Industry professionals advise aspiring songwriters

Hannah Carroll, Campus Carrier Staff Writer

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Jim Lauderdale (above) and Pierce Pettis play some of their original songs for their audience at the Songwriters’ Summit concert last Friday. They also gave a discussion panel and a masterclass for students. Photos by Avery Boulware | Campus Carrier

The Berry College Fine Arts Department hosted a Songwriters’ Summit on Friday, consisting of an open panel that featured three renowned songwriters followed by a songwriting masterclass.

Present at the summit were three experienced songwriters: Pierce Pettis, Griffin House and Jim Lauderdale. The panel was structured as a Q&A that allowed audience members to ask their own questions for the writers to answer through their personal experiences. With the discussion focused on songwriting, Pettis, House and Lauderdale gave insight on their processes for writing and how they made it into the industry, amongst other aspects of their careers.

Songwriting is an art of persistence, Pettis explained when he addressed writer’s block. The best way to create good songs is to never stop writing, he said, and to save everything that is written. This was an idea also enforced by House, who said one of the first things he learned as a creative writing major is that writing takes the willpower to sit down every day and continuously write. Bad pieces will come with the good, he said, but it is this relentless dedication to writing that helped all three guests find their way into the music industry.

House’s first encounter with music was when he learned to play the guitar at 18 and joined a band while in college. He began to write songs then, which was aided by his experience in poetry, according to House. In 2003 he moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting, where he eventually caught the attention of the record company Island Def Jam and began opening for other bands.

miguel“I just kind of faked it till I made it,” House said. “You just take one step after another and eventually things will come together.”

Pettis had a similar beginning. He knew he wanted to pursue music as a senior in high school, however, his parents pushed him to be a doctor. He attended college briefly, but then dropped out and landed an unpaid staff writer position at Muscle Shoals Sounds Studio. He eventually went back to college and got his degree in mass communication, but then took 10 years to travel and play music at different venues, such as various colleges and bars. He joined the “Fast-Folk” movement in New York before signing his first deal with Windham Hill.

After devoting a large amount of time to his music and songwriting, Pettis is now a praised writer for Compass Records and has had his songs covered by popular artists, such as Garth Brooks.

A large aspect of songwriting is criticism, a facet all three guests knew well. Lauderdale recounted his experience with critics as he tried to debut in the industry, telling of the demos he created that were continuously rejected. He never faulted in the face of judgment but persevered until a song he recorded was accepted, according to Lauderdale. He continued to work hard despite the criticism to get to his success with Goldtop Studios.

Though criticism is regarded as a negative element of songwriting, Pettis and House agreed it shouldn’t be seen as a discouragement to novice writers. House explained that not everyone is going to like what you create, but it is the praise that matters as you become more successful. Also, a writer having their music appraised by critics is a good sign, according to Pettis, because it means that writer has officially entered the spotlight.

“If you have critics, you’ve arrived,” Pettis said. “Celebrate.”

Following the panel was a songwriting masterclass in which participants performed original pieces and received commentary and criticism from Pettis, House, and Lauderdale. The event was concluded with a concert later that night.

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