Today’s guest is John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting music fame. In addition to writing and performing music, John is also an inspirational speaker.
John shares with us how he views art and creativity, how he gets out of a funk, and the importance of doing things you love. He encourages us to find new creative challenges in addition to our main interest. He also reminds us that we are entrepreneurs, and we have to figure out new ways to make our creative businesses work as times change.
[Photo credit: Jeremy Cowart]
[00:00:07.690] – Kitty
Welcome to Write Now Workshop Podcast, where you can write a book and change the world, I’m your host, Kitty Bucholtz. And this is episode 236, Music to Last a Lifetime. An interview with John Ondrasik coming to you on Thursday, February 25th, 2021.
I want to start this episode by telling you find the bookmark button or the save button on your podcast app. Or if you’re watching this on the computer, save this episode. You are going to want to come back to it whenever you need a boost. This has been one of the most encouraging episodes that I can remember recording. And I have had some amazing guests. I think that you and I have both enjoyed just about every single person. When I say just about, I think I mean, every single person who’s been on the show. But today’s episode just really made my heart feel like, yes, this is someone who’s been in a business of creating for so long. And it hasn’t always been easy and he hasn’t stopped doing it. And sometimes he has found new ways to do it or he does it around something else that comes into his life.
And I’m thinking this is exactly the kind of encouragement that we all need, because I really believe that today is not the right day for you to decide to quit. Maybe it is, but probably it’s not. And I want you to listen to this episode, and at the end, you ask yourself, what do I think is success for me? Because maybe what I’m doing is actually enough to make me happy right now. Maybe I have some goals and plans and a specific path that I’m on that I think is going to lead me even closer to the things that would make me happy. Am I happy enough to keep on going?
I hope you are. And if you’re not, that is totally fine. Nobody said that you have to do this forever. But if you can’t stop writing, if you can’t stop making up stories, whether they’re in songs or in books or in some other format, then I just want to encourage you with this episode, I think that you’re going to tell yourself, yes, this is totally worthwhile, what I do matters because what you do does matter.
First of all, no matter who you are, what you do matters. You can make a positive difference in the world, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, the smallest things could have a ripple effect that you have absolutely no awareness of. And I think in some ways that’s something that’s like a gift that God gives us so that we can not be too full of ourselves, being like I know that I can positively influence every person around me today.
[00:03:01.510] – Kitty
The thing is that we can and we should. That is my belief. I do believe that your book or your song or your screenplay, whatever it is that you’re working on, can change the world in a positive way and make it a better place for other people. And I think that that is totally worth all the time and energy and sometimes blood, sweat and tears that we put into it. If you’re wondering about the blood, sometimes for me it’s just a matter of picking up a knife in the kitchen to make a sandwich and thinking about my story at the same time. And then, yes, that is why John does not, my John, does not allow me to use knives anymore, because sometimes I forget that I am not in this world when I am playing with dangerous objects.
But sorry for the aside, honestly, the things that you do and the things that you’re thinking about, they matter. And if you’re in a place where you have a half finished book that you’ve really been wanting to work on, but you just can’t get yourself to do it, there’s this place inside my heart that sometimes I really, really want to work on something, but I’m afraid that I can’t do it. I’m afraid that I can’t do it as well, to give it the substance that it has in my head, that it won’t come out on paper. And there have been times when I have set something aside because I’m like, no, I can’t. I just can’t do it. I can’t do it by myself.
If there’s any chance that you feel like just maybe somebody could help you get this book out and make it something that you’re really proud of and happy with, give me a call. Now, when I say call, of course, you know, Internet calls. Go to my website, WriteNowWorkshop.Com/writingcoach, or send me an email at Kitty at KittyBucholtz.Com, because one of the things that I do and love is helping other people finish their books.
The two things that are really the most important things in my creative life, which pretty much make up my life, is writing books and helping other people finish their books. So I’ve got the Finish Your Book membership group, where we get together twice a week and do writing sprints, and I love that because there’s so much energy, there’s so many books being written. It just makes me super happy. I never want to get off the call with people, even though it’s my bedtime when it ends.
