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Hit songwriter reveals how to write songs that artists want to cut!

The Frettie Journal
A collection of interviews, updates, tips and resources for songwriters.

Spotlight: Americana Songwriter Jon Morgan

All, Featured Songwriters by Dennis Field on March 07, 2013


We welcome Jon Morgan as this week’s featured Singer & Songwriter. In this interview Jon tells all. How he has been able to break into the Columbus, Ohio music scene, what it means to meet a number of other talented artists who share the same interest, and how his love of writing made Songwriting a logical fit.

Thank you Jon for taking the time to answer these questions. we appreciate all of your support and hope to see you soon on Frettie.

Q: Where do you call home:
Lancaster, Ohio.

Q: Where did you grow up?
Sturgis, Michigan.

Q: How did you get started with Songwriting?
I’ve always loved to write. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t go nuts over coming up with stories… it was my thing in elementary school. And I’ve always had a huge appreciation for language and for how powerful words can be when you really have a good grip of how to use them. So, I guess, if you join that with a fondness of music, it’s kind of like the perfect storm for eventually writing your own songs. But learning the music part was the most difficult, that’s for sure.

Q: What books are you currently reading?
I know this sounds terrible… especially for someone who has degrees in English and Writing… but I’ve kind of taken a break from books. I love to read, but I got so burnt out on required readings my senior year of college, that I decided I’d only read on my own terms – for fun. So, I think the last book I finished was The Sun also Rises, by Hemingway. And that was months ago. But literature is really what drives most of my songwriting. I have a couple songs that are retellings of classic stories, and, whenever I read, I make sure to keep a pen handy in case a line or two strike me
as catchy.

Q: What album are you currently listening to?
There’s never really a day that goes by when I don’t listen to Ryan Adams… lately it’s been Love Is Hell and 29… but it varies. I’ve also been on a huge Nathaniel Rateliff kick in the last couple of weeks. His album, In Memory of Loss, is incredible. Such a huge voice, and his songwriting
is storytelling at its finest.

Q: When it gets tough, how do you stay inspired?
I guess I don’t need much to be inspired to make music. I mean, it’s what I love to do… kind of to the point that I HAVE to do it. But I think the best way to stay inspired to write new songs is to keep an eye out for things happening around you, you know? Just being observant while you’re walking around. I honestly don’t think I have any songs about huge, singular things. I look at the small, seemingly insignificant stuff – it can be a lot more interesting. But constantly listening to music helps a ton, too. Especially since I’m not exactly up to snuff on my music theory. I’m self-taught, and I don’t know the names for all the things about music that I love, but I know when I hear something that gives me chills… and I know when I hear something that makes my jaw drop and think a thousand things at once. So, I know for me that it has been hugely important to just listen and study – it’s helped me put my own songs together.

Q: As a Songwriter, what is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is worrying about every song being “perfect” or better than the last. Yeah, you want to constantly improve and try new things. But, you need to just get ‘em rolling first… then you can fine tune later. I think I demand a lot of myself when I write, and I get down on myself and kind of lose heart if I get stuck or if something isn’t turning out the way I want. But, usually, if I just get a rough recording, leave it alone for a few days, and then come back to it… I find something about it that I’m crazy about that I didn’t even notice the first forty times around… and I find what I don’t like and change it. I have to remind myself that I need to walk that fine line of objectivity. I need to love what I’m making… but, at the same time, I need to not get so caught up in it that I can’t realize that it’s not good, you know?

Q: What time of day do you prefer to write your music and where?
I’m a night owl. I don’t mind losing sleep if I’m doing something productive. And, typically, things are calmer past midnight. If it’s warm enough, I prefer to sit outside and write – mainly so I don’t wake anyone, but also because there’s just something nice about strumming under the stars. I’ve tried locking myself in a room or a studio until songs happen, but I just end up feeling cramped and kinda antsy. So, big, wide-open space with absolutely nothing going on around me seems to be the best way to go.

