Songwritr

I'm Stephie Coplan, of Stephie Coplan fame. I'm a professional songwriter in New York City. I got one of these so I can see if any high school girls with boy drama are posting my lyrics and hashtagging them #amazing and #perfect and shit like that

I am so glad I’m not a performer anymore.  
I was catching up with an old friend this week who I hadn’t spoken to in 3 years.  Not a text, not a tweet, not a “like” - nothing.  I had a lot to tell him because so much had changed since the last time we talked.  The rise and fall of my band - and basically the launch of my music career - had all happened since our last conversation in 2011.  I was explaining how, towards the end of the run with my band, I had grown to hate performing and had even grown to resent my fans (sorry fans, if you’re reading this, nothing personal, I promise.)  I will always be grateful to WFNX being pretty much like a label for me for 6 months and getting my career off the ground - I’d still be working at a non-profit in Newark without them…but they inadvertently put me in a “chick rock” box that I couldn’t escape.  My fans were the kinds of people who were into alternative music, they rejected the mainstream, and therefore couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that I am, and always have been, a genuine, unironic pop music fan.  When I would tell my fans onstage that I liked Taylor Swift, I wasn’t joking - I actually really worship her.  But my fans thought it was part of my “gimmick,” like I was making fun of her by pretending to like her.
"They thought you were Stephen Colbert," my friend said, laughing.
That’s exactly it, I said.
Everyone thought I was this poster child for the 90s rock revival, a neo-Alanis, a champion of weirdos and freaks and outcasts and misfits, the cute girl with a sharp tongue who doesn’t think “hot” guys are hot and sleeps with the geeky guys who make her laugh.
Towards the end, I was just so tired of being misunderstood.  Posting on Facebook about the new Bieber single that I loved and getting “likes” and try-hard witty comments from single guys old enough to be my dad who thought they were in on a joke that I wasn’t making.  Posting pop songs on YouTube and getting hate for “selling out.”  I wasn’t selling out.  I was trying to correct a false impression of me that had mushroomed completely out of control.  
I loved the support from my fans, I loved how sweet and attentive they were, and I loved talking to them and signing stuff for them at shows, but I hated how tone-deaf they remained in the face of a ton of mounting evidence that I wasn’t the girl they thought they knew.
This morning, I saw this meme on Facebook that has been floating around for a few years.  This complaint that people will spend $5 on a cup of Starbucks coffee, but not $1 on a song they like.  There are two reasons for this: 1) there is no option for people to get any flavor coffee they want for free anytime they’d like, like the Spotify of coffee.  2) Your single isn’t good enough.  Taylor Swift sold 1.2 million copies of her album “Red” in her first week.  Beyonce sold over 600,000.  And yes, Katy Perry and Miley have seen their sales drop since the “good old days” but even they managed to sell just shy of 300,00 copies each their opening weeks.  Because their songs are good, REALLY good, and people are more than happy to not only shell out $1 for the single, but $10 for the whole album, filler tracks and all.  You never see these artists whine on Facebook that people are spending their hard-earned money on coffee instead of their music.  The reality is, if people are not buying your single, it’s because it’s not good enough.  Stop blaming the audience and blame yourself for not having written your hit yet.  Use that as your fuel.  If you’re happy not having a lot of fans, then write whatever the fuck you want.  It’s your life, it’s your art…do whatever makes you happy and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.  But if you want mainstream appeal, you have to write music that everyone is going to want to listen to.  The iTunes store is still thriving.  Don’t forget that it saved the music industry during a time when everyone was downloading everything they wanted for free on file-sharing sites.  If your single is good, people will buy it AND have enough leftover for their $5 latte. 
If they are not buying it, it is your fault.  Time to go back to the drawing board.  You’re a songwriter, so writing songs shouldn’t feel like work anyway.    

I am so glad I’m not a performer anymore.  

