He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure
James Lane Allen
When it comes to writing songs, nothing blocks the flow of songwriting ideas more than two small but very powerful words…
FEAR and DOUBT.
The fear comes first. I’m talking about the fear of…
Not being good enough
Being ridiculed by online trolls
Being found out as not being an expert
Not having anything to say
People not liking my output
Exposing myself too much
People not liking me and my music
With the doubt following soon behind it making me…
Play down my achievements (false humility)
Sugar coat my message to please others
Writing songs that lack confidence and conviction
Second-guess everything that I do
Strive for the unattainable, the perfect
Become an expert at procrastination
Not finish anything
I know that at one time or another, we’ve all experienced this dance between fear and doubt in some form or another.
I continue to do so every single day. In fact, fear and doubt have been the two main reasons why I haven’t gotten as far with my songwriting as I could have.
One of my main regrets in my life so far has been to let fear and doubt get the better of me over the years.
I’ve imagined many, many times what I could’ve achieved if I had not let fear and doubt get in the way of my professional and personal progress as a songwriter. Have you felt this way too sometimes?
Well, the next question to ask is… “What do we do about it?”
For me, I find doing these three things help a lot…
Acknowledge the fear
Encapsulate the fear
Take action in spite of the fear
Acknowledge that having fears and doubts is an essential part of being a songwriter.
In fact, both are essential parts of being a human being.
Used wisely, fear is a great mechanism for assessing risk and therefore it needs to be exercised carefully but not all the time. You do need to train yourself to not feel the fear in creative situations but to embrace the play that creativity brings to the table.
I do this by just recognising that I have these fears and doubts and I have the courage and skill to deal with them when they arise.
Encapsulate your fears and doubt by writing them down.
The fear and doubt lists demonstrated above are from my own journals and already from that list I can see how silly these fears and doubts look on paper.
That’s what I find to be the beauty of writing these things down, I get a much more realistic perspective of the situation and I feel more detached from the fears and doubts because I have physically plucked them from my mind and put them down on paper.
Just take action anyway, plough through the fear and doubt.
Once you’ve written down what your fears and doubts are, the desire to create overrides the fear that comes with creation and you end up doing what you most want to do at that moment… CREATE!
If I find that if I’m feeling a fear and doubt attack coming on, I open up my journal and write down what I’m thinking and feeling.
This is essential for clearing the block that was preventing me from writing a song in the first place as I recognise that, most of the fears and doubts that I concoct inside my head are just that… INSIDE MY HEAD.
They are not real, they are not based on any facts, it’s just me being a little more vulnerable and overly cautious about my abilities as a songwriter and what I have to say at that moment.
How do you deal with your fears and doubts when it comes to your creativity? Feel free to let me know as I’m always fascinated with the stories of others faced with the same situation.
I, like many, many songwriters have a problem with my songwriting process…
It’s called “perfectionism” and along with an extremely over-zealous inner critic, this problem has plagued me my whole songwriting/music career.
I have tried many times to snap out of it and to some extent have been temporarily successful numerous times over the years but at the end of the day, my default songwriting position is of being paralysed by too much choice.
My main curse is that I don’t finish things. I absolutely love to start things but I’ve never really finish things… Songs, tasks, projects, activities. I rarely finish things to the standard that I’d would like but then again, maybe that’s the problem.
Maybe, I set impossible standards for myself.
Anyways, I stumbled across an article all about this very problem of perfectionism in songwriting and the author was going through the very same issues as I am, right now.
I realized that finalizing and sharing my music was the part that scared me the most. I was afraid. I was afraid of marking something complete because then I would have to answer to my own work. I could and would be held accountable for the result, which my perfectionism was never going to be happy with. If I was going to wait until I was 100% happy with something, I was going to be waiting a very long time.
BINGO! Therein lies my issue… Fear of being accountable for my work, fear of being criticised and the fear of having to answer to trolls online.
He goes on by offering some suggestions as to how to get past this fear and for me, the first things that I need to do is to stop setting outlandishly unreachable goals for myself. My goals should be smaller and happen more often.
Maybe what I need to do is to stop looking at my songwriting process as a series of sudden bursts of productivity and try to create a songwriting process that is more streamlined, organised, consistent and sustainable.
