In my four-year tenure at Belmont University, I learned techniques from Grammy-winning songwriters, acquired industry secrets from well-practiced music business lawyers, and took sage advice from successful artists. However, with all that I gained, there were a few very important things that I lost. The competitive nature of Belmont’s songwriting program made my personal writing process more sport-like and less organic. Songs became so sacred to me that I was afraid to stumble through them in the fun and messy way that had made me fall in love with songwriting in the first place. But, thanks to the Friends, I feel the magic coming back.
Here are 3 things the Friends have taught me about songwriting.
1. Authenticity over everything.
Unraveling my perfectionism has been incredibly challenging. I’ve become so afraid of creating something imperfect that I often find myself deciding not to create at all.
When I started writing songs with the Friends, I was amazed at (and, admittedly, slightly jealous of) their natural authenticity. They never wanted to give the most perfect, clever, or marketable answer; they only wanted to say what was most truthful to them. The Friends will always tell their truth, regardless of how silly it is. The Friends can’t not be honest.
In one of my very first songwriting classes at Friends Life, I asked the Friends what they liked to do when they got home from program at the end of the day. One Friend’s hand shot up excitedly, and when I called on her, she said, “I like to eat hot chips and take my socks off!”
My first instinct was to encourage this Friend to say something more relatable. To ask, “Okay, what else?” But the Friends laughed and laughed at her answer, so we put it in the song. Every time we would sing the song together, the Friends would erupt with giggles when we reached that line. This taught me that authenticity brings more joy than perfection or marketability, and creativity is all about joy!
2. Confidence is key.
The Friends’ confidence is something I strive to emulate in every co-write. While I overthink and strive for peak cleverness and precision, the Friends share their thoughts without hesitation, having faith in the relevance of their perspective. They don’t shy away from sharing an idea because it “might be stupid” or “could be better” or “might make them look weird.” They simply share – fearlessly, unabashedly, and without shame.
This creates an environment where the aforementioned authenticity is almost impossible to miss. The Friends can’t help it – they will tell their stories – all we have to do is give them a safe space and dedicate ourselves to listening.
The best thing a writer can ever do is approach the page with confidence and humility – knowing that their best ideas are inside of them somewhere and that they may have to do some digging and practice flexibility to find them. These are traits that the Friends exemplify daily. I’ve learned more about self-assurance from the Friends than I ever did at songwriting school.
3. To gain unique perspectives, involve unique people.
Much of my time at Belmont was spent trying to strike the balance between fresh and relatable; rare yet still accessible to the majority. Something I hadn’t considered until I began teaching songwriting at Friends Life is that the cultural experience that neuro-typical songwriters write about is not always fully relatable to people with IDD.
The Friends’ unique perspectives actually make them excellent songwriters. What limits them in certain social situations and creates extra challenges for them in their daily lives also opens them up to uncommon, incredibly special, creative pathways. The Friends think differently naturally. They don’t have to fabricate an extraordinary point-of-view because they were born with one.
Involving the Friends’ unique perspectives is a vital part of Friends Life’s advocacy mission. If more people know how the Friends see the world, we’ll be able to foster a more accepting environment wherein the Friends are not written into history at the last minute, or left out entirely, but instead become the authors themselves. They aren’t impossible to relate to, and they do not naturally exist on the fringes of society – we, whether we intend to or not, place them there by projecting our limits onto them. We must allow the Friends to write their own stories, and actively involve them in ours.
During my time as Friends Life’s resident songwriter, I’ve worked to show the Friends that they have the capacity to feel anything. They don’t need to be afraid of their feelings, or strive for perfection, or be the best. I’ve tried to show them that they can fearlessly be themselves, and that their story is valuable. The beautiful thing about it is, without even trying, the Friends have taught me all of those things too.
To hear the songs that the Friends have written, please join us for Writers’ Night on June 1st at Edley’s BBQ. Phoebe Scott, Alyssa Newton, Caroline Watkins, and Tamara Laurel, will be performing songs they wrote as well as AMAZING songs that the Friends have written. For more information, click on the button below.
Below is a recording of “A Day In The Snow” written by the Friends in 2021. We hope you enjoy it.