10 writing tips from Grammy Award winner Mike Farris
The Nashville rocker collected the Best Roots Gospel Album trophy in 2015. Here he reveals the secrets of his success
1. ANTENNAE UP!
Remembering to always keep my creative antennae up takes a conscious effort most of the time. Since the passing of my longtime manager, Rose McGathy, in 2007 I have mostly managed myself, along with help from my wife, Julie. Ours is a true family business, and so I find myself having to give a lot of my energy to everything but music, and I think there are more and more artists out here dealing with the same problem, and this becomes a major obstacle in remembering to stay connected to the things that cross my path each day. We are being constantly bombarded with divine information every single day, but we have to be connected, and sometimes that means simply making the decision to be.
2. LEARN FROM OTHERS
It’s always good for me to go see live bands and see what moves me and my hometown of Nashville is a great place to do this. Even if it’s something that completely sucks, I learn something, but most of the time I walk away being inspired from something I hear, whether it be a lyric, a melody, a guitar tone or a groove. Music isn’t a competition. Everyone has their own road to travel and sometimes we forget that. After all, we artists are an emotional bunch. So beware of cynicism and its ability to hinder your experiences.
3. DON’T TAKE YOURSELF SO DAMN SERIOUSLY
This is a must-do exercise for me! Anytime I realize that I’m taking everything too damn seriously, I shut it down and make silly songs. You have to allow yourself to be silly. Music is meant to be enjoyed. Enjoy your craft! Have fun with it!
4. SIMPLE IS GOOD!
Stand By Me has two verses, four chords, and a repeating chorus of three words. As well, Uptight by Stevie Wonder has just two chords and never changes, but with that horn arrangement, it has movement and leaves you captivated, start to finish. Some of the greatest songs ever followed this same idea. Don’t overthink things and be sure to flow when the flow takes hold!
5. BE AN ARCHEOLOGIST!
I’ve always been drawn to musical heritage from all over the planet. Of the generations before us, there was a certain way of delivering, even creating, a song that has perhaps been lost. It’s good to study the craft of songwriting from other eras. It’s also good to hear different voices from different parts of the world and how others express themselves.
6. WHAT WORKS LIVE
Everything comes down to this question for me, “How will it work live?” For every song I write, once it’s completed, this is the first thing that pops into my head. It’s more important for me nowadays to know that whatever ends up on a record is going to add to what we do live and be able to hold up in a live setting. Super, super important.
Music is therapy, it really is, and as artists, having the ability to express ourselves not only is a great help to us but to others, so don’t let fear or anything else become a wall to those precious things. These are the gems that facilitate healing in us and in others.
8. NEVER GIVE UP
See every idea through to the end. Once I begin chasing the idea, it is super important that I complete the task, even if the idea stinks.
9. TRUST OTHERS
Having people around you who know you and understand what you do and what you’re trying to achieve as an artist is essential. On my latest record, Silver & Stone, my label president, Garry West, approached me about wanting to produce the album. Agreeing on this was a huge step for me because, well, I have control issues, and I’ve produced all my records for several years now. It was important for me to allow myself to not carry the entire load and allow someone else to help out. It turned out to be a great decision in every way, albeit, painful at times to let go and trust Garry, but he brought great ideas to the table, understood me as an artist, had a distinct grasp on what I needed to accomplish and it turned out to be a wonderful experience and one that has produced the best record of my career.
10. WRITE EVERY DAY
Here, we come full circle. In order for me to stay connected, I need to have a routine and the biggest part of my routine is beginning the day with prayer, meditation, and creating. I’ve discovered that early mornings are when I am naturally open and connected, so I meet that moment where it naturally wants to meet. If on the rare occasion I am to write with someone else, I always try and make it early morning, in order to tap into that natural flow for me. I find that when I am staying true to my natural schedule, every day, my whole day becomes more balanced and easy flowing. There is a big difference in me when I starve my creativity so I have to always nurture that side of me.