Wisdom from the Masters: Beth Nielsen Chapman

Beth Nielsen Chapman and me 
When Beth Nielsen Chapman talks about creativity and 'flow', you can't stop yourself from opening up and letting her wisdom pour in. Today I had the rare opportunity to attend what I consider a songwriting master class, where she shared her stories and songs...and I was inspired.

Here are a few of the highlights I captured, organized by topic:
  • Co-writing- "Don't just co-write, write by yourself too. Write your own songs."
  • The 'market' for songs/songwriters: "There are more things you can do musically than just get up and down the country and pop charts. Create your own frontier."
  • Creative stretching- "Keep it fun, step way out of your comfort zone." She mentioned doing a 2007 project called "Prism" that include rap songs and she is currently working on an educational project.
  • Compensation for songwriters: "I believe in the next 10 years the compensation issue will get sorted out in legal courts- and it has to."
  • Writing space and writing mindset: "Keep your writing space sacred. Visualize your fear as the Saran Wrap that you peal off your skin."
  • Career- "I've had a crazy varied career. It's been more 'normal' in the UK because I tour and get radio play there. I recently played a dream gig there with Kris Kristofferson to a sold-out show with 3,500 people- you could have heard a pin drop."
  • Writing styles- "I follow the song, I write the song for the song. I let it tell me what it wants to be."
  • Inner child- "Take care of your inner creative child- let it play."
Beth shared a story about writing with one of her heroes, Neil Diamond. She was so nervous when she got to the session, she could barely think- let alone write.

"I kept thinking he looks like his posters and they were all over my wall as a kid," she said. She tried to play cool for awhile then confessed how nervous she was. She expected him to think she was just 'another one of those people' who was intimidated by all of his hits, but instead he said, "Oh, good. I have the same problem because I am Neil Diamond and I think I'm supposed to write only hits. Now I can blame it on my co-writer." They ended up having a good laugh and then writing a great song.

She also told the story of writing "This Kiss" with Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner.

"Annie and Robin had already been working on the song, and Annie said she wanted me to come in on it with them. Annie started playing the chorus, and ended it with 'Critical Kiss.' I was listening to her and curling my eyelashes, and I shouted out that it should be "This Kiss."

Later on the beach, Beth said the second verse should start with "Cleopatra said to nah nah." The line later became "Cinderella said to Snow White"- and Beth pointed to it as proof that you should pay attention to the lines on the way to the right lines. The trio finished the song together and it became a #1 hit for Faith Hill.

Before Beth's husband Ernest died of cancer in 1994, he asked Rodney Crowell to promise him that he would give her about a month to grieve, then call and tell her he was coming over to co-write. Beth joked, "Ernest knew my ego would win out over my grief. He knew Rodney was another of my songwriting idols, and that I'd love to write with him." While dusting off her guitar prepping for the session, an unexpected tune tumbled out of her.

"I hadn't written in a month," Beth recalled. "I wrote it and thought that maybe Rodney and I could work on it and he could fix it." When she played "Sand and Water" for him, Rodney knew it was the kind of song that would travel from person to person and touch many, many hearts. "I trusted him because I knew he had written songs like that. It's still a song that I get 10 emails a day from people about- and I believe it's been my biggest hit."

I personally know that's the truth too...

When I was living in Atlanta in 2003 and still 'cutting my teeth' as a writer, my friend Angela played it for me. I cried the first time I heard it...and it gave me courage for my own journey. Have you heard "Sand and Water"?

To get a taste of Beth Nielsen Chapman's music, visit her website.

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