Mark Cawley has helped thousands of songwriters jump-start their creativity and break free from creative ruts. Now, he invites you to do the same with his new book, The Daily Song Journal. This is not your typical how-to book, it’s a 365-day journal packed with bite-sized inspiration, motivation, and prompts designed specifically for songwriters.
Each day, you’ll be invited to take one of four actions–read, listen, watch or, go–and to make your own notes from nuts and bolts of songcraft to the business and relational side of songwriting. The Daily Song Journal provides inspiration for every aspect of a songwriter’s life and will be an indispensable tool for this, and every year of your songwriting journey.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Mark Cawley, author of The Daily Song Journal: 365 Tips, Tools, and Takeaways for Songwriting Success. Mark, thank you for joining, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Mark Cawley: Thank you, Drew, for having me, appreciate it.
Drew Appelbaum: Can we kick this off by you giving us a rundown of your impressive professional background?
Mark Cawley: Yes, because I’m old–I started in bands as a kid in upstate New York. I did have some bands that did tour and had records out, and a band called Faith Band that toured with Fleetwood Mac, Doobie Brothers, Hall and Oats, and all those bands of the era. But I got into songwriting, and artists started covering my songs and that turned into my real one true love.
I’ve been a professional songwriter for a long time, I have written for artists, I think they like to call them legend artists these days, like Tina Turner and Joe Cocker, Diana Ross and Chaka Khan and Wynonna Judd, even the Spice Girls over the years. Writing has been my complete love and background.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, what made you pivot a bit and take these lessons from in the studio to outside, and why was now the time to write this book?
Mark Cawley: I want to go back about 12 years ago, and I had been doing this a long time, traveling, writing, and especially in England a lot over the years, and I was getting a little bit tired of it and thought it would be fun to be able to pass on what I’ve learned–hard lessons and good lessons and everything in between. That prompted me to start coaching. So, I started an online coaching service one-on-one which I still do, called I Do Coach.
I coach writers all over the world via Skype or FaceTime or Zoom. A few years later, and this dates back to maybe 2018, I decided to write a book based on the coaching that I do and that book was called Song Journey. It did really well and it was fun to do, it was sort of anecdotal teaching. I used the lessons I learned and what I did in coaching to create the book. The book kind of deals with ‘how to’s’ and everything in between, but what I really wanted to do is just pass on that kind of info from someone who has really done it because I felt a lot of how to’s are, you flip the book over and you see somebody who hasn’t really done what you want to do. So, I thought it was a good time to write that book, the first book.
Drew Appelbaum: This is your second book and can you tell us the difference between book one and book two?
Mark Cawley: Yes, there’s some commonality between them. I called this one the 365 days song journal, The Daily Song Journal. To be honest, I didn’t set out to write another book. We’re in this pandemic all together. I wanted to stay creative, I did not have an idea or desire really to write another music book, but my wife and I read a lot of morning books such as devotionals and things like that, that are short and inspirational reading–I’ve always done that.
One day, probably this dates back maybe six months ago, I thought, “You know, I’ve never seen one for songwriters and it might be interesting rather than a book like the first one, to write a journal type book.”
What became the funny task was to say, “Okay, well that would entail 365 days, that’s a lot of writing,” but I got ambitious, and I thought, “I’m just going to set out and make it very random.” I didn’t want, for example, January to be all about melody writing and February all about music writing or lyric writing.
I thought, “I’ll make random, almost sound bite ideas, 365.” I came across the idea a little bit later, of making an action for each one. If I talk about the organization in your writing, I might send you to a particular podcast or a book on that given day. Then there’s room for you to write so it became a real journal and that was something I got really excited about. I thought I could take everything I’ve been coaching and more that is in the first book and this time, it’s not me telling stories about how I did this or did that, it’s coaching tips really.
I like coaching writers about all sorts of stuff, relational, recreational, anything to do with a writer’s life. I thought about a writer’s life, if I took each day of 365 days, each day of the year, and gave a writer a task and some inspiration, that it could be a really cool book.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, I think it’s really unique in the fact that you ask the reader to do the work and it’s not just, “I’m going to tell you how to do it and then you find your time and do it,” it’s, “Here is a small dose today and here is some space, do the work.”
Mark Cawley: Yeah, you know what was fun Drew, in coaching people, I can use them as a focus group, which I did with the first book too. I said, “If I were to write a book”, which was the first one, I said, “What would you like to see in it?” And they said, “Stories for sure. Your stories, along with teaching.”
This one was a little funnier to me because now I asked some of the same writers that I coach and they said, “I kind of have trouble reading a book or picking up a whole book and retaining it,” and I said, “What if you had just a daily paragraph or two and a task?” And most of them jumped at that.
I thought, “Okay, this probably is a good idea for the audience that I would have.”
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is it for first time writers or experienced songwriters?
Mark Cawley: It’s for both for sure, you could be a brand new writer and get some tools. I don’t think about rules with writing, it’s more tools, things to help you get better, and that can be at any level. I mean, the people I coach, I coach very young people, college-age people, 65-year-old people, whatever level they’re at, I try to provide something for them to move forward.
