Music, Lyrics, and Life is the songwriting class you always wish you'd taken, taught by the professor you always wish you'd had. It's a deep dive into the heart of questions asked by songwriters of all levels, from how to begin journaling to when you know that a song is finished. With humor and empathy, acclaimed singer-songwriter Mike Errico unravels both the mystery of songwriting and the logistics of life as a songwriter. For years, this set of tools, prompts, and ideas has inspired students on campuses including Yale, Wesleyan, Berklee, Oberlin, and NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Alongside his own lessons, Errico interviews the writers, producers, and A&R executives behind today's biggest hits and investigates the larger questions of creativity through lively conversations with a wide range of innovative thinkers: astrophysicist Janna Levin explains the importance of repetition, both in choruses and in the exploration of the universe; renowned painter John Currin praises the constraints of form, whether it's within a right-angled canvas or a three-minute pop song; bestselling author George Saunders unpacks the hidden benefit of writing, and revising, authentically; and much more. The result is that Music, Lyrics, and Life ends up revealing as much about the art of songwriting as it does about who we are, and where we may be going. This is a book for songwriters, future content creators, music lovers, and anyone who wants to understand how popular art forms are able to touch us so deeply. Mike Errico has honed these lessons over years of writing, performing, teaching, and mentoring, and no matter where you are on your songwriting journey, Music, Lyrics, and Life will help you build a creative world that's both intrinsic to who you are, and undeniable to whoever is listening.
My thank to NetGalley and the publisher Rowman & Littlefield for an advance copy of this new songwriting reference book.
The title Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter by singer-songwriter-educator Mike Errico might seem to just be about writing pop hits, but this book is really for creatives of all types. Mr. Errico has put in the time, both on stage and in the classroom, helping people develop their gifts and create beautiful things.
Mr. Errico covers songwriting, hooks, voice, rhyme and rhythm and reason. However he goes a little farther and a lot deeper. Along with interviews with musical types, producers, writers and performers, he talks and discusses the creative arts with people in various fields, including science and in one kind of amusing interview a tire designer. What is creative in your field, how do you know when your art is complete? Is art ever complete? Many lessons and tools can be used in any creative field, from writing to screenwriting, to podcasting.
Mr. Errico has a good clear voice that is present in his writing. Being an teacher of songwriting for a number of years has given him answers to many common questions, which he answers with both humor and clarity. As I said earlier this a great book for all kinds of creative people, written by a very patient teacher whose excitement to create carries throughout the book. One of the best writing and positive feeling books that I have read in a long time. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever wanted to make something, but needs a little impetus and guide to help them.
The Definitive Guide To Songwriting is Finally Here
In 1995 I replaced Mike Errico on a gig in NYC, for which I was always grateful as that gig allowed me to play Carnegie Hall and all sorts of other cool things. Shortly thereafter I randomly ran into Mike playing at a BMI event or some such, and I have to say I wasn’t crazy about his songs. He had just been signed to Sony I think as a songwriter. I was jealous and confused. Ironically one of the songs on my new gig was called “Every Time A Friend Succeeds, A Little Piece Of Me Just Dies Inside”.
Fast forward to much later where I noticed that Mike was writing about songwriting for different publications, and he mentioned teaching classes including at my alma mater. “Him again?” I thought, jealous again. But, being very frustrated in my own writing process, I loved what he had to say. I even considered asking him if I could audit one of his classes. Life went kerplooey on me and I never did, but I hoped one day he’d publish the info somehow.
And now the book is here. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s loaded with tools and songwriting prompts to help you refine and revise and good Lord just have SOME KIND OF GUIDANCE in this crazy world where you are just supposed to wake up one day and be Bob Dylan or write 1 million songs to eventually be Michael Penn or some other one hit wonder. The bad news is that you do actually have to write the 1 million songs; there are no shortcuts.
But the good news - and there is so much good news in this book - the good news is that unlike the super destructive Nashville-style song critique sessions I have tried to avoid my entire life (but have experienced twice), unlike the ponderous books on songcraft that seem to have no basis in reality except “Be Ira Gershwin”, and unlike the interviews with writers who are often extremely unconscious about their process (“I just write ‘em” says Robert Zimmerman) - Mike builds you up, keeps it simple, and gets very specific.
I imagine his in-person students love him. I love him too. Not in a weird way (hi Mike). If you want to be a songwriter or really any kind of writer, this book is a great supplement to the long and arduous path of accumulating those songs and pages. And in that sense Dylan is right; you just have to write and revise and repeat. Yet while Bob often can provide no insight on his process otherwise, this book gives clues to how he and other greats work and, more importantly, teaches you how to work on your own songs to make them the most YOU. It focuses on pop song form but encourages you to find your own path.
Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter is a wonderfully written book that will inspire songwriters to be themselves while writing song content. The author, Mike Errico, is able to give advice to his students without restricting them in their creative avenues. The book has several Q & A sections in which Errico interviews professionals from all walks of life, from a mechanical engineer who works on tire design to a fly fishing business owner and connects these sessions to the different aspects of songwriting. He also starts the book with a list of "Ten Rules for Students and Teachers". These ten rules set the tone for the book and from there, the ideas can flow freely.
One of the interesting points that Errico makes is the difference between the definition of a "hit" song. There is the industry definition and the workable writer definition. Writing for the hit charts versus writing to expand your circle of people who love your work are two separate things.
The tools that Errico gives his readers are definitely the most appealing part of this book. Many people may not know where to start or what to write about or they may overthink what they are doing and think that what they are writing is trash, thus not finishing the song or dismissing it before others can even have an opinion about it. One tip that seems so simple is to journal and write at least three pages. Or write about something for ten minutes. Errico teaches his reader that content ideas can come from just about anywhere and by journalling, you never know what thoughts could become your next song. There are also questions that you can ask yourself to prompt ideas. One of my favorite ideas that Errico suggests is to write as if you are someone who has a "brand" as a writer but also had a pseudonym no one could ever trace back to you. He asks "what would that alter ego look like?".
Errico fine-tunes the songwriter's works by giving tips on things that one might never think about. Subjects such as silence, the way the brain works, are you writing with a call-to-action, about a person, place, or thing? What are you trying to evoke in your listeners?
Overall, Errico does a fantastic job of giving his readers much to think about when writing a song. Not everything is as clear-cut as it seems. I recommend this book to anyone who is or wants to write creatively. It will spark some great ideas and thoughts.
Thank you to Mike Errico and City Book Review for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What a great read! This book was informative and applicable to subjects beyond music and lyrics. The voice of the author was entertaining and makes me wish I had taken a course like this in college. Highly recommend!
An inspiring read—not just for songwriters! I wrote this to increase my knowledge about this art form (my daughter is a songwriter), but ended up recommending it to my history students because of the good study and life lessons in it. One thing I found annoying was the speculative tirade against typing, but it was short enough to not take away from the overall merit of the book. I really appreciated Mike Errico’s honesty about the downs and dangers of trying to make a living from the arts… and why we do it anyway. :)
More than just a book on songwriting, and personal development process for songwriting. Interesting and unique. I appreciate Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for allowing me to read and review.