Why I write songs and about being an artist

I was listening to Joe Pug’s Podcast, The Working Songwriter Podcast. I’ve gone back to listen to quite a few of them. I discovered a few things:

  • Josh Ritter stammers a lot – or did in that interview. His songwriting is spectacular.
  • James McMurtry is a pretty dry interview.
  • Steve Earle knows a lot of people.
  • Shakey Graves is a thinker.

And the Shakey Graves interview was my favorite so far. My oldest daughter tried to introduce me to Shakey Graves a few times. Now I’m listening.

He has an analytical approach to his songwriting career. I encourage any aspiring songwriter and performer to listen to it the interview. You can glean a LOT of insight into how he approached getting out there and getting noticed. And there are elements of it that reminded me what I did when I started performing and what I got away from.

I’ll divulge a little of that later.

What people think I do

I went through an exercise on Facebook a few months ago and asked people who I have known for awhile, acquaintances, what I did for a living. Here are their answers.

  • I’m not exactly sure. (I got this waaayyy too much)
  • I think you do website stuff.
  • You are a tech guru/IT guy.
  • You are a social media guru.
  • I know you wrote a book.
  • You play music.
  • You’re a motivational speaker.

Well, first, I suppose there is truth across the board in the above responses. But I found the exercise frustrating.

My income production is primarily through consulting and writing software. I’ve done that since 1989. But I get book royalties, get paid to speak now and again, and make a smattering of dollars with guitar in hand.

With that being said, my favorite activities are writing (almost anything), songwriting, performing, and speaking on stage. That doesn’t mean I don’t love solving technical problems. I do. It can be interesting, personally rewarding, and pays decent.

In a way, it is a bit of a gilded trap. I’d love to get out and perform more but it can be hard to justify. The analytical mind be damned.

Recently, however, I re-instituted my band, Arrogant Sage, and started working on getting booked and performing. I played a few songs out the other day and a friend, recently introduced to that side of my world, asked a couple questions:

“Matt, why do you write songs?” and “Why don’t you do this more often?”

The first question to me is curious and the second is baffling! So I decided to write a self-conducted interview about my songwriting. I’ll provide brief answers to questions I get asked a lot. I’ll start with my friend’s questions above.


The Songwriting Interview

Early this morning I had a chance to sit down with Matthew Moran, a Los Angeles based songwriter, also known affectionately as “Me”. We didn’t mince words and got right into the topic of songwriting, performing, inspiration, and more. Enjoy the interview.

matthew moran songwriter

at Holy Grounds in El Sereno

Q: Why do you write songs

A: First, I talk too much. I always have. Words tumble out. I’ve apologized for this on many occasions. I love telling stories – and I’ve got some good ones. I started writing songs from the time I learned guitar. I learned the following chords: C, F, G7, and Am. With those I could play “The Crawdad Song” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” – you don’t need much more than that.

And a lot of my songs still don’t use much more than that.

I don’t really have to work much to write songs. They typically happen fast if I stop what I’m doing and spend a little time. They often happen when I don’t stop and spend time. Like when I’m driving around or hiking.

The question “why” is mostly moot. I don’t have a reason. It’s not spiritual for me. It’s not me listening to a sacred/secret muse. I just still have words tumbling out of me.
(Jesus Christ – I’ll create shorter answers. I promise!)

Q: Why don’t you do this more often?
A: She meant performing, so let me address that. I need to properly allocate my time. Booking gigs is time-consuming. I don’t mind it but I’d rather someone else do it for me. Anyone? Anyone?

Q: Do you write the music first or the lyrics?
A: Yes!

Okay.. let’s unpack this a bit. Early in my songwriting and for years, I came up with chord progressions. They sounded like something. For instance, sad or happy or thoughtful or ??? Then, the words came from that.

But then I realized that I write poetry and other prose. In those instances, I write to an idea rather than waiting on an idea. One night I left an acoustic showcase where I met Jim Pipkin/James Gahar – a FINE songwriter from Arizona. Inspired by him, I wrote the chorus to my song, Lonely Mile Man, on the drive home. A few weeks later, I decided to write a “Mexico song” and South to Mexico was born.

