Braheny Songwriters Retreat – April 15, 16, 17 – 2011

Posted March 31, 2011 —

Our very favorite teaching environment is songwriting retreats.

About our retreats, songwriters say:

(1) When we’re sequestered from our ‘regular routine,’ our mental and emotional senses are heightened.

(2) We explore new ground, new info, new approaches to doing things, in a place where it’s OK to fail.

(3) We bond with other writers, find new co-writers, get fresh feedback.

(4) We can focus (and not feel guilty)!

(5) In a smaller group, we can get more individual attention.

With that in mind, John Braheny and I are excited to teach at the upcoming Las Brisas Songwriters Weekend, Fri/Sat/Sun, April 15, 16, 17, 2011.

It’s in Murietta, half-way between Los Angeles and San Diego, California, up in the hills, in a lovely retreat center, and yet, very reasonable… $300.  (less if you bring friend/s)  includes 3-days lodging, food, the workshop, optional yoga, hiking & wine!

Schedule (flexible):

The weekend:

Las Brisas Retreat Center (home page):

To make your reservation, contact Niki Smart:

Las Brisas Retreat

43500 Camino De Las Brisas
Murrieta, CA
(949) 274-5961


We look forward to seeing you there!


About Actors, Storytellers – Ben Kingsley

I heard a wonderful interview on the radio last week, 3/19/11, with the fabulous actor, Sir Ben Kingsley…

This quote stuck with me:

“I think that the role of the actor, perhaps at its simplest and its purest, is one of the tribal storyteller. And that if you were to transport me back maybe 3,000 years, I’d be sitting around the fire at night with the little tribe, reassuring them about their past, hoping that they will sleep through the night and comforting them about their future, and try and build those bridges of empathy, particularly aspects of life that are baffling and frightening.”

Songwriters, actors, writers of all genres, will appreciate this. There’s more to the interview, worth listening to, or reading the comparatively short transcript:

Click: Sir Ben Kingsley Interview on National Public Radio.


Unleash Your Creativity Now (How to Freewrite)

March 14, 2011

Writers (and songwriters) often ask me about which kick-start methods are most helpful. There are several.

For example, a common one is to use “prompts” (i.e., starting a sentence, or a paragraph with a diving-board phrase like …

“The worst job I ever had was ____ .”  or

“My best friend became a best friend when she  _____.” or

“My family didn’t believe me when I said I would _____.”

Note:  For a great book of prompts for songwriters, see our friend, Lisa Aschmann’s …  1,000 Songwriting Ideas.

Or, some like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages daily writing exercise (from her hit book, The Artist’s Way).

Some use the one John Braheny mentions in his best-selling book, The Craft and Business of Songwriting … an exercise called object writing …. which Pat Pattison teaches at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.  You choose and focus on any item that you see in the room where you are and just write about it, for about 10 minutes. And it doesn’t matter if your writing goes “off topic… ”

And now,  in this article, by Joel Friedlander, (which came out last year, but someone just brought it to my attention) … I learn  an exercise called ‘freewriting.’  This one, however, is done sans computer.  It’s totally handwritten, which may or may not appeal to you.

Here’s the link:  Unleash Your Creativity Now (How to Freewrite) — Excerpt:

“… In freewriting, you write just fast enough so that your hand moves faster than your brain can defend itself.The results are sometimes unpredictable, but the most surprising images, characters, memories and stories started to pour out onto the page. Where was it coming from? I was mystified, and stunned. Somehow this practice had connected to that deep stream of creativity we all have running, somewhere deep underground, and allowed it to manifest in writing.”

Whole article … click: Unleash Your Creativity Now (How to Freewrite).

Some writers really like to tap into their flow, their source… their hidden under-belly … in so many ways. (Personally, I enjoy variety, so I try all these techniques at various times.) This one is definitely worth trying!  Enjoy!

[Photo taken by me at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, from the Product Design class …  April, 2010.  A Time Meter, with an hourglass egg-timer in the center.  For a quarter, “Plan Carefully, Here, Buy More Time.”  I wish this thing really worked!]


Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard (& Necessary)

March 13, 2011

I know you’ll find several things in this excellent article,  (written by Alan Deutschman, in that will apply to you, even if you have kept your job for many, many years.

Excerpt from (click): Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard:

“When I talked with one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, he explained that practicing a craft or profession for a long time makes your brain change dramatically.

If a doctor conducted a scan of the brain of a female flute player in a symphony orchestra, the image would show that the regions that control the fingers, tongue, and lips are unusually large. All of her years of training and practice have actually distorted her brain. Whatever your particular trade or occupation, your brain becomes specialized to do your job.

The good news is that your brain is capable of extraordinary change throughout middle age and well into your senior years. You’re capable of “rewiring” it with the complex learning you’ll need in a new career. Neuroscientists call this “neural plasticity.” But the catch is that unless you’ve stayed in the practice of learning hard things, then your “brain fitness” declines. The cognitive muscles you need for change have atrophied. It’s a use it or lose it situation. Unfortunately, few of us really use it. Merzenich told me that most people “haven’t ‘learned’ anything in twenty or thirty years.”

Can that really be true? After all, most of us put a lot of effort into keeping up with the latest developments in our professional fields. But that’s not what Merzenich is talking about. To him, “learning” isn’t maintaining your long-entrenched expertise; “learning” means becoming a true beginner in another challenging pursuit. You know that you’re learning something new and different if it’s really hard for a long time and you’re constantly making mistakes and feeling like an idiot. No one wants to feel that way, especially once they’ve become used to the headiness of being an expert in another area.

Complex learning is undeniably difficult and discouraging. Think of the immense frustration of trying for the first time to drive stick shift, play golf, dance the tango, or speak a foreign language. That’s how you’ll feel if you switch careers. The way to make it manageable is to seek support from good coaches, teachers, and mentors who’ll help sustain your efforts, just as you would if you were learning Chinese or how to snowboard.”

Read the 2-page article:  Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard

[Photo taken by me, of hand-stitched pillow on chair, at a friend’s home, in Santa Fe, Oct. 2009]


750 Words & Buster Benson

Writers: You tell me you’re looking for a challenge.

This one (based on Julia Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ exercise in The Artist’s Way) will take you to a whole new level. And yes, I’m thinking of doing it myself. Yeow!

Read about the  750 Words Challenge … some folks write daily for a month, some write less or more than 750 words, some write every other day or only now & then. He rewards you with points (!) for as much as, and how,  you do write.

What’s super-cool, is that Buster Benson (the writer-designer) has ‘geeked-up’ the site, where you enter your writings, with a series of diagnostic filters, with stats revealed to you, and only you, to help you quantify (if that’s possible!) your writing habits, or non-habits, your style (introvert, extrovert), so — heck, if nothing else, it’s much better than reading your fortune in a cookie, no? Read all his rules for the Challenge and don’t let the one below frighten you. From the site:

★ What kind of stats do you collect about my usage of the site?

I try to collect as much implicit information about you as I can without asking you to fill out a lot of forms. It’s the accidental information that is often the most interesting, I think. That said, here’s where I get information about you:

  1. Your behavior on the page: I watch how quickly you type, how many breaks you take, etc to draw some very general conclusions about how “focused” you are at the moment. I also time how long it takes to get to 750 words.
  2. Facebook: any general information that you’ve made public on Facebook is temporarily stored on my servers. For example, things like gender, age, and relationship status.
  3. Your IP Address: I use Google’s Client Location Service to try to see if your IP Address can say anything about your general location. Right now I only use this in order to then try and see what the weather’s like where you are. Who knows, maybe there’s a correllation between the weather and the emotional content of your daily writings.

Note that I respect the privacy of all information collected, and will not make any information public that can be used to identify you.

Not only are you challenged to write whatever is on your mind (it’s okay to write drivel) but it will be analyzed for you… and you can take that to the bank, or to the garbage pail. Either way, you must admit it’s gotta be fun.

So check out the site — and it’s creator, Buster Benson.