I was catching up with an old friend this week who I hadn’t spoken to in 3 years.  Not a text, not a tweet, not a “like” - nothing.  I had a lot to tell him because so much had changed since the last time we talked.  The rise and fall of my band - and basically the launch of my music career - had all happened since our last conversation in 2011.  I was explaining how, towards the end of the run with my band, I had grown to hate performing and had even grown to resent my fans (sorry fans, if you’re reading this, nothing personal, I promise.)  I will always be grateful to WFNX being pretty much like a label for me for 6 months and getting my career off the ground - I’d still be working at a non-profit in Newark without them…but they inadvertently put me in a “chick rock” box that I couldn’t escape.  My fans were the kinds of people who were into alternative music, they rejected the mainstream, and therefore couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that I am, and always have been, a genuine, unironic pop music fan.  When I would tell my fans onstage that I liked Taylor Swift, I wasn’t joking - I actually really worship her.  But my fans thought it was part of my “gimmick,” like I was making fun of her by pretending to like her.

"They thought you were Stephen Colbert," my friend said, laughing.

That’s exactly it, I said.

Everyone thought I was this poster child for the 90s rock revival, a neo-Alanis, a champion of weirdos and freaks and outcasts and misfits, the cute girl with a sharp tongue who doesn’t think “hot” guys are hot and sleeps with the geeky guys who make her laugh.

Towards the end, I was just so tired of being misunderstood.  Posting on Facebook about the new Bieber single that I loved and getting “likes” and try-hard witty comments from single guys old enough to be my dad who thought they were in on a joke that I wasn’t making.  Posting pop songs on YouTube and getting hate for “selling out.”  I wasn’t selling out.  I was trying to correct a false impression of me that had mushroomed completely out of control.  

I loved the support from my fans, I loved how sweet and attentive they were, and I loved talking to them and signing stuff for them at shows, but I hated how tone-deaf they remained in the face of a ton of mounting evidence that I wasn’t the girl they thought they knew.

This morning, I saw this meme on Facebook that has been floating around for a few years.  This complaint that people will spend $5 on a cup of Starbucks coffee, but not $1 on a song they like.  There are two reasons for this: 1) there is no option for people to get any flavor coffee they want for free anytime they’d like, like the Spotify of coffee.  2) Your single isn’t good enough.  Taylor Swift sold 1.2 million copies of her album “Red” in her first week.  Beyonce sold over 600,000.  And yes, Katy Perry and Miley have seen their sales drop since the “good old days” but even they managed to sell just shy of 300,00 copies each their opening weeks.  Because their songs are good, REALLY good, and people are more than happy to not only shell out $1 for the single, but $10 for the whole album, filler tracks and all.  You never see these artists whine on Facebook that people are spending their hard-earned money on coffee instead of their music.  The reality is, if people are not buying your single, it’s because it’s not good enough.  Stop blaming the audience and blame yourself for not having written your hit yet.  Use that as your fuel.  If you’re happy not having a lot of fans, then write whatever the fuck you want.  It’s your life, it’s your art…do whatever makes you happy and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.  But if you want mainstream appeal, you have to write music that everyone is going to want to listen to.  The iTunes store is still thriving.  Don’t forget that it saved the music industry during a time when everyone was downloading everything they wanted for free on file-sharing sites.  If your single is good, people will buy it AND have enough leftover for their $5 latte. 

If they are not buying it, it is your fault.  Time to go back to the drawing board.  You’re a songwriter, so writing songs shouldn’t feel like work anyway.    

Inspiration

I’ve had these tracks from an incredible, very well-known accomplished hit producer sitting in my inbox for like, almost two weeks and I finally had time this week to take a crack at toplining them.  But nothing was coming out.  I never suffer from writer’s block, so I had no idea how to handle it.  The problem wasn’t that the tracks weren’t great - this guy has recently worked on Kanye, Ariana Grande, Bieber, and bunch of other stuff that you’ve definitely heard of, so quality was not the problem.  I was scared of submitting anything less than excellent.  I didn’t want to waste his time and I wanted to make an amazing first impression.  It’s really, really tough to write when the stakes are high and there’s no room for anything less than the best you’ve ever done.  ”Pretty good” isn’t good enough.  With something like this, you have to be fucking great.  This producer isn’t looking for track 10 on the album, he’s looking for the single, so it has to sound like one.  

