by Marty Dodson
Mar 23, 2017
Songwriting is a frustrating profession. The reward to hard work ratio can be very small. It’s hard to stay motivated at times when you keep hearing “No” over and over. But, I wanted to share my story in hopes that it will inspire and encourage some of you to keep chasing the dream and keep pouring your hearts into your music.
The foundation of my 20+ year career in the music business was built on what happened during a several hour period on 5 days. Those 5 days changed everything. Here are brief descriptions of each of those days.
I was worried I was going to lose my writing deal. I hadn’t had any big cuts and I was about 2 years into a 4 year writing deal. I drove to Columbia, TN to write with Jason Matthews. He and I had written for about 6 hours previously on an idea that was stumping us. This was to be the second day trying to finish off that idea. Two hours into the write, we didn’t have anything. Not one new word on paper. Jason suggested that we go to lunch. On the way back from lunch, he said “Do you like the song we are working on?” I said “No, but I thought you did.” He replied, “I don’t like it either. I thought you did.” We had a good laugh about it and joyfully threw that idea away. Jason said, “We ought to just write something people can make out to. There’s nothing like that on the radio.” He started playing an R&B groove and mumbled “Must be doin’ somethin’ right”. In an hour and a half, we had written what would become our first #1 song and Billy Currington’s first #1 song as well. That day changed my life forever. It paid for 3 kids to finish college and lots of other good things!
I showed up to write with Jim Collins. I asked what he wanted to write and he said “Let’s write something fun, maybe something with a reggae feel.” I looked in my database and had one idea with “reggae” written beside it. “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” was born. It was recorded by George Strait AND Kenny Chesney and was a #1 song for Kenny. Day 2 proved it wasn’t a fluke. I really could write #1 songs!
I was scheduled to write with Mark Nesler. Mark and I were both going through divorces. So, we talked for a while about all of our troubles. Jennifer Hanson called to say she had been cancelled and asked if she could join us. She was Mark’s wife at the time – the one he was in the process of getting divorced from. Strange story? Yep. We told Jennifer to come on over and join us. As we talked, Jennifer said “I heard Billy (Currington) is cutting and you guys have both had hits with him. Let’s try to write something for him.” So, we did. “Let Me Down Easy”, a love song, was written by three people VERY down on love. It was pitched once – to Billy Currington and he cut it. It went on to top the charts as well.
I was in Sweden at a writing camp. Scared to death. Out of my element. Under a lot of pressure to pay for this trip with a cut or two. I wound up in the room with two Swedes, Carl Utbult and Alexander Holmgren. We wrote a silly little pop song called “Bounce”. Through some weird set of circumstances that I still don’t understand, it got into the hands of an aging Korean star who had retired ten years earlier when his wife passed away. He decided he would make a comeback in her honor. Ten years later. With my song. It knocked Psy out of #1 in South Korea and prevented him from going back to #1. And it became the Song of The Year in South Korea and in all of Asia, proving you just never know.
My publisher told me they wanted me to write with a Canadian artist named Johnny Reid. When I showed up, Johnny introduced me to a friend he had brought along. His name was Alan. Both Johnny and Alan had thick Scottish accents that were hard to understand at times. As we began to write, I was still trying to figure out why these two Canadians had such thick Scottish accents. Johnny said that he needed a big stadium song. He had a groove and a title called “Fire It Up”. Several hours later, we had written what would become a Canadian #1 for Johnny and later, Joe Cocker’s last #1 before he passed away. Oh, and I found out after the co-write that Johnny was the biggest star in Canada and Alan was Alan Frew, the lead singer for Glass Tiger.
Those five days turned into 6 #1 songs. And, they are the foundation that has allowed me to write songs for more than 20 years. The moral of the story, though, is that they were just 5 ordinary days on which I showed up, gave it all I had and did my job. At the time, they didn’t seem special or magic. We just did what we do.
That’s what keeps me going. Even when I’m facing lots of rejection, even if streaming rates are HORRIBLE and I’m not getting paid fairly, even if I don’t feel like writing, I show up. I do it because I know that each day could be day #6 – the day that brings on something new and wonderful.
If you are still working toward your “Day 1″ story. Keep my story in mind. The way to succeed is to prepare to the best of your ability and to show up each day to do the work. If you keep doing that long enough, good things will happen!
Write on! ~Marty
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