I never intended to write a four part series about my private songwriting lesson with legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist Melissa Etheridge, but here we are.
I got so much out of my two hours with the rock icon last month that I’m still reflecting on it all.
In fact, friends claim that I mention Melissa in some way or other every fifteen minutes.
They’ve timed me. 🙂
One more session with her and I’ll be writing an entire book about all I’ve learned.
Anyway, in this episode I want to share what she taught me about singing, performing and becoming an overnight success.
Before we go there, I have to share a funny moment I had with her.
After Melissa showed me her book collection, guitar collection, and jigsaw puzzle she was working on, she walked me to a piano that her manager had given to her.
She played a few notes and asked me if I played.
“No,” I said. “I wanted a guitar when I was a kid. My father heard me and bought me an accordion. He didn’t want to hear rock, he wanted to hear polkas.”
“Parents!” Melissa said.
And from there we went into her home studio.
In my previous blog posts I shared what she taught me about writing songs. Her insights were revealing and inspiring. (See PS at end of this post for links.)
I told Melissa that one of the biggest fascinations for me was her singing.
I still remember her solo acoustic gig on Unplugged TV back in 1995.*
It shook me to the core.
Her explosive performance sent out ripples through time, and are still hitting my nerve endings today.
I want to sing like that, I thought. And I told Melissa so.
Of course, she asked me to sing for her.
And I (gulp) did.
It was actually easy to perform for her because she was entirely nonjudgmental.
She was patient, present, and eager.
But I was a nervous schoolboy compared to the powerhouse singing that Melissa does naturally.
So I asked her for any tips she could give me.
She told me about watching Ed Sullivan’s TV show and seeing house rockers, like Janice Joplin and Tom Jones.
“It was their joy in taking a song and belting it out,” Melissa explained. “Barbara Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond. I watched them perform. I always went with my feeling. I wanted to stand up and you know, SING.”
She went on to talk about where the power of a stirring performer comes from.
“Robert Plant’s singing like Janice Joplin,” Melissa said. “Janice Joplin’s singing like Memphis Minnie and Betsy Smith, and she’s singing like a black woman. All this rock and roll, and this popular music, comes from the slave era. It comes from this pain of I’m going to overcome this.”
“It comes from this pain of I’m going to overcome this.”
At this point Melissa pointed out that she heard a limiting belief in me.
She said that I thought I was too old to perform music and rock the world.
She reminded me that many people start entire new careers in their seventies. (I turn 63 today.)
“There’s an infinite stream of energy that can become whatever we want,” she told me. “And it’s up to us and the story we tell inside.
“So you’ve gotta believe it first,” she stressed. “You’ve gotta believe it first.”
I started to understand that much of Melissa’s on stage power comes from a decision.
She consciously intends to be electrifying.
“You’re gonna draw up this power, and you’re going to project it,” she said. “And be willing to let that energy come through you. I have an agreement, and I made it a long time ago, with the Universe, that I would be a conduit.”
Melissa explained that we are all energy and we project a vibrational field.
“It’s possible to gather this energy and let it go through us,” she continued. “But to do that, we’ve gotta have a clean channel. If you ever hear of anybody touring that lost their voice, it’s because they’re eating late at night, they’re doing all this stuff that’s going to come up and burn their voice.”
She went on to focus on the songs.
“What material are you working with?” she asked. “Are you singing, tonight I feel so weak. Then act what you are getting across. Be present for what you’re singing. If you’re singing a slow song, everybody’s got a hunger, then think about it, live it, have it be alive in you when you’re singing it.”
Melissa then focused on my new song, the one we were working on together, and a line from it.
“If you are singing, I’ve got a message from the Great Something, and I found it through my struggles and strifes, then put that intention in you as you’re singing. Think, I want to tell this story, and I want you to be moved by it because I want you to know the joy I’m having.”
Melissa explained that she first started singing when she was ten years old. She was in choirs in churches. The teacher would put her in the back because “I had such a weird voice.”
Weird voice? Melissa??
“In sixth grade I wrote a song, a protest song,” she continued. “And I sang that in a talent show that became a variety show around my hometown. We played at old folks’ homes, schools and prisons. And so I slowly started singing for people.
“I got in a band when I was in junior high, like eighth grade,” she continued. “A professional band that had grown guys and me. And we would have gigs on the weekends, at the officer’s club and these places. And so I sang other people’s songs. And that really helped me.”
At this point Melissa is explaining her decades of singing experience, and singing snippets to me as she continues.
You have to imagine my delight in being in her studio and witnessing this.
“First I sang Tammy Wynette, Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, and then Stand by your man. I learned to sing from your gut; to when you start with the energy, when you get up, I’m singing from here, and then I would sing the guy’s songs.
“I would sing Roberta Flack. I remember the first time, ever I saw your face is the song, but it was the first time that I sang a song in my band, where usually people are dancing and talking and they’re not paying any attention to the band, we’re just there for their pleasure, that actually people would stop, look at me and then applaud.
“And then I realized that oh, a song grows. I’m telling a story. And I would captivate, I would see people paying attention and want to take that energy and keep it. So I had years and years and years and years and more years of singing in front of people.
That’s often what it takes to succeed:
Years, and years, and years, and years and more years.
“When I finally got out to California, I played for five years in the bars, with drunk people,” she continued. “When I finally got my record deal at the end of the 80’s, I would have 100 people in the bar that came to hear me and liked my original songs.”
