WISDOM: A PORTRAIT SERIES
E M I L Y W A R R E N
Photograph by Aaron Gaiger
I. I encourage taking a journey to somewhere outside your comfort zone. I think the best work comes from a place that hasn’t been touched before - whether it’s a new emotion, or a secret, or an old memory. I think the best songs are those that make you feel something, and if you want a big room full of strangers to get that tightness in their chest, you have to dig down deep to a place that gives you those same feelings.
II. In this past year I have been fortunate enough to work more closely with artists in sessions - this is by far my favorite way to write. The challenge I find for myself here is striking a balance between truly personal and accessible. What I have found is that if you let yourself be vulnerable when writing a song, to really let the whole story come out and then try and pick out the highlights, you will dip into a universal emotion - and even if the details are slightly different, you will be speaking to an emotion that someone, somewhere has also felt. That, to me, is the fabric of a great song.
III. From my perspective, the biggest challenge facing the music industry is the inadequate compensation of songwriters. We work in a business that thrives off of songs - without the songs, there are no artists, no tours and no albums. The songs are the crux of this operation. That being said, album cuts, and songs that aren’t huge, radio singles are almost worthless - collecting fractions of cents on streaming services, leaving songwriters with hardly enough money to support themselves. The problem with this system is twofold - one, we are losing talented writers who simply cannot afford to live this lifestyle of working essentially for free, with the low-odds hope of getting a song cut and chosen as a single, and two, the mentality of needing to write a “smash” trickles down into the creative environment. People tend to be more concerned about “who could sing this” and “is this radio-friendly” than the actual emotional and musical quality of a song.
IV. It sounds cliche - but living life is really important. This field can be really consuming and as they say, it’s not a job - it’s a lifestyle. I think it’s really important to separate from the work sometimes - whether that means taking some meaningful time off, or just moving around and switching up the backdrop so it never gets stale. If it ever feels like anything other than waking up and doing what I love every day, I know I have to change things in order regain perspective.
V. We need to consider the portrayal of women in pop music. I think we tend to underestimate the power of lyrics in mainstream songs. It is an incredibly powerful platform - people sing along to songs without consciously internalizing what they are actually saying. While I do believe there is a time and a place for a sexy, feel-good song, I am always shocked by how infrequently you hear a female singing about something other than a man, or pleasing a man. Even so many of the girl-power songs are often about how a man messed you up and now you’re stronger because of it.
VI. I am for having fun and remembering the reasons why we got into this business in the first place!
VII. I believe songwriters (particularly female songwriters) should be getting together. There are quite a lot of different ways we could be supporting and even just encouraging each other, but the business tends to get cliquey and people get split up into these little bubbles and don’t get a chance to mingle with each other. It’s always fun hearing what other people are working on and there are so many amazing songs that take forever to see the light of day. We should be sharing them with each other.