At the very least, check out his list: “A Few Rules I Try to Live By.” Good one to post on the fridge. Enjoy!

Possibilities - Marfa, TX

[Photo taken by me, Aug. 2010, of an actual shop, Possibilities, in the artists’ town, Marfa, Texas. Note: the door’s standing wide open! Love that.]


20 Sure-Fire Ways to Create Clutter

Naomi Seldin wrote a funny article we all can relate to:

20 Sure-Fire Ways to Create Clutter.

I post this because we are entering the season of Spring Cleaning!

(And see below, the ‘good clutter’ info about Bill’s Records, will tug at your creativity sleeve as well…)

My husband and I (mentioned before) cleaned out — down-sized severely — our many years of ‘stuff’ in our garage a couple years ago. What a geological dig, unearthing layers of our lives. Why did we ever keep all that? Our excuse was we are too busy to sort/toss as we go. Sounds good, eh?

Did we change behavior? Oh, yes! Now we buy fewer books, but we still read them, plus mags, newspapers at the library or  online. Did you know that John Braheny’s book,  The Craft and Business of Songwriting, is available as a down-loadable PDF? Be sure you get the 3rd edition…

I don’t buy ‘quantity’ any more, so I don’t have to store things in every corner.  I do keep soaps & shampoos from hotels… but we use them! OK, enough personal details… enjoy the Create Clutter article. You’ll see yourself there!

However, there is Useful Clutter:

Below are the very packed tight, piled high, generally alphabetical, but fabulous aisles at Bill’s Records Store ( that we visited last year, in downtown, Dallas, Texas.

The owner, Bill, has over 5,000 items listed on E-Bay! But this is his celebrated brick-and-mortar location.

Worth your visit …  for those of you who collect, swap, trade, sell or drool over CDs and LPs … or if you just want a great place to perform your songs while you’re in Dallas, see the site for details.

[Photos I took in July, 2010, include the owner, Bill (left), John Braheny with T-shirt: “Listen, really listen, to the fruits of innovation, courage and rebellion,” and (right) Grady Yates, illustrious Dallas singer/songwriter and exquisite host and fun tour guide.]

Bill says he has more CDs & LPs in storage! Wow, what a Wonderland for those who love music. I’m sure those of you who tour have known of this treasure for a long, long time. We could have spent days in there finding everything we could have ever dreamed. Ah, well…

Thanks, Grady, for taking us there… OK, back to cleaning out more boxes of our own!


Arizona Songwriters Gathering – 15th Annual!

Congratulations to Jon Iger (devoted and beloved president) and the very, able staff of the Arizona Songwriters Association, on their 15th Annual Arizona Songwriters Gathering. It’s a great event!

John Braheny & I have had the great fortune to participate in almost every one

—–   And it’s FREE! —–

Bonus: There will also be a potluck and songwriters guitar pull/song pull right after the Gathering, at the barn of Chuck and Barbara Giamalvo.  Directions will be at the Songwriters Gathering.

15th Annual Arizona Songwriters Gathering

Saturday, January 22, 2011

10:00 AM — 4:30 PM

Glendale Public Library (Phoenix, ARIZONA)

5959 West Brown Street (just south of Peoria Ave. on 59th Ave.)

Glendale, Arizona 85302

Admission is FREE!  (Did we mention?)

Events will be held in the Auditorium, Meeting Rooms, Outer Lobby & Front Lawn

For more information, call 623-930-3573.



10:00 AM — 12:00 PM. AUDITORIUM.

John Braheny, author of The Craft and Business of Songwriting, offers this popular class for writers who started writing by instinct before exploring the principles of manipulating song structure and dynamics for maximum impact. John says, when you follow the principles rather than arbitrary “rules,” you have much greater creative latitude. This is the class for you if you keep getting critiques that say you need better structure or more contrast, or if you need to expand your toolbox of creative options and get more control over what you instinctively know.