Anyway, I tried and I tried and I tried all week but everything I hummed to myself or wrote down sounded like garbage, and I was starting to loathe the sight of the tracks in my iTunes library.  I told myself that I’d work on them all day today, but I ended up going to Starbucks, working on my website for a few hours (which needs a serious facelift) and puttering around my apartment.  Soon, it was 5:00 and I hadn’t written anything yet.

I don’t know what changed…maybe it was just getting out of my house this morning and spending some relaxing “me” time with my Apple gadgets at Starbucks, but when I finally sat down at 5:30 to take another stab at these tracks…the most GLORIOUS topline and concept just smacked me in the face.  I can’t say what it was about, but it was one of those things where I had to Google it 10 times to make sure that no one has written about this kind of thing before because it seemed so obvious.  I didn’t see anything, to the best of my knowledge.  The lyrics poured out of me in about 35 minutes, which NEVER happens (and when that does happen, it’s usually because they’re terrible), and a few hours later, I had the whole thing recorded and done.  

I feel so accomplished, so productive, and so proud of myself.  This day started out looking like it was going to be a complete waste and now I feel like I can actually relax and watch “12 Years A Slave” and eat celebratory pizza and ice cream and not feel a shred of guilt.  It’s moments like this that make me remember why I love songwriting so much.  Literally nothing else on this planet gives me this kind of validation, fulfillment and happiness.  It’s wonderful doing what you love.

This is the song that I wish I had written the most.  These just might be the best lyrics ever written…ever.

Oh I built a world around you 
Oh you had me in a dream, I lived in every word you said 
The stars had aligned 
I thought that I found you 
And I don’t wanna love somebody else 

Oh we left it all unspoken 
Oh we buried it alive and now it’s screaming in my head 
Oh I shouldn’t go on hoping 
Oh that you will change your mind and one day we could start again 
Well I don’t care if loneliness kills me 
I don’t wanna love somebody else 

Oh I thought that I could change you 
Oh I thought that we would be the greatest story that I tell 
I know that it’s time to tell you it’s over 
But I don’t wanna love somebody else

Supporters Vs. Enablers

I played my first gig in 2009 at a dive bar in Jamaica Plain, MA.  I didn’t have enough songs for a full set, so I filled the time with several variations of “The Office” theme song as I imagined it covered by different artists, like Ben Folds, Death Cab For Cutie, etc.  The manager was so coked out that he got bored during a slow ballad I sang about my dad and clapped along to hasten the tempo and yelled out “play it faster.”  To this day, I still rush when I sing and play because somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m self-conscious that everyone really just wants the song to be over already.  A large part of me is still incredulous that anyone would ever voluntarily, actively enjoy listening to my music.  But a larger part of me is just so damn confident that I was born to do this.  There’s a never-ending tug-of-war in my head between my insecurity and my arrogance and I think the fact that they’re constantly competing with each other is what keeps me going.  

I am lucky that from day one, I’ve had people around me who supported and believed in me.  I think that’s so important for every creative person.  Early on in your career, you need someone who’s already achieved what you’ve achieved, or someone who has the power to help you, to say, “you’re not quite there yet, but keep sending me stuff and I’ll give you feedback and let you know when you’re ready.”  This is a huge part of the journey from amateur to pro, and you need to be able to set your ego aside and be receptive to the advice that you get.  You also need to be discerning and have a sense of what sounds right versus what sounds like bullshit.  But too many of us are too insecure to look within ourselves - and at what the universe is telling us - and admit that our work isn’t good enough yet.  We come up with excuses, like “I just need more exposure,” “I need more money,” “this whole industry is based on luck.”  If you’re hiding behind these excuses, you will never close the gap between your taste and your abilities, and you will never succeed creatively.    

It’s great to have fans.  But they are a blessing and a curse because they can accidentally be enablers.  They make you feel comfortable, they provide the illusion of security.  They validate the mistakes that you might be making without realizing it.  It’s equally important not only to have fans, but supporters (whose opinions you respect) who believe in you so much that they take the time and effort to give you feedback so you can be even better.  If you can find these people - more importantly, if you are magnetic enough to attract them - you are doing something right.  

