It all begins with a song... That's become the motto of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).
I completely agree with that. Almost.
In 2005, I had my first hit song out on country radio. It was the first song I wrote with Rory Feek. It was recorded by a brand-new, amazing ,young singer that Rory and Tim Johnson were producing named Blaine Larsen. Rory and I had met at a Bible study held weekly at my first publishing company, Murrah Music. (We actually met at a writer's night a year or two before that, but didn't really get aquainted until the study.) So we decided to sit down and write together the following Wednesday.
We were downstairs, in my writer room, in Murrah Music and I was sitting at my old, out-of-tune upright piano with Rory behind me in one of the big comfy chairs. We had only been sitting down for a few minutes, talking about what to write, when his cell phone rang. He could tell it was serious, so he stepped out into the hall.
It was the office of his daughters' high school informing him that his daughter's best friend's boyfriend, Lance, had taken his life the night before and the school wanted permission to release his daughter to comfort her friend.
Rory asked the person on the other end of the line, "How did this happen? We just saw Lance at a football game last week." She replied, "That's just it... nobody knows."
So, Rory and I sat down and did the only thing we could do. We wrote "How do you get that lonely... and nobody know?" in a song.
Fast-forward about a year or so. Life was good for two songwriters with a hit song on their hands. You couldn't turn on the radio without hearing the question "How Do You Get That Lonely?" People equally loved and hated our song and the honesty of its message.
Then, in early 2006, we received the most incredible email.
A young, teenage girl (I won't share her name) decided to end her life. She walked into her parents' bedroom to the nightstand by her father's bedside, opened the drawer where he kept his handgun, took it out, and placed the barrel to her temple.
There just so happened to be a radio tuned to a country station playing in the background, and as God would have it, "How Do You Get That Lonely" came across the airwaves. She stood there and listened to every word of our four minute song. And when it was over she walked out of the room, handed the gun to her mama, and told her she realized that nobody knew how she was feeling.
Nobody knew she was lonely.
In the days that followed, her mother made it her mission to "find the people who made up that song and let them know they saved her daughter's life." She started by contacting the DJ's at the local radio station. They contacted the station owners, who in turn, contacted the radio promoter. He told the folks at the record label and they notified Blaine's management, Rory and Tim, and me.
It still blows my mind to think...I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right person, for God to show up and do something amazing that would eventually change that teenage girl's life.
So in a way, yeah, NSAI got it right. But in a way, they kinda missed it.
It actually all begins with a songwriter.
'Cause if Rory had never stepped out of my little office on 16th Avenue to take that call we'd have never written that song. It would have never been recorded...never played on country radio...and never found its way to that bedroom.
Most all of us can at least recite pieces of the 23rd Psalm. It was written thousands of years ago by King David and has grown to become a passage we call on in a time of need. It is read at many funerals and gravesides. It was the song of David's heart. And David was a man after God's own heart.
In a span of about 2 years, Chicago lawyer, Horatio Spafford, lost his only son, all four daughters, and nearly all of his real estate investments before he wrote the words to the famous hymn "It is Well with my Soul."
In 1814, during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, an amateur poet, looked out over the bombarded battlefield at Baltimore where an American Flag still stood waving at dawn and felt moved enough to pen the words to our "Star Spangled Banner".
So, it all begins with a songwriter, who can sit down and somehow pour their heart out on paper and put into words what they feel.
I say all this because earlier this month the Department of Justice issued a ruling. I won't bore you with the details, but basically, it was a ruling about copyrights and licenses that has been referred to by many as the "final nail in the coffin" for the American songwriter.
Or at least his or her livelihood. Don't get me wrong, songwriters will continue to write songs, paid or not, because that's just what we do. It's who we are.
Only now, you may never have the opportunity to hear those songs, and that's the real pity. Imagine if you'd never heard any of the songs that made you laugh or cry, dance real slow or drive too fast. Songs that have the ability to transport you back in time to your first love...or your first loss.
It's funny how things tend to line up in my life. Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the value of military bands. My job doesn't necessarily require me to carry a gun. In fact, I serve my country carrying a microphone. I stand on stages to sing songs that mean something to people. Like, those Vietnam Veterans who salute the flag with tears running down their cheeks when I sing the National Anthem... And the young widows that stop chasing their babies long enough to listen when I perform their late husband's favorite country song.
My point is, it's not really about the song at all. It's about what the song makes you feel inside. Reaching those places you forgot existed.
That's the power of music. And it all begins with a songwriter...