Guest Blog: How to Find Your Songwriting Zone While On The Road

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Brett Jones has been a professional songwriter for more than 25 years and is responsible for seven #1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. His most recent chart-topper was Justin Moore’s “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” in 2011, and previous #1s include “Crazy Town” by Jason Aldean and “That’s How Country Boys Roll” by Billy Currington. Over 150 of Jones’ songs have been featured on major label recordings, and more than 1,400 total recordings of his songs have been published.

I’ve been a songwriter for over 25 years (I’ve always been one, that’s just when they started paying me!), and I’ve been on the road with artists ranging from Ronnie Milsap to Billy Currington, and I can tell you that being on tour can be tough on your pen. One night you’re in Cincinnati, OH; the next night you’re in Spokane, WA; and the whole time you’ve got tour managers in your ear about radio interviews and other ways to draw a bigger crowd, crew members coming in and out with their own problems, it’s just chaos. So what do you do when inspiration strikes and you need a moment alone with your guitar?

Up to this point, I’ve just had to learn to block out the distractions. My approach to songwriting is a bit old-school: just me, a guitar, some paper, and a pen (and in recent years, an iPhone). I’ll start with a title or a basic idea, then try out a few different feels to find out whether it should be in a minor key, whether it’s going to be a happy song, etc. I continue to dig until a memorable melody surfaces, and then it’s all about free flowing until I’ve got a solid first verse and chorus. Of course, this all takes a fair amount of concentration, and you don’t get that luxury on a tour bus. So you do what you can when you can do it, and by the end of the tour, you’ve got a few songs that are almost there. But last summer, I got involved with a program that’s giving touring artists a place to go when life on the road gets too hectic, where they can be alone with their thoughts or collaborate with some of the best fellow songwriters around: The ole Write Where You Are Tour.

I signed with ole to handle my publishing rights back in 2012, and this is one of the company’s innovative ideas that appealed to me. Each summer, the ole Nashville team puts together their own tour bus, a mobile writer’s room, and takes it around the country, meeting up with touring artists along the way and giving them a chance to write with an ole songwriter. I can tell you from experience, it’s incredible for your concentration. First, it’s quiet. Second, you and the artist are in a completely different space from the rest of their entourage, so there’s no family, friends, or other work concerns or distractions. It’s all about the song. And finally, it’s a great spot for collaboration.

I got into the habit years ago of making myself continue my solo writing. I think that’s helped me from a discipline standpoint, and I’ve had a couple dozen of those songs cut by major artists, so I plan to continue. However, a lot of times I’ve been glad to have the input of another writer/artist because it gives you an alternate perspective that, in some cases, is what takes the song to another level. For example, fellow ole songwriter and Sony recording artist Josh Dorr, one of the many artists I’ve written with on the ole bus, is a musician who is cut from the same cloth as me, but we’re from different generations. So when we write together, we both know which way we want to go, but he has an entirely different way of seeing the world than I’ll ever have, and vice versa. It’s helped both of us reach new ground that we wouldn’t have on our own.

The music business is changing rapidly, and it’s getting harder out there for songwriters. But it has been reassuring to travel the country working with great musicians like Randy Houser, Montgomery Gentry, Striking Matches, Drake White, Chris Janson, and many more whose passion for the song above all else is obvious. The ole Write Where You Are Tour helps bring that out in people. In fact, Eric Church’s signature song, “Springsteen,” was co-written on the bus with a former ole songwriter. It’s proof positive that a little bit of concentration and a little bit of help from your friends can lead to a song that can climb radio mountain.

 

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