Melissa summed up her story by saying, “You just get on the path, you just do it, and that’s your intention, and then you let The Great Something bring you the stuff.”
“You just get on the path, you just do it, and that’s your intention, and then you let The Great Something bring you the stuff.” – Melissa Etheridge
I was in awe of all the lifetime experience it took Melissa to get noticed, get a deal, and explode on the scene.
As with virtually every “overnight success” (including my own, as an author), it actually didn’t happen overnight.
Once again, I could continue with all I learned from this loving legend of rock.
But right now I have a new album to record.
I’m dedicating my new album to Melissa.
There may even be a song on it called “Melissa Said,” which will be a tribute to her. I’m currently drafting it using, of course, everything I’ve learned from her. I am forever grateful to her, and want her to know it.
I’m obviously still on fire from sitting with Melissa, so somebody bring me some water!
PS – Here are links to my previous posts about my private lesson with Melissa Etheridge:
Note: In case you are curious, samples of my five singer-songwriter albums are here:
* Brace yourself. Watch Melissa Etheridge on Unplugged TV 1995 here:
The songwriting workshop I attended last weekend triggered a breakthrough in me regarding fear.
During the first morning, famed singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard gave a presentation on his insights from a long career in music. He talked about many things, including fear.
He paraphrased poet Rainer Maria Rilke, from the book Letters to a Young Poet, saying fear was a dragon who turned into a beautiful princess once you faced it.
I made mental note of that insight but didn’t do anything with it. I just liked it as a way to reframe fear: it looks scary but it’s a mirage that will turn into something beautiful once you face it.
Later that same day I had a one-on-one session with famed singer-songwriter Kevin Welch. I was telling him about my songwriting and began by saying, “The one thing I’m afraid of doing…”
As soon as I heard myself say “I’m afraid,” I stopped in my tracks.
I flashed back to Ray Wylie’s talk earlier the same day.
“Fear is a dragon…who turns into a princess…once you face it…”
I suddenly realized that I was saying there was a dragon in front of me and I didn’t want to face it; I was also realizing the dragon would transform into something wonderful once I looked it in the eye.
Right then and there, I owned the very thing I feared.
I announced to Kevin that I was going to do exactly what I feared.
That breakthrough was so deep and undeniable that I still smile when I think of it.
I now feel free and empowered and unstoppable.
Because I faced the dragon and it became a princess.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Consider: What are you afraid to do?
I’ve often said that your wealth is hiding under the very thing you are afraid to do.
I learned this when I faced my fear of ridicule and released my 2001 book, Spiritual Marketing, which in 2005 became The Attractor Factor, and in 2006 got me into the hit movie The Secret.
My career skyrocketed when I faced down that fear.
Rilke and Ray Wylie are suggesting your fear hides a princess.
Face your fear — and meet a princess.
How cool is that?
PS – If you’re at all interested in songwriting, I highly endorse the weekend retreat held by Kevin and Ray Wylie. It takes you from wherever you are — beginner to advanced — and builds on what you bring to the table. Even Bob Dylan would dig it. I’ll be doing it again. It’s that good. It’s held outside of Austin, Texas, every month, for just a handful of people. Get details right here.
On November 20 I held an autograph party for the release of my latest book, Attract Money Now. Despite the bad weather, some people drove hundreds of miles to the Vitale Cigar Room to meet me, talk, and get their beautiful hardcover book signed. It was a wonderful evening.
One of the people who came was a young woman from my local area who I didn’t know. She had some questions. As she asked them, I kept thinking someone should film this, as her questions were sincere and perceptive. For example, she asked –
“What’s the one thing you had to change to keep stretching and succeeding?”
It was an easy answer. In my book, Attract Money Now, I say that your wealth is hiding under the very thing you are afraid to do. Face your fears and you can stretch and succeed.
Another question she asked was –
“As you grow, do your friends fall away?”
I told her yes, they often (but not always) do, but it’s a natural process. People who were best friends of mine at one level of growth just floated out of my life as I changed and evolved. There was no animosity. It just happened as an organic growth process.
She also asked –
“Do you have to learn stocks and bonds, trading, banking and real estate to attract big money?”
I told her no. I don’t know anything about trading or real estate and don’t want to. As I explain in my new book, you can attract more money by doing what you love. It helps to think like an entrepreneur but the key is in following your own passion.
She and I talked for a little longer and then, as more people came to greet me, she wandered off.
But a little later in the evening she returned with an acoustic guitar in hand. I love guitars and had to know what she was doing with one.
“I want to face my fears,” she told me. “I was wondering if I could play a song for you.”
I of course said yes.
My friend Pat O’Bryan was there. I quickly asked him if he would film the performance. He agreed.
I guess I was expecting her to play something soft, easy, and sweet. But this woman fried the room, brought everyone to a stand still, and melted my heart as she sang an incredible aria from an Italian opera.
Her voice was stunning. I got goose bumps as she played. It was heavenly and unforgettable. See for yourself by clicking on the below image:
Her name is Sarah Marie. You can find her music on www.cdbaby.com. She has a myspace page at www.myspace.com/sarahmariesedona
Sarah got past her fear.
All it took was a deep breath and a step forward.
What have you done to face your fears today?
PS — If you want help in getting past your fears, consider Dr. Joe Vitale’s Miracles Coaching.