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Steal Like An Artist

Towards the end of the songwriting course, knowing that my attention flitted like a finch between hedges, I knew I needed to take steps to go further down this rabbit hole. My first step was to ask questions, so I spoke with Mark Sholtez at USQ Toowoomba. I asked for advice on what groups, classes or workshops were available for songwriting. Because I lived in Brisbane, he suggested courses at JMC and Queensland Conservatorium. I was unsure about obtaining a degree or what I would do with it so thought something like the intensive 8-day songwriting course we had just completed would be better. Needing to start on a smaller scale to see where music would take me I asked about a piano teacher. Mark suggested I get in touch with Nathan Seiler, a teacher who was also running a workshop at USQ Artworx at the time.

Emboldened by the state of mind that was getting me through the entire week, something I like to call “don’t think about it – just do it”, I approached Nathan at the tutors showcase. I wasn’t quite sure of my end goal, I just knew I needed lessons. Nathan gracefully accepted me as a student and we began classes back in sweltering Brisbane.

The classes began on piano but moved on to songwriting, composition and philosophy. It was amazing to talk about music, the arrangement options available between voice and piano and discussing the philosophy of songwriting. I played one of my songs and said how I struggled to come up with something different. We began talking about the benefit of copying other pianists as well as covers artists from You Tube and our conversation lead to a book called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Nathan suggested that I read it because it had a lot of great ideas that worked for both songwriting and piano. I loaned this book from Nathan’s informal library and devoured it over the next two weeks.

The book was another test to seeing how many mind-blowing moments would obliterate my brain. Again, the answer seems to be infinite – will keep updating. The songwriting course had flooded my brain with so much new information that I had become stuck. I always stopped after writing a piano riff, daunted by the idea of trying to piece a song together. Reading Steal Like An Artist reminded me of a couple of simple facts: you’re writing music for you and; everyone steals. The book allowed me to turn the nozzle, drain out all the stress and filth that was clogging up my mind and just have fun with songwriting.

In his book, Austin talked about the act of copying but with your own twist. It was a reminder that all the greats can be connected to many other greats from the same period because they would discuss and share their work. I could look at them and see similarities in their inspiration and philosophy which brought them to their own conclusions. There was no true genius out there making discoveries on their own with some mysterious connection to the universe.

Steal Like An Artist gave me the permission I needed to draw inspiration from my favourite artists and not be afraid if parts of my songs “sounded like” or “felt like”. Let that be a testament to the artists I love. Previously I found it daunting to write a song that needed to come from me and only me. How was that even possible? I was shaped by the music I listened to so it was only natural that elements of music would reflect a genre of music at the very least.

After reading this book I found the freedom to write a new song. I allowed myself to forget the immense catalogue of information I had learned, instead letting it infiltrate the editing process after the song was written. Some elements, the ones which had sunk in, were already there. Others took a few edits to include. Instead of being a daunting task it was fun. That song has now joined the list of songs I’ve fallen in love with.

Here is the track I’m talking about. I called it Let it Fall. Have a listen to it and let me know what you think.

I would definitely recommend getting your hands on a copy of Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s short, sweet and was a huge inspiration for me.

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