When Lindsay Ell was approached to star in the country musical podcast Make It Up As We Go, she jumped right in. “I’ve always just had a love for podcasts,” says Ell, “but this year, I think I have even just established a deeper love for podcasts.”
Ell, who plays herself in the series and also wrote and sings one of the show’s original tracks “Workin Out,” says the podcast is one of the closest depictions of the Nashville songwriting world outside of the TV series “Nashville.”
“‘Nashville’ did so much for our community, educating people about the music industry and the things we go through as songwriters and artists,” says Ell, “and ‘Make It Up As We Go’ is like a podcast version of that.”
The scripted country musical is the first podcast format of its kind, combining several original songs and a featured cast of actors following the story of a singer-songwriter Charlotte Sayles—played by the podcast’s co-creator, actor and songwriter Scarlett Burke—who makes the move from Texas to Nashville to live out her musical dreams. The chapter-by-chapter podcast follows the conflicts she faces moving through her journey to make it in the industry, and in Nashville’s writer rooms.
Created by Burke and Jared Gutstadt, founder and CEO of the podcast production studio Audio Up, the first season of Make It Up As We Go, which premiered Oct. 9 through iHeartPodcast Networks, featuring guest stars Miranda Lambert, Bobby Bones, Billy Bob Thornton, Craig Robinson, Lindsay Ell, Dennis Quaid, Rob Mayes, Bre Blair, and Michael Raymond-James, offers a real-life snapshot into a day in the life writing in Nashville through real experiences.
“I’m able to bring a hands-on perspective of exactly what I go through,” says Ell. “Then, being able to be written into the script and to sing the theme song was so cool.”
Ell also recently worked with the series’ producer Nicolle Galyon on “Go To,” off her recent album Heart Theory. Galyon also wrote the Make It Up As We Go track “Champion” along with Miranda Lambert, Burke, Gutstadt, and Jeff Peters.
“Nicolle is just a dear friend, and the fact that she wrote the theme song is just amazing, so it’s special to work with my group of friends and bring the industry into this scripted podcast,” says Ell. “I love when creative things like this go to the next level. This podcast has really taken it to that next level.”
While each chapter of Make It Up As We Go shows the other world of writing that most people rarely see, there’s also a more uplifting element inside the series’ episodes, says Ell. “It’s always valuable to talk about how we lean into art as songwriters, and how leaning into art can help us process our emotions,” says Ell. “This year, we are definitely feeling a lot of emotions, so it’s been very therapeutic as a songwriter to lean into this. I love that Make It Up As We Go just shines a light on that incredible aspect of the music industry.”
Even the title, Make It Up As We Go is a perfect fit since that’s what most writers in Nashville typically end up doing on a daily basis. “As a writer, it’s about being able to be creative and stand on that edge of your own vulnerability,” says Ell. “We’re arguably throwing words together in a room every day, hoping that they’ll rhyme and make sense and inspire people, so the title reflects that vulnerable, scary place as a creative living in this town.”
Used to being on the road 280 days out of the year, Ell says that moving into 2021 will be a different dynamic—in the virtual classroom—since she’s started teaching songwriting courses.
“It’s been so rewarding to be able to let fans tap into this magic of songwriting,” says Ell. “A lot of them have never even written a song in their whole life, and teaching virtual songwriting lessons is just another gift of 2020 since I probably wouldn’t have had the time or made the space for that.”
When it comes to women in the industry, Ell says there’s more of an intentional approach to their work since female artists, specifically in Nashville, generally have a very strong brand and know want they want to say, compared to male artists that rarely need to go through this same process.
“I think any female needs to work a little bit harder for what we want, and that’s just the nature of being a woman today,” says Ell. “We also go through these processes where we need to be a lot more intentional about everything we do and everything we say, but because of that I think it makes the product and the songwriter so much more stronger.”
Thinking about the crux of the series story, making a great song, Ell believes it always comes down to two simple things: honesty and vulnerability.
“I think that the secret lies in authenticity,” says Ell. “When people can feel that from your music, that’s where you find the magic. If we could all predict what makes a hit song, then I think a lot of us would be much richer, but it is truly just about being as real and as vulnerable as you can.” She adds, “That’s the universal part of music that brings us all together. Music is that universal language. When you can tap into those kind of emotions, it’s unstoppable.”