It has made me more prolific – MUCH more prolific. And I was already prolific. I have about 150 songs completed that I like. I may have lyrics jotted down for another 100 or 150 more.

And so, I still play around with chord progressions, a melody, and then words. Other times, words happen. And other time, I write down a concept and then write lyrics and music later.

So, yes!

Q: Who is your favorite songwriter or greatest influence?
A: Yes!

I know… that was funny, right?

Truth. This changes minute by minute. And if I create a list, I’ll be surprised by who I forgot. Also, it is a little bit depressing… their songwriting intimidates me.

But, for the sake of answering, here are a few:

James Gahar, Bill Wickham (two guys I met in Arizona), Josh Ritter, James McMurtry, Shawn Mullins, Lucinda Williams, Ray LaMontagne, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Burr, Rand Bishop, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pete Wentz, Brendan Urie, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Ask me tomorrow and the list will be different… or the same…See, I forgot Tom Petty and I just talked about him with a venue owner last night…. The list is insufficient.

Q: What is Arrogant Sage?
A: An inside joke. Me and my band.

I was chatting with someone on Facebook about a technical problem they were having. Then, they asked me a relationship question, which, as a single, twice-divorce guy, is hilarious! They liked my answer and said, “You are a sage.” I replied, “I know.” and they said, “An arrogant one.” And voila! I sent a text to my drummer, “I have our band name, ‘Arrogant Sage.'” He replied, “I love it!”

Q: What are your musical goals?
A: Yes! (stupid, I know).

I want to play my music out more. Entertain some people. Have fun. But, I also want to get someone younger, prettier, and more talented than me to play them. Maybe “The Punk”.

Q: Do you get stage fright? Do you get writer’s block?
A: No!

Again, some explanation is in order. I could play to 10,000 people – no problem. A small group of friends is a MUCH tougher an audience. They know you. They know your just some kid from the neighborhood who played D&D, smoked pot, and did a few petty crimes. (no one was injured) So who the hell are you to think you can be a songwriter and performer?

Yep… those thoughts happen more than you know.

But I LOVE the stage. The energy when someone / anyone connects with a song and you can see it, feel it. There are very few things that compare.

I’ve heard someone say it is better than sex. To that I say, they’ve never had sex with me. 😉 But being on stage is pretty damned good.


Why do I write songs?
Because I do.

What I got away from

I’ve been writing songs since I was 12 or so. I rarely performed out. As my first marriage was headed toward the great crash of 2008, I was encouraged to get out and play my music. I did.

I started playing everywhere around Arizona. Coffeehouses, bars, open-mics, backyards, the park, songwriting events, etc. I started getting booked all over – opened for a couple national acts, wrote a lot more, recorded some stuff, grew my mailing list, etc. I started doing house concerts and booked a series of house concerts starting in Los Angeles and taking me all the way to Chicago. I did that a few times.

Upon moving back to California, I half-started and stopped my band, playing out solo, recording, etc. We received a stellar review in Music Connection Magazine! I had to re-establish my consulting plus I wrote my second book.

And then I got stuck. I recently discussed this with my manager and with a couple friends; my struggle with, what I will call, “artist identity.”

I’m a business / technology consultant, software developer, author of a technology career book and associated articles, and I speak at business events about business topics. Where does being a performing songwriter fit in there? Mind you, I’m okay with someone else having multiple talents and putting them out there. But, personally, it presents a strange barrier. As though, if I wear a more rock and roll look/feel during my performances, that I’m somehow lying about who I am.

We are going deep into some self-inflicted psychological bullshit here. It will be explored a bit more but…

In the meantime, I’ve started booking gigs, talking to small venues, rehearsing with my band, and in generally, saying, “Don’t be a wussy!” and allowing myself to put the songwriter up front and center. I’d rather write and perform and share that part of me, while I figure out my “artist identity” struggle on my own time.

And maybe that’s just it – right? Maybe the doing is the being. I say that to others all time. I might want to take that arrogant sage’s advice.

In addition to that, I’m programming the shit out of a database later today.

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