And then there’s also the one-on-one coaching where I’m specifically working just with you to get your book the way that you want it, or the Self-Publish Your Book coaching, which is your book’s already done, it’s already edited, it’s ready to go, you just are not sure exactly what you’re supposed to do to get it up on the various online stores. And all of these things, I do them because I really do believe that it might be your book or this other book of yours or this book of mine or this other book of mine that helps people in some way that is worthwhile. And if that is just something where I’ve had a really long day at work and I just really need to get away and escape into some other world where things work out and people fall in love and stay in love and the bad guy gets it in the end. I’ve been reading a lot of books where I’m just, I need to read a book where the bad guy gets it in the end.
[00:06:23.490] – Kitty
So if you think that there’s any chance that you just need a little bit of help and encouragement and direction, then let me know because I want to help you. I don’t want your book to never be written if it was always meant to be. So there’s me on my, you know, I would call it an apple crate, except for that, it’s really where my heart is, so here is me with my heart on my sleeve saying it’s important. Keep writing. It really could be something amazing, even if it’s just amazing to a few people and it moves them in some way that makes the world a better place, then I don’t see how that could possibly be a bad thing or not worth your time.
OK, so I’m going to say I’m going to stop talking about that. Also, if you are thinking about possibly self-publishing your book, you can get the Self-Publish Your Book Checklist from my website, also at WriteNowWorkshop.com. And remember that the show notes and transcripts for every episode are at podcast.writenowworkshop.com. You can go /episodes and just search for the episode number. Remember, this one is 236 and I’m going to put a link to John’s TEDx talk in there too, because it was another just really encouraging bit of, you can do it. Keep going. This is how long it takes sometimes. Sometimes it’s a lot more work than you think.
[00:07:49.350] – Kitty
Sometimes this piece comes out so perfectly and wonderfully and quickly and this piece takes you six months or, you know, in the book world, this book came out in two or three months and that book took seven years. I’ve got a couple of those seven year books. So anyway, I want to give you all the encouragement you possibly can. So in addition to today’s episode, definitely check out John’s TEDx talk again, link in the show notes. And right now, I think we just need to go right into the conversation with John. Enjoy.
[00:08:25.290] – Kitty
Today’s guest is John Ondrasik. John has soared in every aspect of the music industry, from songwriting to producing to performing. This Los Angeles native better known as Five For Fighting, a hockey penalty moniker he chose to pay homage to his beloved L.A. Kings, has been a one man team unto himself, constantly shooting and scoring while setting the bar higher each time. His collection of heartfelt songs have found their place in the Great American Songbook and continue to stand the test of time. “Superman”, the worldwide hit single, went platinum and became an anthem for the heroes of 9/11. “100 Years” went double platinum and continues to give every age group a lifetime’s moment of reflection and nostalgia. John likes to say he was a 20 year overnight success who faced the rejection and struggles not uncommon to aspiring singer songwriters. Yet there’s more to him than the music. His off the ice endeavors are equally, if not more, impressive. He performs for the USO and has found a new hat in inspirational keynote, speaking engagements across the globe. So, yes, in addition to making music, John is making a difference. He’s pulled a hat trick of sorts, not just being an accomplished singer and songwriter, but an advocate for causes that are important to us all. Welcome, John.
[00:09:44.640] – John
Thank you, Kitty. Thank you for the kind intro.
[00:09:47.620] – Kitty
I have to say, just trying to figure out how to narrow it down after you get so many things going on in life. Sometimes people have so many cool things to say and there’s a lot of really interesting stuff on your bio. I encourage anybody who already knows that they love your music, Five For Fighting, to just go look at your website some more. Also we should start with this, I’m from Michigan and you’re an L.A. Kings fan. So we just have to know, like, can we still be friends? Is that going to work?
[00:10:21.560] – John
If you’re a hockey fan, how can you not love the Detroit Red Wings? They are the hockey team of hockey teams and great organization and legends galore. So we hockey fans stick together.