Note: John Braheny will be available for one-on-one consult/critique sessions on Sunday, Jan. 23, while he’s in Phoenix. For info on scheduling a session, email


10:00 — 11:00 AM. LARGE MEETING ROOM.

Join Chris Frazer for an introduction to the Arizona Songwriters Challenge. In the quarterly songwriters challenge, a song title is given and all the participants write a song using that title having had no more than 30 days to do so. The songwriters gather and present their songs in a public venue giving each other and others in attendance an opportunity to hear the different directions songwriters went with the same title. In this session you will hear music from the event, explanation of the process, and information about this local opportunity and exercise for songwriters.


11:00 AM — 12:00 PM. LARGE MEETING ROOM.

Join moderator Rhonda Hitchcock for this roundtable discussion. After some opening remarks, we’ll open it up to anyone with stories, good or bad, about their experiences using the Internet and Social Media to promote their music. Everyone should learn something at this workshop, including what works and what doesn’t! All interested musicians, bands and songwriters, please join us to share your experience!


12:45 — 2:00 PM. AUDITORIUM.

Believe it or not, there may be a gold mine in your closet.  Did you write and record music prior to 1989?  Are your recordings collecting dust in an attic or closet?  Join David Hilker and Jeff Freundlich of Wild Whirled Music as they discuss music for film and television, and the earnings power of those forgotten tapes.  Any genre.  Any era.  The gold mine is there.  Are you ready to tap it?



John Braheny will offer positive, constructive feedback on your songs. Bring a cassette or CD recording, or perform live. Lyric Sheets are mandatory. Songs selected at random.


2:15 — 3:30 PM. AUDITORIUM.

James Marovich and Les Scott will present some real world situations to show how Copyright Law protects artists and how, sometimes, it does not. They will discuss how to protect your work, who owns a copyright and how ownership comes into being, how to prevent disputes over ownership, and the importance of talking in advance with co-writers and band members about collaboration agreements. Time permitting, we will go online and actually register a copyright with the Library of Congress.



John Braheny will offer positive, constructive feedback on your songs. Bring a cassette or CD recording, or perform live. Lyric Sheets are mandatory. Songs selected at random.

Note: *At 2:00 PM in the Outer Lobby Cafe area, a special presentation of the Lottie Lederer Songwriter Spirit Award will be given to Paul Woodall. Paul has been a long time member of the Arizona Songwriters Association and a participant in the Arizona Songwriters Gathering since its inception. He has been writing and performing his original songs for eons, and at age 93 is still singing his songs and entertaining appreciative crowds. Paul is also an actor who has performed in several community theater productions, and is currently writing a book!



3:45 — 4:30 PM



11:00 AM — 12:30 PM


Hosted by Tom Whitlock and Steve Decker


12:30 PM — 2:00 PM


Hosted by Dean Cook and Virginia Anders


2:00 PM — 3:00 PM


A roundtable discussion on creativity hosted by Andy Hurlbut , Mark Fogelson and Anne James

Songwriters/musicians have already signed up to play ‘live’ every ten minutes in various locations around the venue!

The Arizona Songwriters Gathering was organized by Lon Austin, Jon Iger and Gavan Wieser of the Arizona Songwriters Association and hosted by the Glendale Public Library. (Phoenix area)


JOHN BRAHENY is a top consultant/coach for songwriters, writer/artists and music industry entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. His book, “The Craft and Business of Songwriting” has sold over 80,000 copies and is used as a songwriting text in colleges and universities throughout the U.S. He and Len Chandler founded and ran the legendary Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase for 25 years. He is past president of California Copyright Conference, a teacher and journalist and is a consultant and screener for TAXI, the world’s leading independent A&R company. He’s also interviewed more than 600 hit songwriters and industry pros.

CHRIS FRAZER is a musician from Chandler, Arizona who is a singer and songwriter, open mic host, and middle school music teacher. He is the founder of, a website providing information about the local open mic scene since 2002. Chris also runs a quarterly event called the Arizona Songwriters Challenge that has had participation by many Arizona songwriters.