More than ever, good music needs to be written and shared with the world so why should fear and doubt in my own abilities get in the way of me sharing my music with the world?
David Silverstein finishes off his article with a simple quote from Leonardo da Vinci…
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
I’ll be using this COVID-19 downtime I find myself in to finally conquer my songwriting fears and doubts. I hope to be finishing a lot of songs.
Do you have the same issue? Love starting off projects but don’t take it to completion? Let me know what experiences you’ve had with this and how you managed to work around it. I’d love to hear from you.
Since the mid nineties I have had a very keen interest in studying meditation. Around that time I was exposed to a number of philosophies of mainly the new age kind through the bands I was in and through the company I kept.
This created a healthy environment of wonderment and questioning about what life is about and what makes human beings (especially me as I point the finger inwards) do the things that they do.
Out of all the books I read, the people I had spoken to and the philosophies I was exposed to, it turns out that for me, Buddhism was the only thing that really made sense.
Now, there were periods of time where I was right into the study and other times where I had let it lapse but if I was ever asked what religion I adhered to, I would answer Buddhism. However, there was always one thing that confused me about Buddhism and my relationship to it.
I have never seen Buddhism as a religion but more of a method of living.
Now, some schools of Buddhism seem to have a more religious or doctrinal approach to them while others not so but all I wanted to do at the end of the day was practise this method of living without any of the superstitious or religious overtones.
It wasn’t until very recently however, that I discovered that my “Buddhism without the religion” actually has a name… Secular Buddhism.
Now when asked about my religion (mainly through other religious people who knock at my door from time to time) I can reply “I don’t have one, but I am a Secular Buddhist” (much to the amusement or confusion of the questioner). According to Wikipedia, Secular Buddhism is…
“… a broad term for an emerging form of Buddhism and secular spirituality that is based on humanist, skeptical, and/or agnostic values, as well as pragmatism and (often) naturalism, rather than religious (or more specifically supernatural or paranormal) beliefs.”
It’s also referred to as Western Buddhism or Buddhist Atheism. Once I found a name for my rediscovered path, everything else just started to make sense.
Therefore, my Buddhist study would be of a secular nature and my meditation and mindfulness study would come from the disciplined Zen Buddhist tradition of Japan.
In future posts, I’ll be writing about what I discover on this particular path but in the meantime I’m just happy to “be” in this very moment.
Let’s look at the word SONGWRITING for a minute. The dictionary meaning of the word is the “… writing the music and words of songs.”
Now that should give us a clue but I think the definition it goes deep enough. I reckon the meaning of the word SONGWRITING should be something like…
“The process in which a song is created using words and melody”
The word itself is comprised of two words, song and writing. The song part is the end result of a process and the writing part is the process itself.
Get it… Without the writing there is no song.
It seems like a simple concept doesn’t it? But it’s amazing how many songs aren’t written. They are started but never finished.
You see, you can talk all you like about verses, choruses, middle-eights, bridges, pre-choruses, the length of the intro and hooks and so on but without the physical activity of writing the song, all of that theory is meaningless.
Introducing the Songwriting Process
Personally, songwriting is much, much more than the song itself. The act of writing a song is a whole process in itself. It’s a discipline, a meditation and for me, a way of life.
Without a songwriting process, a song (being the end result of the process) would not exist at all.
If we, as songwriters didn’t have our own songwriting process, then all of our thoughts, feelings and songwriting ideas will become random, haphazard and lacking in organisation.
How would you be able to maintain a creative and sustainable songwriting environment with all that disorganisation going on?
Pablo Picasso once said that “… inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” and I think that sums everything I’ve been trying to say in this post nicely.
In future posts I’ll be writing about how you can create, adopt and manage your own songwriting process and in turn write more songs rather than just waiting for inspiration to come your way. Plus, I’ll be giving you insights as to how I write my songs.
What does songwriting and the process involved in writing a song mean to you? Feel free to let me know as we all have something to learn from each other.
When I was five years old I asked Mum and Dad if I could have piano lessons.
Now, Mum and Dad didn’t have any room in the house for a piano nor, was there enough money to buy one in the first place but that was okay with me… I still had my imagination to play with.