[00:10:37.570] – Kitty
And in addition to the fact that I’m just going to love the the Red Wings for the rest of my life, no matter if they’re doing well or not doing well, I mean, you can’t be mad at somebody who had twenty four years of getting to the Stanley Cup, so.
[00:10:51.360] – John
Oh yeah. And they were in the playoffs every year for like three decades. And, you know, everybody’s got to kind of go down and come back with both the Kings and the Red Wings. Now we’re what we call rebuilding. So I’m sure I have more confidence in the Red Wings getting it right than the Kings. But, you know, hey, I never thought we’d win a Stanley Cup and we got to see my dream come true. So that’s my hockey dreams, at least.
[00:11:15.260] – Kitty
And you’ll be pleased in your seventy five degree LA weather today. Let’s see, it’s February as we’re talking. And yesterday, my husband and I went for a walk and there were kids playing hockey on the ice. And I was like, oh, no, they’re going to see you, it’s like an old woman because they’re like 14 maybe. And I’m like, I just want to go out there and just play around a little bit .
[00:11:39.240] – John
Put on your skates, you know,
[00:11:41.120] – Kitty
Wouldn’t that be, so fun. So listen, let’s start with kind of you’ve got great information on your bio. People who love you probably already know tons about you. But let’s focus a little bit more on the writing side. So what was the first thing? Start wherever you like. But I was just thinking about, you know, you started playing music when you were very young, but then you were a teenager, if I understand, when you started writing. So how did you get into the writing and how do you think it stuck with you?
[00:12:12.180] – John
You know, I was very fortunate, my mom was a piano teacher. She was a piano major, went to USC and kind of a classical pianist, and she started teaching me and my sister, very young, to play the piano, which was great because, you know, for the piano, the younger you start, the better. And she would kind of teach at the local elementary school and we would do musicals. And, you know, like many kids, I was Tony in West Side Story with a squeaky chipmunk voice. And she was very wise, about 13 or 14 when I really didn’t want to practice the piano anymore. I want to go ride my skateboard. She let me quit. And which I think was wise because if I had the passion for it, I’d keep going. If not, then I’d find another passion. And of course, I had my Burt Bacharach songbook and my Steven Schwartz Godspell and the Beatles five thousand songs that I would play. And then, like many writers, I fell in love for the first time and I had to write a song for her and I was 15. And ironically, I actually wrote it on guitar, which is weird because I’m a piano player my whole childhood. But I wrote a song for a girl, you know, and as it usually does it ends in heartbreak. So I wrote another song about that and I just kind of had a passion for writing. And I was such a music fan and especially of the piano players, Elton and Billy Joel were in their prime and Joni Mitchell and although I was a rocker, too, I love AC/DC and Zeppelin, and I love the singers, I loved Freddie Mercury. I love Steve Perry. So I was just so wrapped up in music. So I, I kind of bought the studio stuff and locked myself in my room for many years and wrote hundreds of bad songs. And but, you know, it was kind of my my passion. It kept me out of trouble. And it was a way I could kind of, you know, get out my teen angst. And I just loved it. And for me, it’s great to be able to sing, able to perform. But that kind of moment that you play a song for the first time that you’ve written and you think it has something that’s, you know, all the writers on this Zoom call understand that, you know, you work for months, sometimes a year to get that five minutes of gratitude and satisfaction. And that keeps me coming back.
[00:14:39.900] – Kitty
Yeah. As a novelist, I definitely feel the same. You know, you’re reading books and you think, oh my gosh, stories and books are the best thing ever in the whole wide world. And then your childhood musings kind of turn into something later that you’re like, this is so weird that I don’t stop like you would think. I always thought when I was in college, that’s when I’ll stop. I’ll put away childish things. Yeah, but I actually start getting more serious. I was like, you know, I don’t want to just like, make little stories that maybe just a couple of people read. I want to see if I could write an actual book that people are like, wow, when’s the next one coming out? When did you start showing your music to your friends? And how is the encouragement or a lot of times lack thereof? There’s also a lot of lack of encouragement among…
[00:15:31.710] – John
Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, I was very fortunate that my parents supported me. It wasn’t unconditional. I think my mom, being a musician, understood the odds, but they were like, all right, as long as you’re going to college, we’ll support your music. And then once I was out of college, you know, as long as you’re working, you know, we’ll support you. And so I really have that support and kind of emotional understanding, even though I knew they were kind of just waiting for me to get over it. But I couldn’t get over it. And I’m not, kind of just like you, I was never content, unfortunately, I wasn’t content enough to just write my songs and play them for my friends and be happy. You know, I had this ambition to do it and to be heard. I never needed to be, you know, David Lee Roth. But I wanted to be heard and in a perfect world, make a living at music.
