Jeff Walker - Florida
Just finished my first “tour” with Marc-Alan, Barnette. There are plenty of informative, entertaining and even eloquent testimonials and participant reviews on Marc-Alan’s website, so it’s with no small risk of possibly being redundant (and what songwriter isn’t willing to take that risk?), that I offer my recounting of a great experience.
I’m an older guy who has dabbled with songwriting for years, but with no aspirations to do anything professionally. I do, however, want to get better at it for some reason that I’m still trying to work out. I guess I get a weird mental charge out of the process of coming up with a word or phrase that has just the right syllables for the available space in the piece, or from stumbling upon a graceful rhyme that’s not too cheesy just when I thought I might be stuck and have to reload on the preceding lines. Something nice seems to go off in my brain from finding words with sing-able consonants and vowels and that actually advance the idea of the song or maybe resolve the setup with a catchy hook. I love dialing in an unexpected but uncontrived sounding metaphor, and I get fired up when I occasionally nail the words to “show, not tell” something, and doing all that without being too precious or artsy-fartsy. And it’s especially cool when, during that search for the right words, the whole story or message of the song takes an unexpected turn and becomes something way more interesting than what I thought I was writing about to begin with. So, my outreach to MAB was mostly with the hope he might could help me supercharge my effort to do things like this. I am here to tell you--he did that and a helluva lot more.
My tour with Marc-Alan was not in Nashville, but was at the Frank Brown Songwriter’s Festival which took place at various venues along the gulf coast in south Alabama and northern Florida, which was logistically easier for me to get to than Nashville. MAB said that just about everybody in the Nashville songwriting community would be there for this event anyway, so it would be nearly as good as being in Nashville. We set up a couple of days with a plan to meet and review some of my stuff, to hit a few shows and meet some folks backstage, maybe do an open mic, take a stab at writing a song together and generally get me some exposure to what the Nashville songwriting scene is all about.
On day one, I think we maybe got through a dozen songs in the morning and another five early that evening after we had hit the infamous Florabama Lounge for some afternoon open mic performances. Marc-Alan asked me thoughtful questions after each song and almost always had a suggestion for a tweak or two. He did it on the first song I played for him, which was one that I thought was pretty unassailable. (Probably unsaleable, too, come to think of it.) He actually had me turn a portion of a verse into a bridge and, when I tried it on for size, I was amazed at how it had improved the song. I would never have seen it, but it was perfect and kind of brilliant. But that had to be a one-off, I thought.
As I began to realize that he was going to have suggestions for every single song, I started preparing myself to offer at least some token resistance, and to defend the status quo of my little works. But it kept happening that I truly liked all his ideas for improvements. I couldn’t quite get my head around one of the changes he suggested on another number, so he whipped out his guitar and played & sang this song he had just heard for the first time, but with his revised chorus. It was just mind-bogglingly better! I remember having a fleeting thought that this was borderline witchcraft or something.
We kept at it. I would play and croak out the vocals on my numbers and he would scribble a little something and then show me a tweak. I shouldn’t neglect to say that he would explain why, and in a coherent and kind way, how the tweak would probably improve how the song would come across to an audience. He knows how that sensibility can easily get lost in a writer’s introspective tunnel vision and, for MAB, it’s everything. Songs are for sharing, transmitting, broadcasting. If it isn’t heard, it doesn’t speak. He gets that part really instinctively and he’s got this almost savant-level ability to help you see it and feel it. On one number, he suggested eliminating a verse which I had to agree was kind of unnecessary and, as a result, it eliminated a little bit of drag that I had noticed when performing it. That added some energy to the song and that seemed like it would potentially trigger a release of more emotion in the delivery. On another one, we swapped the position of a couple of verses and the story just flowed better. It was so obvious to MAB, but I just hadn’t seen it before. Kind of a eureka moment for me on that one. He pointed out some instances where I was kind of burying the hook or the title line and he came up with some ideas for relocating a particular line to a place in the song structure where it would stand out more. I gradually started feeling like my little catalogue of songs was getting much more polished and I was getting all kinds of ideas for how I might think about a lyric the next time I’m in editorial mode.
