NZ Songwriters have their own take on what makes songwriting a vibrant, creative practice. Ciaran McMeeken talks about his view.
Sharing the Creative Space
Edited by Chelsea Evans + Abby Wolfe)
Photos: Amanda Ratcliffe - @amandashootsbands
I used to be an opening batsmen. I travelled to India and the UK to play and I kept the bench rather toasty on the side of the footy field too. I drank rather large with my mates on Saturday nights and I smoked a lot of cannabis. I was sitting alone in a damp flat when I had epiphany. The next day I unenrolled from university and set off to pursue music. It all started off well but the world can be a heavy place for an 18 year old. I got lost and I lost myself. I moved home with mum and dad. I started writing songs. I shared those songs with the world, which changed the game.
Songwriting and the creative process for me has been an incredibly cathartic exercise. The act of innovating, expressing and sharing is therapy for me and has enabled me to pull myself out of the mud.
I moved to Auckland from Dunedin in late 2014 to take the next step in my music journey. There I met esteemed producer Greg Haver. He introduced me to the world of co-writing and encouraged me to go and write songs with other people. I took this advice and ran with it. Over the last 3 years I have written over 200 songs and I’d say for about 70% of them, I have shared the creative space with other humans.
Last week, 5 of us jumped into a corolla station wagon armed with guitars, pens and notebooks for a week of connection and collaboration. We arrived, unpacked our things, put our phones on flight mode and dove in. Typically, a session starts with what we like to call the psychology hour. An open and safe space is created for us all to talk honestly about what the hell is going on in our lives. Addiction. Spirituality. Sex. Relationships. You name it, we go there. Warts and all. We offer contributions and delve deeper into things we resonate with. Generally, we are all going through similar stuff, so we all have an abundance of ideas to throw in the mix. Within the scribbles on our 1B5s is pure gold. Filled with metaphors, chorus hooks, rhymes and juicy content. You’d be surprised how much goodness comes from expressing yourself! That then becomes the blueprint of an incredibly powerful, authentic song.
I can’t emphasize enough how special it is to be able express my most, shall we say, colourful secrets, in a safe communal environment. Where not only am I supported and accepted, but because it is a creative environment, a tangible product is born from the content, that can then be shared.
I am now a full-time professional musician and songwriter. I collaborate and connect deeply with writers several times a week. I don’t often drink (except for the odd beer and whiskey with the old man), I practice yoga, meditate daily, and I have a beautiful friend group. I’m stoked to say that I’m thriving.
What I see possible for New Zealand is a creative, collaborative culture of musicians who are connected, empowered and working together. I see tall poppy syndrome being a story of old. I see the ‘poor musician’ mantra being abolished. Mark my words, no longer will artists be asked “aww cool, soooo do you make a living from doing that?”. To be a songwriter will be as respected as being an All Black and New Zealand will be up there with Sweden and the US as big players in the music export industry.
This will be the model of the future and New Zealand will lead as an example. An absolute hub of creativity, collaboration and community. There will be no need for musicians to leave our shores in pursuit of the dream because the dream will be right here. Ingrained in our culture and being.
No more DIY. No more tall poppy bullshit. No more isolation. Let’s start a new wave of connection and write some incredible songs.