Serving up another edition of LETTERS FROM THE ROAD, our guest post series where we invite musicians we are utterly nuts about to take over and write whatever they like. 2 rules: it has to be in the form of a letter, it has to have something to do with music. This week’s LETTERS FROM THE ROAD guest author is one of our favorite singer songwriters, Tim Easton:

Dear Young Songwriter Who Wrote Me on MySpace or Facebook and asked for advice:

I have so much to tell you but I should probably distill it down to the basics. This is what I would tell any young artist or student who stands in front of me wondering what to do in this massive and confusing world of art and commerce.

Basically, I can explain it in three chunks:

1. Read and listen to everything that came before now. Films too.

2. Leave home. Travel.

3. Bring something new to the tradition of your craft.

I would have to advise you to read and listen to anything you can get your hands and ears on.

Poetry: you should read it every day. Short stories, novels, all the classics. Get to it.

With music, you are going to have to step out of your comfort zone and visit the sounds and songs of those that came before the songwriters you are listening to now. Go back to the beginnings of your favorite genre. All of the greats studied the greats before them. If you are an American musician, you are doing yourself a dishonor by not listening to and studying the first American musicians who gave us jazz and the blues and the folk music that teaches you the chords and stories you need to know. There is a foundation there that is absolutely necessary if you wish you be a part of the constantly evolving family of musicians and artists, rather than the disposable, flavor of the month variety.

In North America, our “classical” music is jazz. Through serious suffering and eventual liberation came the blues. Finally, we were very fortunate to be the birthplace of rock and roll (disco, hip hop, etc.) and although we’ve had to have its message of ass shaking freedom re-explained to us time and time again by different generations from both sides of the pond, you won’t find any of the long term successful people in these musical genres that didn’t go back and study the greats that came before them.

You want to learn to write good songs? Then learn how to play the great songs of history. You like The Beatles? Learn Motown, Buddy Holly, and Cole Porter. Learn McCartney’s bass lines. You like M. Ward? []


A Triple-A radio programming veteran, Kate has served as Music Director of the Loft at XM, Midday Host at WYEP, Evening Host at both WNCS and WUIN, as well as Content Supervisor for Pump Audio. Currently, she’s the CEO of Outlandos Music, a new-music discovery service for grown-ups. Kate has been nationally recognized for her ardent presentation of music and her ability to champion talented, compelling artists.

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