Drew Appelbaum: Did you learn any lessons during the writing process this time around in creating this book?
Mark Cawley: I learned it was hard. Really, the funniest one was, I got really inspired as you do and I got well into it–I got up to about maybe 200 days, and then I thought, “How do I keep from repeating myself or have I repeated myself? This is getting hard.”
So, I started researching other journals out there and my wife walked by me one day when I was working and I said, “Hey, look at this, this is a 200-day journal, isn’t this going to work?” She just looked at me and shook her head like, “No, you’re in, come on, keep doing it,” and I thought, “Yeah, I got 165 more to do.” That was the lesson.
It’s a lesson in discipline, probably even more than the first book, the first book was easier in that I could just tell my story. This I thought, “I need to lay it out a little bit different, make each day different,” and the discipline was different for sure.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, for someone who has so much experience in the industry, how hard is it for you to get your thoughts on the page and really focus on getting them out?
Mark Cawley: Really easy and I don’t know why. I mean, when I first decided to teach, I thought, “What am I going to teach? I’ve never taught, I’ve just written, you know? What am I doing?” But it was really easy, and I enjoyed it and you know what? I don’t think I could have done it early in my career, I don’t think I would have had the patience for it, or the desire, but I reached a point in my career and age where I thought it would be really great to take all this and pass it on. Then I couldn’t turn it off with coaching or even the first book. It was very easy.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you mentioned in the book, you have daily activities for a songwriter but you also give suggestions for either a great read that day, something to listen to, or watching a video. How was it and how hard was it to compile so much media and in that portion of things, were there any discoveries that you have found and that stuck with you along the way?
Mark Cawley: I’m a pretty avid reader and I dog-ear everything I’ve ever owned, so the reading part was easy, if I directed you to a book it was something I had read and used for myself. Now there’s so many how-t0 videos and so much great content out there, I did find myself some days going, “Okay, I’ve written a post today about this, let me Google things that are out there,” and I would come across a TED Talk or something I wasn’t familiar with maybe from a particular speaker or writer.
That was exciting and I would use that. It did make me dig harder and learn more for sure.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you said there are 365 lessons in here and daily activities. How much time should someone dedicate to the tasks and homework daily?
Mark Cawley: You know it is kind of up to them. I tried to keep it almost in the idea of what I like to do in the morning. I just drew from my own experience and thought, “I am probably good for 20 minutes in the morning,” something like that, which includes reading and maybe thinking and maybe journaling on occasion. But I started trying to treat it like a first thing in the morning thing. You know, get up and focus for a while.
When I talk to clients about coaching songwriters, a big part of it is the ritual of how long you can focus. That is a really integral part of my songwriting coaching. So, in the book, I thought, “How long do I normally focus in the morning?” Which is the sort of the intent of this.
So, I think 20 minutes, half-hour, if I have given you something to do that maybe takes up another 15 minutes or 20 minutes of reading, watching, listening or something, you’d maybe add that on but I don’t think more than a half-hour.
Drew Appelbaum: Now do you suggest sticking with one lesson a day because personally I was loving a lot of the gems and I think I went through like five days at once?
Mark Cawley: Well that is a really good question I haven’t thought a lot about. I really would encourage anybody to use it however they want to use it. At the minimum, I would say look at a day, do that work, think about it, look forward to tomorrow hopefully, which is how I look at devotions too and inspirational things and motivational things. I think, “I got this.” I’ll think about it throughout the day, tomorrow I’ll have something new. I look forward to that.
Drew Appelbaum: Can you talk about some of the surprises in the book, at least I found them to be surprised, that people won’t expect to see in a song journal, which one of them for me was, you asked the reader to put together a fake presentation for their songs and you go as deep as saying, “Actually get the actual envelope you are going to use and see if it looks professional enough for you and make sure you are prepared.” Can you talk about a few other of those alternative scenarios you offer?
Mark Cawley: One of my favorite ones I try not to overuse but I think is great for a songwriter is sort of a mindfulness day, a mental health day is what I call them, and I’ve always been conscious of that. As a pro-writer you feel, “I am signed, I need to be turning in stuff. I need to be at this all the time,” but over the years I’ve learned that you really do have to stop. You’ve got to take a mental break, health break, whatever it is, walking, something. I did stress that.
I did a lot of days of work and then a day off, “Look, just take the day off. Go do something you enjoy doing, make yourself get away from it.” Things like that I think are kind of fun and they’re different.
My favorite one probably is something that I have done in the past as well, which was that I said, “Go back to some embarrassing song of yours. Go back and find something that when you first started writing that’s cringe-worthy.” I think that is how I put it. “And focus on that for a minute.” Because when I’ve done that, I go back and think, “You know, I don’t know how I’m doing it because I am doing it all the time.”
If you go back far enough and hear a song you wrote, for me for sure, I can say, “That is really bad, and I am much better than that now.” And it’s like self-help. It is a simple way to do it, go back and find something that, as I put it, is really cringe-worthy and realize, “Man, I must be a lot better now because I wouldn’t do that.”