All through my primary school years I was constantly writing stories and poems then, I was making up songs to go with the poems and drawing pictures to go with the stories. Back then I was an unstoppable ball of creative energy.
It wasn’t until I reached high school though that my interest in music really came to the forefront. The school that I went to had a very good music program which I was most keen to get into. It was there that I could really begin to immerse myself in all things music.
The instrument that I wanted to learn was the saxophone, mainly because back in 1983 it was a pretty cool instrument to play. However, they were all snapped up by other students so the next best thing I thought to learn was the clarinet, which I continued to play until I left high school in 1987.
Most of my recess and lunch times were spent in the music room practising my clarinet and teaching myself piano. It was an environment in which I really felt I belonged to and through music theory lessons, I was introduced to sheet music, manuscript paper, treble/bass clefs and a vast array of notes for my imagination to play with.
It was around the same time that I wrote my first song. This was after my best friend Andrew showed me an “A” chord on an old nylon stringed classical guitar which was given to me on my 13th birthday by my Dad (perhaps to compensate not providing me with a piano all those years ago).
This inspired me to teach myself the guitar at home which allowed me to become immersed with music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Add to that the thrill of writing a new song with each discovery of a new chord and my life was pretty much complete.
All of my school friends were budding musicians, my whole life at that time seemed to be revolved around music, it couldn’t get any better than that.
When I left high school music became something that allowed me to escape the day to day pressures of living. Music made my growing up into a young adult a more tolerable experience.
I started up bands which seemed to endlessly rehearse but never played any gigs and at the same time picked up the bass because I could never find a bass player for these endlessly rehearsing bands.
Wherever I was working at the time I’d carry around a small notebook and pen and scrawl down song lyrics and songwriting ideas at every opportunity. I spent the rest of the time daydreaming what it would be like to play music professionally… That was my idea of Heaven on Earth and it was my goal to find it.
My first taste of being a professional musician came in 1994 when I joined a band that was going to relocate to Sydney called the “Chocolate Dogs.”
After playing some awesome warm up/farewell shows in Adelaide, we went to the promised land in convoy with swirling romantic notions in our heads of making it big, bolstered by the fact that the biggest band agency in Sydney at the time had decided to put us on their books.
We decided that nothing would stop us. “We’ll play as a cover band first to get some money coming in then we’ll start an originals band afterwards” we said to ourselves, “yeah sure, we’ll be able to do both.”
The reality was that after being shunted around every corner of Sydney playing in every shitty dive you could ever imagine, the agency dropped us after 18 months on their books. We didn’t know this but at the time but we were “that band from Adelaide” that played the venues that no-one else wanted to play at.
We then tried to make a go at playing our own stuff, the real reason why we all went to Sydney in the first place but with no real Plan B in place, poverty knocking at our door and band members arguing over royalty splits on income not yet realised the band split after one gig.
That experience was very painful, so much so that I gave up playing music and tried to have a go at living in Sydney as a “normal person.” I got a job at Aussie Home Loans and moved up the ranks pretty quickly, found love and moved in to my girlfriend’s place in Leichhardt.
All was going well but I started to feel the music calling at me. It was then that I started missing being a musician, writing songs, performing live and connecting with the muse.
On a whim I went to a weekend songwriting workshop in North Sydney and from there my love affair with music started again. I met up with people who would become the founding members of “Hot Fridge” and “Giffeaux” two bands that saved my life from the beige coloured glasses of mediocrity.Nine Lives (J Gifford) – Giffeaux 1998
I did however, become pretty obsessed with everything and playing in two bands and trying to hold down a full on relationship and a full time job took a real toll on my mental health.
I had a nervous breakdown in late 1999 and as a consequence of that I came back to Adelaide with my Dad (he flew up the day before to rescue me) and all of my belongings packed into my Mazda 323 station wagon.
The prodigal son had returned with his tail between my legs and the dark cloud of shame and failure hanging over his head.
Even in those really dark times, music never left my side. It would knock on my door but I just wouldn’t let it in. After a few months of not leaving the house (I was living with Mum and Dad at the time) I decided that I’d had enough. Not having music in my life was like living with an amputated limb.
The next time music knocked on my door, I opened it and embraced it with open arms and from that moment on my life became a process of rebuilding.