[00:16:30.780] – John
And I was going to go over the cliff till I just couldn’t do it. And circumstances were moving that way. I was actually incredibly lucky for the stars to align. I didn’t have success till my late 20s and early 30s, which is unheard of in music. You know, if you don’t have hits by the time you’re twenty two, twenty three as a pop artist, you’re, you better go find a real job. But I just kept pushing at it and got lucky and my girlfriend who became my wife was a music publisher and behind my back, she would still get my demos to people and everybody would say, oh, he’s a good songwriter, but not a good singer, or a good singer, but not a great song, you know. And but for me, it kind of worked. And as I said, there’s a thousand reasons why it shouldn’t. But, you know, I did enough to give myself a chance. And I’ve been incredibly blessed to do it, you know, for twenty-five years.
[00:17:24.450] – Kitty
Yeah, that’s amazing too. Yeah. Twenty-five years. When people get past the five year mark, I think there’s a lot to celebrate.
[00:17:32.580] – John
Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean just to make, I tell you, when I talk to aspiring artists and songwriters or novelists or artists, you know, they talk about, oh, what’s it like to have a number one song or, you know, to be on TV or and I say, you know, I have one wish for you, my wish for you is, you know, when you’re my age and in your mid 50s, that if you want to do a concert or a show or sell a book, somebody will buy a ticket or somebody will buy your book or somebody’ll come to your book signing because you’re still doing it and you have a career. And to me, that’s what I’ve always kind of dreamed of. And I think for most writers, they’d be very happy with that.
[00:18:13.020] – Kitty
Yeah, definitely. And there’s always something, there are things that push you up and things that pull you down. And a lot of times it’s a different thing every month or every year there’s something. This last year has been really tough for a lot of writers that I know. Some people like me have gotten more done than they’ve gotten done, more done in the space of a year than I probably have ever gotten done in the space of a year. But a lot of my friends, I was just concerned that they felt like they were losing their mojo. And for some people, they have traditional book contracts and they’re going to have to find a way to work this through because this is their job and somebody is counting on them. But there’s so many other people who either because they’re self-publish or because they haven’t been published at all, they’re in charge of their own schedule. And I was just like, what can I do to help encourage them, that today is not the day to quit, even though it feels like it sometimes? What are some times where you’ve gone through that? And how did you get to the other side?
