Songwriting Interview: Mark Lorenz
Mark Lorenz is a songwriter based in Airdrie, Alberta, just north of Calgary. He started singing on a dare and turned it into a songwriting and performing career, touring and writing across North America. Mark and I discussed songwriting, including the importance of finding and staying true to your voice, finding and developing song ideas and how to promote yourself as an artist and as a songwriter
Note: our conversation was edited slightly for easier reading.
The 25 Takeaways at the end are my opinions, drawn from the conversation.
Mark Lorenz: Discography
When The Smoke Clears, 2016
What Are We Doing, 2012
Route 72, 2008
Mark, can you describe your music and your songwriting style for those that haven’t heard your music yet?
That’s a tough question to answer. A songwriting buddy once told me “You either write good music or bad music.” The best way to describe it is, I try to write good music! Without trying to confine myself, I predominantly write Country.
I’ve written with blues writers, rock writers, folk, Country, Americana writers… I’ve written all kinds of music. There are influences from everybody I’ve ever listened to in my music, but I put my own stamp on it. From Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Garth Brooks, Keith Whitley, Johnny Cash, and George Jones, I’ve put it into my own songwriting.
Most of what I write about revolves around real life… I write about real life, real emotion. My songwriting has an individuality to it, I don’t think it sounds like anyone else in the industry. We all try to write for commercial radio, so things will sound similar but not necessarily the same. Everyone tends to write towards radio, I write and let radio come to me….
Songwriting culture in Country music is different than in other genres. What’s your take on it?
The culture behind country songwriting is based on what we experience on a regular basis. Rock songwriting is about the dreamer’s side of things, living life in the fast lane. Whereas country writing is about… this is small town, this is the girl next door or the guy next door, growing up on the farm… everyday life is the culture behind country songwriting.
The country heart is centred around a family atmosphere. When I’m doing writes in Nashville, there might be five other writers in a room, with five different ideas… the magic happens when you take those five different ideas and wrap them into one song.
Mark, what is your musical background and musical training? How did you start learning to write songs?
I don’t have a musical background and I don’t come from a musical family. I started singing on a practical joke, I got pushed into a recording studio on a dare… my buddies talked me into a recording studio to sing a song as a birthday present for a friend. That led to singing in a talent show. I won the contest and hit the road with a band when I was 19. Once I found out who I was as an artist, that’s who I started writing for. I would bring in people to help me write, until I was capable of writing on my own. I’m self taught, had to teach myself how to songwrite, how to play guitar, how to play piano.
Mark, after the initial inspiration strikes, what is your usual songwriting process?
I get ideas from absolutely everywhere… something I read in the newspaper or hear on the radio, a story my buddy told me. If I want to get really deep I dig into my psyche, my soul and pull something out of there. But most of the time, my song ideas come from everything going on around me.
I start with a hook. I play around with it and develop a chorus around the hook line. Once I have a solid chorus. I start to work outwards from the back of the song and the front of the song. Sometimes the chorus will write the backend (ending) of the song first, then I have to go back and create the story to go with it.
Once I have an idea for the hook, I pick up a guitar or get to the piano and start creating melody and music to go along with it. I tend to put music to it before I finish the lyrics. If I try to write lyrics without music, I start writing poetry. I get stuck on rhyming, focusing on rhyming one line to the next. You don’t have to rhyme in a song, you need similarity that flows from one idea to the next.
Your song should be deep enough that it has meaning, but not so deep that people get lost in it. I need to base lyrics around a musical body, it keeps my writing grounded. As a listener, you don’t have time to sit and figure out a song… a number one song is one that a person can listen to once and it’s stuck in their head.
Do you have a consistent writing schedule?
Every songwriter has their excuse book when they’re stuck… I’m too tired, I’m not up for it, can’t think right now. There’s a world of excuses instead of sitting down and saying I need to put my creativity hat on and get to work.
When I get stuck on a song, I put it away for a while and work on something else. If I feel strongly about a song and it’s still stuck, I bring in a friend to co-write.
What advice would you have for yourself 10+ years ago?
- Don’t be shy. That’s the biggest thing. Being shy is your biggest block getting into working as a songwriter.
- Don’t be exceedingly critical. Stay open to ideas… otherwise you’re going to get stuck on a line or stuck on a rhyme, or dismiss good ideas that you could shape into great ideas.
- Don’t get stuck on an idea. Write it and move on, you can edit later. Songwriting is a living breathing thing. At any time you can go back and rewrite your song.
- Pursue songwriting in every way, open up every door, chase your songwriting dream.
- I wish I had listened to the advice I got from more experienced songwriters. I thought I knew better, that I knew what I was doing. Back then I didn’t know what I was doing.