Last night, John Ridley won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “12 Years A Slave.”  In his speech, he acknowledged that there was someone early on who told him that his work wasn’t good enough yet, but that he should keep sending her scripts and she would give him feedback until he was ready for the big leagues.  Look where he is today.  

I am still learning, still growing, still improving.  There are days when I’m convinced that I’m the best songwriter in the world and days when success seems totally unattainable.  In those dark moments, it’s my supporters who keep me going.  I realize that if I didn’t have talent, they wouldn’t be taking the time to help me get better.  If I ever win a Grammy, my acceptance speech will sound a lot like John Ridley’s.  

I really miss photography.  I used to wander around Boston with my Rebel XT and my nifty fifty portrait lens and take pictures of random stuff, but then I got serious about music and didn’t have time anymore.  Or money.  Photography is a rich person’s hobby.  I’m so grateful that the iPhone takes good photos and allows me to continue my hobby on my terms.  Found out walking around SoHo this morning that apparently it doesn’t just take selfies??

Caesar dressing recipe

You guys, I made the most epic kale Caesar salad last night. I’m really picky about Caesar dressing. I usually only like Caesar salad in really fancy restaurants because I think everyone else does it wrong. Sorry, is that bratty? No wait, I just admitted that when you take me to a nice restaurant, I’ll probably order a salad. Cheap date over here!

One of the greatest things ever is learning to love, and to be loved in return. The second greatest thing ever is having Caesar salad made at your table for you. I’ve only experienced this incredibly weird and random luxury like twice in my life. Random because…why? Why salad? Why at your table? Who was the first person to ask to see how their salad was made? Of all the things to be curious about. I’d want to see how my steak was made. Anyway, putting the bizarre nature of tableside Caesar salad aside - both times I’ve had it, the dressing has been incredible. And yet, I haven’t paid attention to see how they make it! They revealed the secrets right there in front of me! But I was too busy counting the cherries in my Shirley temple to take note.

So last night, I took a stab at making my own dressing from scratch and it turned out perfectly! Just like it tastes at your table when the pros do it. I will absolutely be making myself kale Caesar salad from now on instead of making reservations for one at nice restaurants around the city to get my fix.

Ingredients:
2 eggs - I used organic but whateverrrr
A tin of anchovies
1 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon Grey Poupon
2.5 lemons
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

First, use the edge of a spoon or a pestle to mash up a clove of garlic. You want it to be all pulpy. Then, sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and keep mashing until it’s a shell of its former self.

Next, throw in six anchovies. Most tins come with 8, so you should be good with six and you’ll have two leftover as a garnish when you’re done. Mash up those anchovies like your life depends on it. When you’re done, you should have kind of a garlic-salt-anchovy paste. Aaaaand yum, you’re done! Just kidding.

Add two egg yolks. You’ll be eating these raw, so hope you’re okay with that. You might die, but hear me out. The reason why I hate so many types of Caesar dressing is because they’re eggless. There’s really no way around it - you gotta use egg to get the right consistency and flavor. It’s a harsh reality of life. So live on the edge and enjoy the raw eggs. If you die, it will have been worth it.

As I was saying, add the two egg yolks of death to your anchovy paste. Make sure you separate out the whites and that you’re just adding yolks. Whisk. Add the Grey Poupon and make some jokes from the commercial. Whisk. Squeeze in the juice from two lemons. Whisk again.

Now comes the tricky part. You’re going to want to add two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil followed by half a cup of vegetable oil, but you have to do it gradually. Just do a little bit at a time as you whisk constantly. You’ll see that each time you add the oil, your consistency will get messed up. Just keep whisking until it looks smooth and creamy again.

Finally, whisk in about 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. I like my dressing really tangy, so I added more lemon when I was done.

And that’s it! This recipe makes enough dressing for about half a bunch of kale, maybe a little more. So if you’re having a dinner party, or you want to binge-eat kale Caesar salad by yourself (sad but we’ve all been there), now you know how much to make. Enjoy!

