guy who teaches it offers tabs for free as well, and his videos always feature his two dogs, which is almost an unnecessary bonus, really.

Laura Marling tutorials

I’ve been going on about these for ages. But it’s Laura Marling. Herself. Teaching her own songs.


Ear Training and Music Theory


Ear training exercises with Rick Beato

Some general explanations on how to improve and a series of seven ear training exercises you can do daily. Rick Beato’s channel in general is great for music theory explanations, so have a look around. I’m kind of obsessed, but maybe that’s also because I have a minor crush on the man.

Teoria

A great website on music theory with ear training and theory exercises you can do. You can also select how advanced you want to go.