DAVID HILKER (CEO) and JEFF FREUNDLICH (President) own Whirled Music Publishing, Inc. (WMP) The company’s brands include the music catalogs of Wild Whirled Music, Trailerville Music, indie label Fervor Records and indie artist catalog Muzik Headz.
WMP is a premier destination for the film, television and advertising industries. The company’s music is heard daily across all media platforms. The catalog includes performances from such luminaries as Waylon Jennings, Wayne Newton, Bill Champlin, Al Kooper, Duane Eddy and Albert Lee to name a few.

The label division, Fervor Records, is also launching two new artists this winter, Super Stereo and Tarik NuClothes. Music from both artists has already appeared on MTV, FOX Sports, CBS and E! Other recent credits include Justified, FX, Mad Men, AMC, How I Met Your Mother, CBS, Burn Notice, USA, The Middle, ABC, Two and a Half Men, CBS, True Blood, HBO, CSI, CBS, Bones, FOX, Parks & Recreation, NBC, Big Bang Theory, CBS, BMW, Gucci, VW, Sprint, and Dance Dance Revolution.

RHONDA HITCHCOCK has been in graphic design, marketing and advertising for over 15 years. She is also the co-founder of Chicks with Picks, an organization that features female singer/songwriters. Ms. Hitchcock has helped all kinds of businesses and musicians promote on some level, but she has recently seen a real movement in promotion with Social Media.

RON KEEL has enjoyed success as a songwriter, musician and entertainer in both hard rock and country music for nearly three decades. With over 50 album credits as artist, producer and writer, he is currently touring the world with his band KEEL, as well as headlining in Las Vegas as the star of “Country Superstars Tribute.”

He is signed to Frontiers Records and Universal Music, and has contributed songs to major TV shows such as Desperate Housewives, X-Files, The Simpsons, and films like Men in Black II, Chill Factor, The Messengers and more. His songs have been recorded by Jesse & Noah Bellamy (Luna Chica International), Vixen (EMI), and Charlie Tatman (CMG).

JAMES M. MAROVICH is a litigation and transactional attorney. His intellectual property practice consists of copyright, trademarks and trade names, and rights to privacy. He provides legal services for singers, songwriters, musicians, bands, artists, actors, authors and photographers, as well as to independent film companies, publicists, physicians, medical spas, theatre companies, talent management, and record sales and distribution services companies. He has served on numerous not-for-profit boards, is a frequent speaker for artists’ organizations, and is currently serving as general counsel for the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. He provides legal services to start-up companies, which includes assisting with choice of entity, agreements between persons desiring to do business together, organization of corporations and companies, ownership and licensing of intellectual property, risk assessment, end of business life decisions, helping clients to avoid disputes and, if necessary, to resolve disputes, and negotiating contracts and business deals.

LES SCOTT is a veteran of the music industry whose publishing company Source Q Boutique (SQB) specializes in music placement in film & television. Celebrating its 15th year, SQB currently represents over 550 writers/artists and is exclusively marketed through its alliances with Crucial Music Group, Fuze Artz and Expressive Artists.

As a Record Producer and Songwriter, Les is commissioned to produce albums for such companies as BMG, FirstCom, Killer Tracks, Universal Music Group and Network, and has produced over 200 artists/bands in all genres. His writings appear almost daily throughout the film/TV industry and have appeared on various albums (Grammy winning group “b2k”).

As a consultant, Mr. Scott is frequently hired to advise on intellectual property and other legal matters such as band agreements, record contracts, writer collaborations, performance releases, cue sheets and other custom agreements.

MARSHALL TRIMBLE is considered the “dean of Arizona historians” and has taught Arizona history at Scottsdale Community College for more than 35 years. His first book was published in 1977 by Doubleday & Company, New York. Since then he’s written more than twenty books on Arizona and the West. Trimble is one of the state’s most popular speakers and performers. He is an educator, lecturer, folk singer and stage performer.