I Totally Love Valentine’s Day

You guys, I love Valentine’s Day.  I always have.  I don’t know what child on this planet doesn’t like Valentine’s Day.  When you’re little and your teacher makes you decorate a brown paper bag and tape it to your desk like a mailbox and then forces everyone in the class to give everyone else valentines so no one’s feelings get hurt, there’s just no reason to feel bitter.  No one’s dating yet (except for like, THAT couple, like the two kids in your class that you know even at age six are going to end up together, or at least go to prom together and then try to stay together in college before breaking up after winter break.)  All Valentine’s Day is is a day when everyone wears red and pink, and hearts, and you get to eat a lot of baked goods.  It’s like Halloween, except not scary.  I think we can all agree that if you’re a child, there’s nothing to hate about Valentine’s Day.

And then at some point, Valentine’s Day turns ugly.  It’s anxiety-inducing in high school when it becomes symbolic of who is wanted, desired, popular, coupled off - and who isn’t.  The most awkward thing in the world is NOT getting a candygram or singing telegram or whatever, and having to watch all the girls with boyfriends get showered with attention.  And it only gets worse in the real world when people in your office get roses delivered to your desk, or you see on Facebook that childhood friends are getting engaged.  Somehow a diamond ring is a much bigger deal than a singing telegram.  

But I have to be honest, I’ve never felt angry on Valentine’s Day.  I’ve never felt even a twinge of jealousy when I’ve watched other girls receive oversized teddy bears, flowers, jewelry, cards, or chocolates, even in my single days.  I just love Valentine’s Day and I’ve never taken any kind of frustration about being single out on an adorable holiday.  Maybe because I’ve never really been that frustrated about being single, at least not for any significant period of time.  I was entirely single for almost two years before meeting Greg, so it’s not like I don’t know what it’s like to be single.  I very clearly remember my single life, and while it’s not something I would want to go back to (because it would mean not being with the love of my life), it was also pretty great.  Without guys to distract me, the only thing I cared about or focused on was music, and it was during my single years that I built the foundation of my now very promising music career: I put my band together, I wrote a shit ton of songs, I recorded an album, I put together a live show, I made a music video.  You could say music was my boyfriend.

But I never hated Valentine’s Day.  There were times when I wished I had a boyfriend, especially when I was frustrated at work or not sure how to take my music career to the next level.  I wanted someone to complain to, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to hold me when I was upset, someone to cheer me up, someone who totally got me.  But those moments were fleeting.  For the most part, I was pretty happy just living my life and getting shit done.  And when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I got dressed up in pink and red, just like I did when I was in elementary school.  I would treat myself to a box of Whitman’s chocolates from CVS and I’d watch a romantic comedy, and have myself a nice little Valentine’s Day.  When friends or co-workers got attention from their significant others, I was happy for them.  I thought it was lovely.  I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t be single forever, so watching other people be happy in their relationships just made me hopeful that not all relationships have to suck or end badly.  

This year, for the second Valentine’s Day in a row, I’m in a wonderful relationship and today doesn’t really feel like it’s about love.  To me, it’s still about hearts, red-and-pink, cupcakes, and donuts.  That’s honestly all that Valentine’s Day is to me, which is probably why I’ve always liked it so much.  For better or worse, it bears no deeper meaning to me than that.  That’s why it’s never bothered me when I’ve been single, and it doesn’t really feel that special now that I’m in a relationship.  I just like being able to wear an outfit with hearts all over it.

Here’s a song I wrote a year ago for everyone who hates Valentine’s Day.  I really had to get out of my own head for this one because all I wanted to do was scream from the mountaintops that I was in love with Greg.  If I remember correctly, we went out for French pizza that night and saw a fucked-up movie about a wife who stabs her husband.  It was a perfect date night.    

Here’s what I’m wearing today.  

image

image

Ignore how pissed off I look.  I really really fucking love Valentine’s Day, you guys.

In Defense of Auto-Tune

People, people, people.

Stop saying pop stars “can’t sing” if you hear, or think you hear, pitch-correction in their vocals.