I was still working casual day jobs but I was also in bands that now had some drive and determination and were wanting to go somewhere. Bands like the Heather Frahn Band, FunkStar and OrangutangEverybody Party Tonight (C. Stewart) – FunkStar Mk 2 (Groovefunkdiscorock) 2002Shake It (C. Stewart) – Orangutang (The Funky Monkey) 2005
I started to find myself in situations that turned into great opportunities for advancing my music career.
In 2006 I had another opportunity to really make a go at playing music professionally. “Yes it’s a cover band” I said to myself, “but still, I’ll be doing nothing else.”
So, I ran with it and FIGJAM was born. We got our demos together, got out and about and networked like crazy, we played everywhere and for the first time in my life I felt that I was in control of my musical direction plus, I was making a living out of what I loved.
As well as playing in two other original bands at the same time “Liars Bench” and “Soul Trader” I was a self employed, professional musician and I was loving it.Hand It To You (M. Parker) – The Liars Bench (Curl) 2006
And even though I was doing what I loved at the time, I still came across the same type of ungrateful, difficult, tight-fisted and clueless client/customer that you hear about but think “Nah, I’m a musician, that won’t happen to me.”
But as the years went by and the novelty of being a professional (cover) musician wore thin, I started to realise that in my drive to make a living out of music by playing covers interspersed with the occasional originals gig now and then, I was forgetting the real reason why I wanted to play music in the first place.
I was starting to burn out.
There were however, some bright lights during this time. I finished and released my debut CD “Seeing Stars” in 2012, I made the decision to start building a home recording studio so I can do all my future recordings in-house and I got married to my long time partner Mara who I met at a Liars Bench gig.
But all in all, it was decided that my main musical project FIGJAM would wind up at the end of 2015 and in the vacuum left by that decision had given me some time to think. I realised that I had made pretty much the same mistakes that I made in Sydney all those years ago.
I realised that I didn’t have any balance in my life anymore and that trying to play covers to fund your own music is not as easy as you might think.
So where am I now? Well, I’m doing a lot more songwriting and recording plus collaborating with other songwriters and getting myself reacquainted with my blogging through Corey Stewart Online with more projects to be launched down the track.
For a while I had taken a long break from playing live but now I’m performing with a band called “The Ides Of March” plus, I’ve returned to the board of SCALA (Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists Association) because what better way to ingratiate yourself to the original music scene than to join an original music association.
Have I come full circle? Well, I reckon I have but I’m certainly looking at where I am and what I’m doing musically with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and that’s got to be a good thing.
What I will say though is that despite everything that has happened in my life so far, it’s comforting to know that music has never let me down, its always been there to pick me up, dust me off and be the means for me to get on with my life.
And with what has happened to me in recent months with Mara’s passing, I’m in need of some music therapy more than ever.
I would hate to think of who and where I would be if I didn’t have music in my life. It’s been there for me for as long as I remember and now, I just want to work on being true to myself and my chosen craft so I can create a way in which I can honour and repay the muse.
For anyone who is visiting this site and reading this blog for the very first time, I extend the warmest of welcomes to you.
It’s my goal to keep you coming back for more. More content about my life and the songwriting, music business and home recording components of it.
However, for those of you who have known me either personally or from afar over the years, you’ll see yet another attempt from me to start up Corey Stewart Online only to have it disappear from the internet under the guise of being “under construction” or whatever excuse I can come up with.
I’m not intending to make this post sound like a total beat up on myself however, I am telling the truth here.
I’ve stopped and started many times with my websites and with each version of Corey Stewart Online (and other blogs) created, I’ve crossed my fingers and hoped that this would be the last time that I wipe the online slate clean and start again.
So, what makes this time any different? Nothing really, but I am however, much more motivated than I have been in the past and this is the reason why.
Mara, my partner (and muse) for fifteen years and my wife for almost six, passed away on November 22nd, 2020 and from that moment on, my life irreversibly changed.
Whereas before I was a perfectionist, always willing to wipe the slate clean and start again in the hope that next time around whatever I was working on would be perfect, I am now not so hung up on perfection.
Whereas before I was a control freak, getting upset if the slightest deviation of my planned day was to be experienced, I am now not so hung up on control.
Whereas before I was ultra-competitive to the point of being jealous, not finding the joy in the success of others over my own endeavours, I am now not so hung up on competition.