This multi-talented historian has been called the “Will Rogers of Arizona.” He can deliver anything from a serious history lecture to a stage concert of Western folk music and stories with his guitar.  Trimble appears frequently on radio and television as a goodwill ambassador for the state. Special note: On February 13, 2010, Marshall Trimble will be inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (AMEHOF), along with 11 others. Tickets are available by calling the Phoenix Convention Center (Orpheum Theatre) at 602-262-7272 or through, 1-800-745-3000.  More information at www.amehof.orgDon’t miss this chance to support the preservation of Arizona’s musical history! “Inspiring the Future by Remembering the Past”.


This Year, Change Your Mind

This article, This Year, Change Your Mind, is written by (physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center), Oliver Sacks, M.D., and appeared in the New York Times, on 1/1/11.

He starts off by acknowledging that, at the New Year, many of us re-new our intentions to improve our physical bodies, with improved diet, exercise, etc.

But in this article, Dr. Sacks reminds us,

” …  they can strengthen their brains in a similar way.”

The whole article is well worth the read, especially if you know anyone with learning or memory impairments, but my excerpt here has to do with music

While it is often true that learning is easier in childhood, neuroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years. Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.

I have had many reports from ordinary people who take up a new sport or a musical instrument in their 50s or 60s, and not only become quite proficient, but derive great joy from doing so. Eliza Bussey, a journalist in her mid-50s who now studies harp at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore, could not read a note of music a few years ago. In a letter to me, she wrote about what it was like learning to play Handel’s “Passacaille”: “I have felt, for example, my brain and fingers trying to connect, to form new synapses. … I know that my brain has dramatically changed.” Ms. Bussey is no doubt right: her brain has changed.

Music is an especially powerful shaping force, for listening to and especially playing it engages many different areas of the brain, all of which must work in tandem: from reading musical notation and coordinating fine muscle movements in the hands, to evaluating and expressing rhythm and pitch, to associating music with memories and emotion.

Whole article: This Year, Change Your Mind.

[Photo by me… of a prized possession of mine, one that really changed MY mind. This is a test pressing of the album, “Imagine,” by John Lennon. It was given to me to play on the air, which I did a lot, when I was the  first full-time female radio DJ in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1971.]


Quiz – Right Brain vs Left Brain

This one is from The Art Institute of Vancouver … (A lovely place, if you decide to visit!)

It’s a “creativity test” to find out if you use more (%) of your (click here) “Right Brain vs Left Brain.”

It’s free to take the quiz and it determines the score for you. Then, read the in-depth details to, most likely, confirm what you already know. I found it to be a bit of Myers-Briggs blended with Keirsey.

Have fun!!

[Photo taken by me, of John Braheny (left) & Jon Iger, president of the Arizona Songwriters Assn. exploring The Musical Instrument Museum, in Phoenix, 2010. They’re exercising their right & left brains!]


Why Music Makes You Happy

Here’s a great article in Discovery News by Emily Sohn, 1/10/2011.

Science finally confirms what most of us already intuit when we listen to music.

“People love music for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research. When you listen to tunes that move you, the study found, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction.

Even just anticipating the sounds of a composition like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Phish’s “You Enjoy Myself” can get the feel-good chemical flowing, found the study, which was the first to make a concrete link between dopamine release and musical pleasure.

The findings offer a biological explanation for why music has been such a major part of major emotional events in cultures around the world since the beginning of human history. Through music, the study also offers new insights into how the human pleasure system works.

“You’re following these tunes and anticipating what’s going to come next and whether it’s going to confirm or surprise you, and all of these little cognitive nuances are what’s giving you this amazing pleasure,” said Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal. “The reinforcement or reward happens almost entirely because of dopamine.” Continue reading, click:  Why Music Makes You Happy.

[Photos below I took in Nashville, Sept. 2010, of the much beloved, historic Ryman Auditorium, where Country and non-Country artists have performed (and some still do!) … including Enrico Caruso, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Lily Pons, Harpo Marx, the Vatican Choir, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The Temptations, Mae West, The Four Tops, Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Coldplay, Boz Scaggs, Reba McEntire, Lyle Lovett, Kings of Leon, B.B. King, and their list continues on]


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