Do you really think in today’s world of iPhones and wireless internet and CGI explosions and Netflix and face transplants that producers haven’t figured out a way to correct a singer’s vocals without you noticing it?

It’s a plug-in called Melodyne, and all it does is save the singer a few hours in the studio of nailing a pitch-perfect take.  Sure, I could wail and wail for 20 takes until I belt a high C (which for me is hard) and wear out my voice, OR I can hit something in between a B and a C and my producer can fix it with a little studio magic and preserve my vocal health.

If you’re sitting there saying, “but a true singer wouldn’t need a magic plug-in!” - let me enlighten you.  The number of singers who can actually sing flawlessly without any studio help is…I mean, I can think of Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, maybe Ariana Grande…

Again, it’s not that other artists would never be able to nail those notes.  They would, with enough takes.  But why put all that stress on your voice if you don’t have to?  

And melodyne doesn’t give you a good voice.  All it can do is subtly correct your pitch.  It can’t fix your tone, it can’t put emotion into your voice, it can’t give you attitude.  It also can’t give you a vocal range that you don’t have, give or take a few pitches.  So it’s not because of melodyne that pop stars sound amazing.  They are gifted vocalists, and all melodyne does is make their sessions less stressful.  

I’m getting tired of people yelling “CAN’T SING” the minute they hear a singer with auto-tune.

If a singer is using auto-tune, it’s on purpose.  It’s how they wanted the song to sound.  They wanted it to be 134 beats per minute and they wanted violins in the bridge and they wanted an a capella section after the bridge and they wanted their vocals auto-tuned.  

It’s an effect, the way that the Beatles used automatic double tracking to make it sound like their voices were doubled or the way that Pink Floyd put all that crazy panning, reverb and echo on Dark Side of the Moon.  To say that one effect is okay and another is not is a completely arbitrary judgment call.

So when Jason Derulo, Usher, and Ke$ha slather their vocals in auto-tune, it’s not because they would sound like dying animals without it.  It’s because they were going for a certain aesthetic that melodyne couldn’t achieve.  Sometimes you need auto-tune to get the sound you want.

You may not like their voices.  But that is not the same as saying that these people can’t sing, like they can’t fly or can’t speak Swahili.  

Stop saying that auto-tune represents the downfall of pop music.  It’s still really, really, really fucking hard to make it and the people who do are so unbelievably talented that you wouldn’t even know what to do with yourself if you were in a room with them.  

Auto-tune isn’t some loophole that singers found to sneak their way onto the radio.  

At the end of the day, a true hit song would sound great sung on an acoustic guitar around a campfire.  If you don’t like auto-tune, all that means is that you don’t like the production of the song.  Because the music industry is so competitive today, more competitive than it ever has been before, your song has to be amazing if someone will play it on the radio.  You can bet that almost every song in the top 40 right now would sound great stripped down, acoustic-style.  If you’re busy nit-picking and focusing on the fact that a song has auto-tune, you’re missing the point and I feel sorry for you - sorry that you’re missing out on the pleasure of enjoying a hit song.

You may not like the way that auto-tune sounds, but educate yourself before you complain that singers today can’t sing.  

Know the difference between melodyne and auto-tune.  

And before you dismiss a song the minute you hear pitch-correction in it, try listening with real ears: is the song good?  Do the lyrics move you?  Does the melody get stuck in your head?  Does it make you feel something?  Does it make you think?  

If you still don’t like the song, that’s valid.  Your opinion is your opinion.  But realize that auto-tune is not the reason why the song isn’t working for you.  There’s something else going on with the structure, melody, or lyrics that isn’t connecting with you, so maybe the person to blame is the songwriter.  

Just don’t blame auto-tune.

New York City. This place will kick your ass when the weather sucks but on days like this, anything is possible and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

New York City. This place will kick your ass when the weather sucks but on days like this, anything is possible and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Serious, then freaking out with Michael fucking Brauer.

Serious, then freaking out with Michael fucking Brauer.

Step one: get the sketchiest looking door possible

Step one: get the sketchiest looking door possible