We took a break and headed to Florabama to see some performances—mostly afternoon open mic stuff by aspiring songwriters just trying things on for size. MAB encouraged me to pay attention to the technique and approach ideas to song development we had been using and to think about where some of the originals we heard there either got things right or, if not, why they didn’t work. We went backstage where the artists were hanging out and I got to meet some industry folks. I’m not sure there was a soul in the place who didn’t seem like an old friend of Marc-Alan’s.
We went back to his place, reviewed (and fixed) a couple more of my pieces and then kind of recapped the day. He gave me an assignment for the next day which was to come up with a “scenario” for the lyrics on a new song—just a kernel of an idea to get one started, plus an approach to the “groove” for it by choosing an artist, living or dead, that I like but who is way outside my own typical comfort zone. The idea was that we would collaborate on this song and come up with it on the spot. Yeah, right, I thought. Usually takes me at least a week to even get a rough draft of a whole song.
The next day, I brought my wife along for the first hour or so and we kicked things off with a wildly entertaining collage of stories and lessons by Marc that included some Nashville history, the current state of the music industry business (such as there is one) and tons of fascinating anecdotes about Nashville characters, minor and major. He told some amazing stories about how certain songs, often ones the writers felt were throwaways, found their way into the mainstream. This was so incredibly fun for both of us that we could have done it all day and it would have been worth every nickel MAB’s modest daily rate just for the sheer entertainment value. The guy can certainly spin a yarn and his “life well-lived” is loaded with material. If you ever do book time with him, do yourself a favor and make sure there’s some casual time for just letting him tell you some great and sometimes hilarious stories.
So now it was time to get down to business and see if we could write a song. I threw out this idea from an encounter I’d had the night before with an old guy at a bakery I was talking to. He’d started to complain about the cold weather, then caught himself and said, “You know, I likes every kind of weather the good Lord throws in my path. I’m grateful, grateful just to be living and breathing.” This was the week before Thanksgiving so I suggested maybe a lyric about recognizing the things we’re lucky to have might be timely. For the musical bit, I took a wild flyer and told Marc that one of my very favorite songs, but with a feel I couldn’t imagine ever attempting with my own tendency towards Americana murder ballads, little white bread pop ditties, bluegrass throwaways or semi-cornball country numbers, was one called “I Believe In You” by one of the great all-time soul singers, the late Johnnie Taylor.
I played a little of the recording for him since he wasn’t familiar with it and he said, “That’s right up my alley”. I was kind of surprised, but thought, what the hey—let’s see what he’s got. He kind of hunkered down over his notebook and told me to just keep talking—that he would use my stream of consciousness to feed into his and help generate lyric ideas. This was something I’d never considered would help somebody’s originality, but I guess it’s not so different from a solo writer listening to the voices in his head. After 5-10 minutes, he seemed to be onto some thing and he shushed me so he could dig in. I went for a walk for about 10 minutes and when I came back he said, “how about this?” He picked up his lefty Cole Clark and started banging out this funky groove. He sang a verse and a chorus of a song he called “Every Single Breath I Take”. It was incredible. Did this guy really just do this in 20 minutes? Is this how they did it back in the Brill Building days? Then he challenged me to come up with the next verse. After about an hour, I managed to grind something halfway coherent out. We both realized it had a couple of thorny problems—I had a bit too much of a Hallmark greeting card line in there at one point where I was trying to catch a rhyme target. I remembered him telling me how to open up my thinking about the structure when I felt stuck or trapped, so I flipped some lines around and replaced the Hallmark line with something less cheesy. Lo and behold, there was a pretty decent song there. Mark captured all the changes on paper and then played and sang it straight through without a hitch. It was pretty damn good and I’m sure I was a bit slackjawed. Marc said, “You’ve just been MABBED”. indeed I was.
That evening, I had the further pleasure of seeing MAB perform at a club in Pensacola with his sometime onstage partner, singer-songwriter Jimbeau Hinson. They absolutely knocked it out of the park with great songs and passionate, soulful deliveries and we clapped till our hands hurt.