And what has been the driver of this change?
It’s the fact that life is far, far too short to engage in these empty emotional activities that don’t get you anywhere except a one way ticket to misery and suffering.
As for Corey Stewart Online… Well, this blog is my way of addressing the famous quote from Socrates.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Two of the main things that Mara taught me was to first of all, embrace life with both hands and secondly, to treat other the way that they would want to be treated.
She did this just by living her life and it was an absolute joy to be around her when she was in full Mara mode.
Being in full Mara mode meant that Mara was 100% in the moment, just by being herself. She knew what being her meant because she lived an examined life.
Whereas me, I was still living on autopilot.
I want to live my life in full Mara mode too which means I need to stop living on autopilot and examine, embrace and explore what it really means to be ME.
Hence starting up Corey Stewart Online again but this time I’m not coming at this from a place of ego, I’m coming at this from a place of learning… About myself.
So, if you’re a first time visitor to Corey Stewart Online and first time reader of this blog and you’re still here… Just know that there’s a lot of history attached to this site but at the end of the day, I think we’re going to get along just fine.
For those of you that know me either personally or from afar… Thank you for sticking by me and this time around, I wont let you down.
And Mara, wherever you are… The memories of you that I hold dear will not be in vain. It is now the driving force behind everything that I do.
I have been active participant both on the stage and behind the scenes in the Australian Music Industry for the past 35 years and in that time I’ve learnt a thing or two about songwriting, the music business and home recordinghence this website, Corey Stewart Online.
This site is all about the sharing of experiences and information…
First of all, I’m sharing information about myself, my music and my thoughts about what makes this world tick and everything that is connected with it. I figure that if you’re going to hang out around my part of the internet you might as well get all of me while you’re here.
Personally , I think it’s really important to have an outlet where you share yourself and your creations with the world. I mean, that’s what creativity is all about isn’t it?
Corey Stewart Online is my way of leaving my mark, creating a legacy and imparting information plus highlighting strengths and exposing weaknesses that can be either embraced or improved on by me as I walk along my chosen path.
I’m creating this site for my benefit as well as for my readers. We are all in this together.
Sometimes though, this journey can be a lonely one so if there’s anything that you read that touches, moves, inspires or simply drives you to complain, then contact me and we’ll chat about it.
It will be great to just simply connect with you all.
My intention with Corey Stewart Online is to also be building up my own songwriting services as well but of course there’s no pressure on you to engage in that side of this website if you don’t want to.
Eventually I want Corey Stewart Online to be one of THE reference sites for anything songwriting, music business or, home recording related and that can only happen with input from YOU.
Over time I’ll be expanding into podcasting and videos on YouTube but first things first. Let’s get this website up and running first.
With all is said and done, I take my first step into the unknown… NOW!
Hi there, my name is Corey Stewart and I am a Songwriter, Musician, Producer and Blogger.
I wrote my first song at the age of 13 and ever since then, I’ve written hundreds of other songs, performed in countless bands, played in far too many gigs to remember and experienced all of the highs and lows of being a performing songwriter and musician in Australia.
As you may have guessed, I have a deep love and passion for the craft of songwriting both for myself and in the encouragement of other songwriters to be the best that they can be.
You’ll find out how deep that passion is for songwriting through this blog where I will also talk about the music business, home recording and everything else that makes up the complex character of ME.
As well as being a songwriter, I have been an active participant in the music industry for over 35 years and throughout that time I have judged many songwriting contests and band competitions, taught guitar and bass, been a musical director for touring bands and worked in numerous recording studios as a session musician for hire.
My latest love affair has been with SongMachine, my very own home recording studio and I’m perpetually fascinated with how the songwriting and the recording processes overlap each other.
I used to be scared of the recording studio and my ability to work in it but nowadays, I certainly look at the recording studio the same way as the great Brian Eno does… As a stand alone instrument to be manipulated in infinite ways.
My overriding goal is to write more songs, play more gigs, meet more like minded creatives all over the world and generally take every opportunity that comes my way for me and my music with both hands and ride the wave that is this new music business.
Personally, I have no idea where I will end up but it’s sure going to be a lot of fun finding out and Corey Stewart Online will be my document to that journey.