- I would learn more about the back end songwriting… song publishing, distribution and publicity. If I had known more, my first publishing deal would have been better. I would have gotten a better deal. It’s all learning.
What is your best advice a developing songwriter?
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more power you have in the industry. Learn everything you can about writing and about the music business.
Write… write all the time, write about anything, write about everything. The more you write, the better your writing. I was talking with another songwriter… he figured of his 300 songs, 20 were really great, 60 were middle of the road and the rest were for learning to write better….
Co-write with anyone you can. Don’t be scared to co-write with songwriters who are better, or weaker, than you. Every write is a chance to improve your writing.
Keep an active songwriting journal. Record your ideas, on paper or computer. Use any and every tool you can. If you’re looking for an idea to write about, you have a resource. I’ve gone back through my songwriting books, and found song ideas that I otherwise would have forgotten.
When you get a song or a section almost done, record a rough track to save your ideas. If something comes up, you can get right back into it, even if you’ve finished three songs since you last worked on it. You always think you’ll get right back to it, but if something comes up, by the time you get back to it, you can forget and you have to start from the ground up again.
There’s no such thing as a dumb idea… spill it out. An idea that seems lame can lead to a better idea. Editing comes later in the writing process.
How do you share your music to the people? How do you promote yourself?
As an artist, I promote myself through live shows. That’s what sells my music. Social media and commercial radio gets my music out to people and supports my live shows.
As a songwriter, you have to promote yourself whenever you’re communicating with people. Let them know you are a songwriter and interested in writing with others. If you are a writer with hundreds of songs in your catalogue, they aren’t worth anything unless people know about them. FaceBook, YouTube and SoundCloud are also ways to publicize yourself… post your music so other artists and songwriters hear your music.
Mark, what’s your next project?
I have a brand new single in production and I am shooting a new video… both will be coming out soon. There is an EP in the works, it will be out in the spring of 2018.
Mark Lorenz: When the Smoke Clears
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My Interview Takeaways
Mostly in the order they appeared in the interview:
1. Don’t confine your songwriting to a genre, write good music.
2. You are the sum of your influences. Who are your influences? How can you learn the most from them?
3. Stay true to your voice, don’t chase a hit or write to get on the radio… write songs so good, they become hits… then do the necessary promotion and publicity work.
4. Rock songwriting is from a dreamer’s perspective… what if, or what could be. Country songwriting comes from a daily experience… what is.
5. Some of the country music co-writing culture comes from an atmosphere of family and community… many other genres emphasize the idea of a solo or lone songwriter.
6. Find your songwriting voice, and know who you are writing for, even if it’s for yourself… “Once I found out who I was as an artist, that’s who I started writing for.”
7. Magic happens in the cooperation of an effective co-write.
8. You can’t do everything yourself. Get help when you need it: learn from other songwriters and musicians, pay for studio time and get your songs mastered, budget to get the best help you can afford.
9. Songwriting ideas are all around you, listen for them.
10. Write deep songs by looking within yourself: “…I dig into my psyche, my soul and pull something out of there.”
11. Your song develops from the central focus of your initial hook. Write from the central idea and keep it clear.
12. Keep the music in mind while crafting your lyrics. “If I try to write lyrics without music, I start writing poetry. I get stuck on rhyming….” and write weaker lyrics.
13. Songs don’t have to rhyme, focus on flowing from one idea to the next.
14. “Your songs should be deep enough that they have meaning, but not so deep that people get lost.” Your listeners don’t have time to figure out what your song means the first time they hear it.
15. “A number one song is one that a person can listen to once and it’s stuck in their head.” Write songs that get to your listeners… hooks and ear worms are a songwriter’s best friends.
16. “Put your excuses away when you are writing songs.”
17. “Don’t be shy,” introduce yourself and remember to politely promote yourself.
18. “Stay open to new ideas,” don’t judge prematurely. Don’t discount good ideas that can lead to great ideas.
19. “Don’t get stuck on an idea.” Write down everything you can, edit your ideas later.
20. Listen to advice from more experienced songwriters and musicians. They are trying to help you. Don’t take criticism personally. It’s about the music, not about you!
21. Knowledge is power, learn about the music business. “The more you know the more power you have in the (music) industry”
22. “Write all the time, write about anything, write about everything.”
23. Some songs will be better than others… finish them even when you don’t think it is the best ever. Then get working on the next one.
24. Co-write with other songwriters. Every co-write is a learning opportunity, whether they are “better” or less experienced than you are. Write and learn.
25. Keep track of your ideas… record them on paper, computer and audio. Use every tool you can to create your music.
26. Promoting yourself as an artist and as a songwriter are similar but not the same… do both!
What’s your favourite takeaway from the interview?