Marc-Alan Barnette is a national treasure. I highly recommend to any aspiring or even veteran songwriter that treat yourself to a taste of his generous teachings and experience what they can do to your evolution as an artist. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have a spectacularly entertaining time in the process.
Ash Cooper - Manchester England
Ash is a thirty year old singer/writer from Manchester, England. He came to Nashville for a few days to rebuild on some relationships from a few years before. WE had a great day, got a killer new song, “SET THE WORLD TO RIGHT”, and had some good times as he performed and met people around the town. A couple others wrote with him as well and I feel he had a pretty productive trip. Here is his impressions of the whole thing:
"I approached MAB after attending one of his workshops in 2012 and keeping his number and details since that time for the next opportunity I would get to be in town. I found his initial workshop to be inspiring and thought provoking; he certainly knows his stuff and this comes across when you talk to him. When I knew I was coming back into town I emailed in advance and discussed some of my requirements with him online, I knew the mini-tour was going to be a good option for me as I was looking to expand my networks in Nashville and also improve on my writing. Communicating with MAB was incredibly easy and he was always quick to respond and give advice ahead of our meeting; he made sure he got some more details about my songwriting experience to date, my influences and my ambitions going forward.
At our meeting we discussed these things in more detail and MAB was happy to provide some insights into the business based on his experience as well as listen to my own thoughts on concerns. I was keen to get a feel for how the songwriting community works in Nashville and some hints and tips on co-writing as this is something I have had very minimal experience on so far. MAB was really helpful and encouraging in his advice and was honest about where he could see opportunities for me to develop further. MAB also encourage me to play some of my songs for him so that he could provide an honest critique and again, this was done in a very constructive and helpful way that gave me some things to consider to improve my songwriting for the future as well as my current material. I found him to be a great listener and his comments were aimed at trying to help and build me up as opposed to knock me down. We even had the chance to do some co-writing "in the room" as this was one of the things I wanted to work on and the process for me was as good as the result we got. which was a great song.
Following on from our session MAB has been able to identify some contacts for me to work with who fit my style and approach and I have been able to follow up on these and look forward to working with them in the future. I would highly recommend MAB as a mentor to anyone who is serious in building their own network and / or songwriting skills as it has certainly been a really great benefit to me."
Performing Artist / Songwriter
There are two, very different Nashvilles. There is the one that folks see in the bars on Broadway and on the television show "Nashville", and there is the real, behind the scenes city.
Four years ago I wondered into Nashville, without a plan and without any idea of the "real" Nashville. I went to a NSAI Songwriting camp and was fortunate in meeting with Marc. The past four years have seen a major change in my songwriting abilities and my connection to Nashville through personal contacts. Marc is the impetus for those positive changes that have put my music career on a brand new, accelerated trajectory.
If you want someone to blow smoke and feed you lies, MARC IS NOT THAT GUY. However, if you want a thoughtful and honest evaluation of your present talents and abilities, I can not recommend Marc highly enough. And...on top of all of that, he is a genuinely nice guy.
Performing Singer/Songwriter/Cowboy Poet
Dave Mininberg - NC
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Schwalm - New York
We made contact with Marc Alan Barnette, who we refer to as MAB, through the NSAI web site. We thought what the hell. We’ll spend some more money and give it a shot. Nothing to lose. We set up our first MAB tour. It went so well that we just finished our 5th!
MAB opens doors that an outsider can’t breech and has many, many connections. On this last tour we met 3 hit Nashville songwriters...and not just a hand shake. We got to sit down with each of them for at least an hour and pick their brain. One was a breakfast meeting. One played us our own little concert of one of his hit songs. We had a blast and they are all great people with a lot to give. Our first 10 years, we never meant a hit writer. Try that on your own and good luck.
MAB has set us up playing at several venues around Nashville for us over the past 5 years. As an outsider, forget it on your own. Over the past 5 years we have written several songs with MAB. Some of them are basic and a few are actual hit songs. Wait and see. He teaches the art of songwriting and I consider him a master writer and not a lot of those exist. He has written over 3,000 songs. You will leave your writing session with a real Nashville song.