Drew Appelbaum: For me, it seemed like a lot of the lessons in the book can be used in a number of different scenarios and I saw it almost as something an entrepreneur could use and you know, subbing writing lyrics for their own mission statement, and to use the daily tasks to make sure that their vision is coming to life. Can you see this book moving past being just for musicians?
Mark Cawley: Yes, I hate to go back to the first one but actually Inc. Magazine did a review and called it one of the top inspirational motivational books. And I thought, “Wow, that’s got nothing to do with music.” I was really thrilled about that one and so it did make me think more about, “How can these things be used?”
I think it can be used by any creative. This book is a little bit more focused just for a songwriter than the first one was, I would say, but yes, I would hope that some things could be applied across to different creative endeavors.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, this is a slight bar but you do mention in the book, can we talk about Ed Sheeran? You mentioned he is a hit machine and all the stats on Spotify will say that you’re right. What’s he doing right and are a few of his strengths something you could learn in the book?
Mark Cawley: Yeah, I’ve never met Ed and you know with these kinds of things it is really delicate. I’ve had writers come back to me and say, “I don’t like Ed Sheeran,” or “I don’t like so and so.” But in the book, in this instance, I am talking to writers who are trying to be commercially successful and it just makes perfect sense to look at who is very successful at the moment, what are they doing, and try to deconstruct a bit of their methods and their songs. Some people like that, that are that successful that quick and that frequently are almost hard to explain.
It’s almost like it is just in them, they just seemed to be in tune with what people want to hear. That’s the easiest way I can put it. It just seems like they’re right in the middle of current culture sometimes.
Drew Appelbaum: Is there a lesson in the book that you always go back to or one in particular that really stands out that you wish you knew earlier in your career?
Mark Cawley: If I had to pick one thing, I would say that networking is one huge thing and it can be a bad word to songwriters a lot. Me too, in the beginning, I thought, “I am not going to go, I don’t want to go to parties, I want to write songs, I don’t want to go shmooze somebody.” But in the book, I am not really talking about that kind of networking. I am talking about just the kind of people you meet, if you and I talked and then you and I talked a year from now and I am doing something you are interested in or you are doing something I am interested in, that is successful networking to me.
We’ve met, we’ve talked, we know each other, I am not trying to use you or you use me. We just start to build what I call an organic network and that is a network of people you work with and that have talents maybe that you don’t have. That was a long-winded way of answering your question, I wish I had been a little more intentional with networking really early on.
Because early on when publishers–publishers are much different these days–but when I was first signed they really did a lot of the work for you. They would call you up and say, “So and so is looking for a song, this kind of vein.” You would write a song, you’d give it to them, and they would take it from there. You didn’t really have to do or see anybody if you didn’t want to. It’s changed quite a bit and networking is more important than it ever was.
Drew Appelbaum: Writing a book, especially like this one, that is so helpful but also puts people to work, is no small feat so congratulations on book number two. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Mark Cawley: You know I would say that this is possible. I want to go back to when I started again and when I was pretty young, you were just on your own, and I looked at songwriting and thought, “Well, I don’t know any songwriters. I wonder if this is possible?” I didn’t know any better, period.
I guess what I’d like to impart to people is that you can pick up tools. Again, there are no rules for this, but you can get a lot of tools that are accessible to help you on your way.
To help you to be better, to be better quicker. I like to look at them as shortcuts and they’re shortcuts that were not shortcuts for me. They’re things I learned and now I look at them and think, “I could just give them the good part of that story.” And hopefully, it is a shortcut.
But to answer your question, just that it can be done. You can write great songs. They don’t have to be commercially viable. People write for different reasons.
My aim has always been to help them focus and write the best song they can and enjoy the whole process.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you think it is going to open the eyes for people to say, “Hey, I can’t sing like Arianna Grande but yet I still could be a songwriter?”
Mark Cawley: Yeah, I hope so. I hear that when I first begin to coach people sometimes. They go, “Well I can’t play well, and I can’t sing well.” One thing I can put their mind at ease with is so many people that I know who are terrific writers and successful writers, are not singers and they’re not usually great players. Some are, some aren’t.
I am an okay player and an okay singer. I don’t have a very studied technical background, but I am pretty typical of a lot of writers that I know, in that they just have the drive to learn. They have some innate talent and then they learn a lot of tools to get it out. I think you can be totally confident in what you do well and not worry about the things you don’t do.
Drew Appelbaum: Mark, this has been a pleasure and I am so excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, The Daily Song Journal, and you can find it on Amazon. Mark, besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Mark Cawley: They can find me online at markcawley.com. They can find me at idocoach.com. If they can look at those, they can find me on social media, all social media’s, about workshops and things like that. Hopefully, when we all open up again, I will be doing more of those in the US and internationally, and that’s something I love to do. It’s a great way to meet writers and to talk to them.
Drew Appelbaum: Awesome. Mark, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Mark Cawley: Thank you Drew, a pleasure.