Q: To date, what has been your favorite memory as a Songwriter?
I think one of my best memories was from a house show I played a couple years ago. I get nervous playing in front of people… but, at the same time, I love it. It’s weird. But I get stage fright something awful. It’s usually just the sound check and like the first few measures of the first song… and then I get into the zone… but I have these internal freak-outs. And they’re always like, “What if no one likes my songs? What if they don’t clap? Are they FAKE clapping? That person left… am I terrible, or did he just have somewhere to be?” … and it just goes on and on. (I’m not the most confident at times.) But, it was at this house show that something happened that blew my mind. Everyone in the room started singing along to MY song. I almost didn’t even know what to do. It made me feel like what I was doing mattered enough to someone to actually be memorable. And that’s an incredible feeling.

Q: How do you maintain your professional growth?
I think the “professional” aspect of being involved in live music is something I grapple with a lot. I’m new to the Columbus area, and I don’t actually live in town. So, I’ve had to break in… and I’m still trying to leave some kind of mark on the music scene, which is tough, because it’s huge. And I’m not the best with self-promotion and networking. I prefer face-to-face interaction with people, but the only way you’re ever going to get about 95% of your shows is via online discovery/correspondence. I kinda raged against the whole social media promotion machine for a long time, but I’m trying to adapt because it only hurt me. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m on ReverbNation. And a bunch of other sites that I’ve forgotten passwords for. But I probably don’t look incredibly professional to a lot of booking agents and venues because I don’t have a blog or a website. And that’s where I need to get with the program.

Q: What is your Songwriting process?
It’s not that impressive, really… or complicated. Usually, one of two things happens to start the process:

1) I get a catchy lyric or two stuck in my head, so I hum and strum until the music starts to fit… then I write the rest OR

2) I stumble upon a chord progression I can’t shake… so I analyze it, determine what kind of mood it creates, and then pick my brain for a story to tell. If I figure that out, then comes the melody… and, hopefully, the lyrics. But, honestly, I can’t say that I can ever really plan a song. A lot of it has to smack me right in the face before I know what to do. Patience is a virtue, right? So I wait for a lot of my songs to sort of introduce themselves to me… then the process really begins.

Q: Who are your top three favorite artists or Songwriters?
Ummmm… in no particular order, I’d say… probably Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra/Right Away, Great Captain!), Ryan Adams, and Andrew Bird. Yeah. I’ll stick with that.

Q: What advice would you tell up and coming Songwriters?
Well, I’m not going to try to give anyone the impression that I’m a professional who’s seen it all and knows it all. I’m not. I haven’t. And I don’t. But I guess the best advice I can give is to know your sound and don’t try to cram it into a certain genre. There’s plenty of music I love to listen to but can’t recreate because I’m not suited for it. At the same time, don’t box yourself in. You might be surprised what kind of tunes work if you experiment. Also (and this is just a general life lesson that works well with music), be good to your listeners. Be kind to bookers, sound guys, other musicians, etc. Caring about other people will go a long way in the music world. It’ll open doors and, regardless of what you sound like, people are more likely to want to hear your music if they know you’re not a complete tool box.

Q: What are some of your accomplishments to date.
Well, I’m more than halfway through recording my first EP, which is scary, awesome, draining, and about a million other things. It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever, but just didn’t come together until I was fortunate enough to meet some really amazing people (one of whom I’ll be marrying in about three and a half months). I also joined the Columbus Songwriters Association, which is pretty cool. Joey Hendrickson and Derek DuPont are two amazingly entrepreneurial guys, and they’ve taken an idea and made it real. Because of the CSA, I’ve met a lot of people, been offered shows, and given opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have found on my own. I’m even looking at some radio time in the future because a DJ from a station saw me play at the CSA showcase in January. I’m really excited about that. I’m just happy that things are kind of picking up for me and that I’m out playing again. Do I have dreams of making it big? Sure. Who doesn’t? But I’m completely thrilled to just play anywhere and have anyone enjoy what I do. Music is supposed to be shared, so if someone hears my stuff and has a good time with it, then that works for me. Doesn’t have to be in a stadium. A coffee shop will do. Either way, I have a love for music and writing… and I think the good Lord gave me enough talent to make some decent songs… so that’s what I’m going to keep on trying
to do.
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Interview conducted by The Frettie Team. If you are interested in being interviewed for our next “Songwriter Showcase”, feel free to reach out to us at info@frettie.com.


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