MAB has introduced us to several local Nashville writers and now when we come to town we co-write with them. Again, try it on your own. It will take years for contacts, if ever.
MAB has taken us to ASCAP and BMI meetings, NSAI and any other place you would like to visit, just ask. He has studio connections and publisher connections and…well…..he’s just connected.
How’s that for a TOUR of NASHVILLE?!
Do yourself a favor. Sign up for a MAB tour. We have spent a lot of money in Nashville, Thousands of dollars. The MAB Tour is the best money we have ever spent
It will save you years of aggravation. There are a lot of scams and scammers in Nashville and this is not one! As a matter of fact, we are bringing MAB and his tours to Central New York, so everyone can learn from his MABness.
If you have any questions on a MAB Tour, you can reach me at DaveSchwalm@Gmail.com
And no, I’m not being paid and no, he’s not my brother.
Steve "OD" Harris - Ohio
RE: Matrimony....... I mean Testimony
By: The Old Dog (Steve Harris)
Okay, I was just teasing with the matrimony part (it rhymed so I couldn't resist). Actually, working with Marc Alan Barnette (MAB) is almost like a marriage in some ways. It's a love affair of music creating a life long partnership through song. Ha!!! Okay, even I agree that was a little creepy, so overlook that part. The real comparison to marriage and working with MAB; is how you can easily become part of his music family and circle of friends; just like in a marriage. The relationships with Artists and songwriters through working with MAB, is a benefit seldom spoken about; but the best part of my journey and worthy of a mention.
I'm an older guy from Ohio that loves music, like all of you. I have a background in music by being a bass player for several bar bands, for over 40 years. I was a good enough singer to sing harmony parts; but never good enough to sing lead and be a front man in any of those bands. I barely played rhythm guitar good enough to give me any aid to make the songs I wrote sound worthy of a listen; but I couldn't help but write those songs because of a desire to express my creative side. I also worked a job, to pay the bills, that I recently retired from; so my newly found interest in wanting to write better songs was not an attempt for a career change by me.
So why on earth would some old guy like me; with limited talent, even think of spending time and money taking a MAB Tour??? My reply: Why Not!!!
As I read the other "Testimonials" on MAB' webpage, I hear from very talented artist's and songwriter's; most of them professionals in the business. They give MAB credit for being a positive influence during the early part of their career, and I know for a fact that is true. That gives MAB a tremendous amount of credibility for his services to help those with a great talent take the necessary steps to further their career. What about someone with limited talent??? Should they do a Tour???
The MAB has helped me become a much better writer and I have also increased my catalogue with some really good songs, co-written with MAB and a few others. I also have a long list of friends in Nashville that are like family to me; yes, the MAB family.
So; if MAB can help someone like me, imagine how much he can help all of you with more talent than I will ever have. So to all of you sitting on the fence about whether to take a MAB Tour or not. Regardless which side of the fence you fall; if you get up, brush yourselves off and sign up for a Tour, you will have landed safely.
Steve "OD" Harris - Columbus, OH
Jimmy Bielkiewicz - Nashville
Why would anyone want to spend their hard earned cash to have someone else tell them what to do?You are living the dream, becoming a songwriter, your family and friends love your songs, however, when you play them for strangers they ignore you. How can this be? You read several books on songwriting, read countless online articles and even forums. Your songs have everything that all those sources say they are supposed to have, yet people just don’t connect with your songs. Now what?
First you are not alone! Every songwriter has been exactly where you are right now!I thought I could pen a great song, pay $700 to have it demo’ed, and Nashville would come knocking at my door. $700 later I had a great CD of an average song, a song that could be heard all over Nashville and even all over the world, NOT my song, but millions of songs just like mine. Different titles, lines and rhymes but the same story told just a slight bit different.
