In this series, I ask other songwriters about their quest for inspiration and how they tackle the day-to-day tasks of writing quality, engaging songs. Behind every good song is a hard-worker. I want to know how songwriters work and how they fill their well so it never goes dry.
TRENT DABBS has released seven studio albums, started Sugar & the Hi-Lows, a swing-pop band with Amy Stroup, and logs hours every week co-writing with both upcoming & established Nashville writers. Trent co-wrote the song “Undermine” with Kacey Musgraves which you might have heard in this season of Nashville sung by Hayden Panettiere. “Undermine” debuted at no. 7 on the iTunes country charts and sold 22,000 copies in the first week. Trent has had over 40 film & TV placements and is currently working on a new album. For Trent, songwriting is a full-time job — read how this professional stays inspired.
1. What is your typical work day?
I have a creative workspace/office for my writing and I usually show up around 9:30. I try to run in the morning to clear my head. I also listen to something new to challenge my own writing. I write almost everyday from 9:30-4 maybe 5. I try to plan far ahead with co-writes and solo writes.
2. What tools do you use to keep you organized and productive?
I really love learning Logic on my computer. It helps me write a track so I don’t lean on my default “finger picky slow” tune. Not that I dislike that but I try to have a good tempo so I will be forced to write differently. Also my vintage Gibson B-25 … that little guitar has some serious songs in it and I could play it all day.
3. Do you have any habits, exercises or activities that jumpstart your creativity?
This sounds so cliche, but for me, the more coffee I have the more excited & productive I will be. I also listen to current strange music that is much more far out that I will ever be. I love music that challenges me to get out of my comfort zone. I mean you probably wouldn’t think I like hardcore punk rock but I have my days.
4. Are there any specific (or favorite) books, films, lectures, etc. that continue to inspire you?
Steven King’s book On Writing is classic. NPR and TED talks are filled with inspiration for writing songs outside of your own story.
5. Where do you get ideas for songs? How do you catalog them?
I think I get my best work done in collaborations. I want to learn more everyday and when I work with my favorite writers, I feel a strong sense of achievement. When you know your strength as a writer and what you are bringing to the table in a co-write, it always makes for a better song.
6. How do you combat writer’s block?
Try to write a different variation of a song I have written by myself. I refine old songs so I don’t get too discouraged.
7. Who is your songwriting hero?
Neil Young, Ron Sexsmith, Bob Dylan, Mark Kozlek
8. Do you have any advice to offer a new songwriter?
Don’t quit. Always be prepared when co-writing. In the beginning stages, be willing to give up your “personal favorite” part of a song to collaborate with someone who, in your eyes, is father along. I think as artists we get entirely too precious with our writing and assume that the world will hear it. But we are fortunate if people hear it at all these days. I really believe this. If you can write one song that good, you can write another. Just don’t be so hard on yourself.
Don’t miss Trent’s song “SHINE” on NASHVILLE tomorrow night at 10/9pm central on ABC!