Heart broke and lost I searched for what to do next. I found “Write with a pro” web sites where I could spend $200 and write one song with a pro, well this would not help me write better. I found a camp that cost $2500 and I got 20 minutes with a pro writer at the end, seemed kind of crazy.Then I found Marc Alan Barnette, $225 for a whole day and he calls it a tour. Tour? Am I going to see the city of Nashville? NO just the opposite it is a tour of ME, my past, present, and future of songwriting, the mistakes I made in the beginning and why I made them, the songs I am writing now and what can make them better, and then where I wanted my songs to be in the future, which included writing a song with a pro (he has had songs on the radio, in movies and won lots of awards). Sounded very interesting, and three days of one on one with a pro teacher would still be less $$$$ than what I wasted on that first demo.
After my tours with Marc, (which did not happen on 3 consecutive days) I had 5 songs that were my ideas written professionally and “Radio” ready. These songs are still teaching me almost a year later. I often look at them when writing a new song to see how Marc said what I wanted to say. We have all heard the saying the “Gift that Keeps on Giving”, well this is what a few tours with Marc have done for me.Additionally, Marc introduced me to many of his friends, set up co-writes with writers that could continue to teach me more and help me grow as a songwriter. (No additional cost, it is like your tours never stop)
I still have a lot to learn but now my songs are drawing attention instead of driving it away.If you are feeling frustrated or stuck, It may be in your best interest to look up Marc, he is on several internet forums giving free advice to anyone just for the asking, however if you are serious about learning to write better songs than the millions of other songwriters out there I would seriously consider spending your money with Marc. In the long run it becomes an investment that saves you cash and grows. Through Marc I have met many “Hit” writers who all say “Nashville is a 10 year town (takes 10 years to make it here), one day with Marc knocks 3 years off of that.”
I hope this helps you in your JourneyJimmy Bielkiewicz - email@example.com
Norman Bradley - Nashville
I met a few folks who have told me...you know I heard about this Marc-Alan Barnette guy, and something about his Nashville songwriter tours, but like I am NOT country.Now we could sit here and debate what constitutes as country and what not but thats not my reason for this POST.
So I said: tell me what kind of music do you play and some say Rock, Commerical POP, blues, folk, Americana. One said I like older style Rhythm and Blues. One said I wanna write contempory Christian cross-over music. BUT most stated I'm NOT into COUNTRYOK. Well, I said, tell me what you wanna do with your songs. Some wanna be artists. Some wanna be writers. Some hope to perform on UTUBE, or Internet Radio and on Social Music sites. Some hope to someday be signed as artists. Some hope to tour around and play thier songs and gain audiences. Some just wanna write better and perfom at local cafe's. Some said I wanna reach the most people I can with my music, maybe touch somebody's life, or help them make changes to thier life.
I said well MAB has got you covered and I will tell you why..Because any one of those styles of music or reasons of writing boil down to a few simple facts.
Well, tightly written songs, in a formula or format that can speak to the most massess of folks you want to reach. You need songs that will engage them and hold thier attention, and hopefully, touch them somehow and or make them remember you and either want to write with you, perform with you, or follow you and show up at your shows or tune into your Utube perfomances, and want to hear you or your songs again,.MAB can teach you how to do that.
Yeah but he is in Nashville, and thats mostly country or country style. Well it's true that the market in Nashville is "Country oriented." But the Music in this town and the music scene encompasses everything from southern Rock to blues to POP to Christian Music and so much more.
Even though some of those same-mentioned styles or genres are maybe not MAB's direct style, writing very tight well written songs are still your biggest asset within those styles, and with that, he's GOT you covered. And if you wanna ASK MAB what kinda songs he has played or written in his career, you'd be amazed. You'd be blown away at the mix of styles of Artists he has worked with, or opened up for or wrote with.The bottom line is: a tightly, well written song in any almost field of music, still holds its own.
Norman Bradley - firstname.lastname@example.org
Will T. Massey - Texas
kind of number I wanted for my repertoire. Marc-Alan facilitated a writers night slot for me and helped me make an inroad with the host which bodes well for future trips to Nashville. If you're new to the songwriting world in Nashville, Marc-Alan can give you a leg up.
Will T. Massey - email@example.com