[00:19:17.290] – John
Yeah, it’s hard, I mean, if you just want to talk about this, last year, I think I’ve spoken to many of my creative friends, too, and I don’t care what level they’re at, whether they’re just starting, whether they’re struggling, whether they have sold three million books or have a television show. I think just the depression of the world going through the pandemic, you can’t help but feel that. And first of all, you don’t really want to write about it. You know, usually we want to write about our pain, but it’s kind of like really, you know. And so I think people are just kind of waiting for it to get over and try to find some energy again and some life. For me personally, it’s been very odd because beyond music, I have, we have a family business that I’ve kind of had to immerse myself in because my father’s eighty two and quarantined. So I haven’t hardly done any music besides, you know, some, you know, video concerts and keynotes and just kind of coming home and being frustrated and upset about everything and just pounding on the piano like I did when I was 17. I haven’t done that in like 30 years. And it reminded me why music was so crucial to my life, because it was my… Vice isn’t the right word, it kind of replaces the vice, but instead of doing unhealthy things to deal with my pain and anguish, I would just bang on the piano for two hours and sweat and scream and have no idea what I just did. But I know when I was done, I felt better. So
[00:20:51.040] – Kitty
[00:20:51.700] – John
This year music has kind of been for me, a savior again. And but, you know, so much of the arts is so boring and pedestrian because it’s not romantic, it’s not exciting, it’s discipline, it’s writing when you don’t want to, you know, it’s like if you’re a runner and it’s raining and it’s 6:00 in the morning, some of us are going to get up and run in the rain. Some of us are going to be like, no, it’s too cold. I’m going to sleep in, you know, as an artist, if you really you know, I’m not one of those prodigy songwriters that can write, you know, I’m not Paul McCartney either, he can just whip out classic after classic. I have to write lots of songs to get a few that might be heard and worthy. So, so much of it is just work ethic, writing when you don’t want to, understanding that sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board. I have, not to drop names, but I’m very good friends with Stephen Schwartz, the musical writer, which is awesome because I started with his songbook as a seven-year-old and even he’ll tell me, you know, when he wrote Wicked and you hear Wicked, you’re like, oh God, that song is so amazing. And he would tell me, oh, yeah, that song I wrote seven times, I threw six of them away. But to do that, you have to have discipline and you also have people around you that you trust. So, so much of what we do is not magic and it’s not romantic. It’s just crafting. So I think even through this hard time, you need to find ways to create not only for your commercial success, but for your soul.
[00:22:30.220] – Kitty
Yes. Yeah, I, I had a business person, kind of a mentor suggests to me that just for the next three months, just to get you through this, this growth spurt in your business, why don’t you just put the writing to the side for a little bit and focus on this other part of your business? And it was all I could do to get off the Zoom call with her without crying. And then I ran to my husband and I bawled for like 20 minutes. I could not stop crying. And then a different business coach later was like, wait, wait, wait. If anyone tells you just put off doing this creative thing for a little while and you start crying like that, you cannot put it off. So we have to figure out a way to keep it in your schedule and you’re going to have to work hard on the other part of your business because obviously you can’t like that’s who you are. And I was thinking, oh, my gosh. Now, like, I feel like I don’t know if you are, like, this way, but a lot of writers I know are, so I’m just going to say it, like I hear this other voice in my head talking to the main voice in my head, going, oh my gosh, it’s just like Michael Hauge when he teaches screenwriting and teaching novelists to like, what is the one thing your character says, I could do anything, but don’t ask me to… And I’m thinking, oh, my gosh, I just answered that question accidentally in my own life. But it’s funny the way that who we are brings out the best in our arts and our art brings out the best of who we are.
[00:24:06.250] – John
No, I think that’s true and also I think we have to realize we are human beings, too, and it’s hard to do this. It’s hard enough to just create anything. But then when we have to be judged by it, whether it’s our friends or family, critics, our peers, the public, and then we have real life things about I got to pay the rent, you know, and then we have our inspirations and our idols and like, oh, my God, this is not as good as Leonard Cohen, you know, like all that, all that stuff. So it’s hard. And I think, you know, we have to give ourselves a break sometimes, too. But I remember Billy Joel, you know, just you hear him talking about songwriting and he’s like, you know, if I’m not sitting at the piano working, I’m not writing a song. So part of it is just doing it. And you do it enough, you’ll get better. And every once in a while, at least as a songwriter, you know, lightning strikes. And but, you know, we have to give ourselves a break, too. And there are practical tools I think you can use to get out of funks. Sometimes if I’m just not feeling it, I’ll change my environment. I’ll just go somewhere else, you know, whether it’s hiking behind the house or go to Rome or whatever it is, just change my world view. Just see something different or I’ll put on some music I haven’t heard a long time. And I think there’s a lot of practical tools we can use to kind of get out of our funk. Yeah. You know, write something different, you know, if you’re a songwriter, write a short story. You know, if you’re a novelist, you know, write a song, just do something that’s not necessarily your wheelhouse, but kind of gets us excited. And also, we don’t have pressure to be great at it. Right. So we’re just creating something for ourselves, which is what we started doing in the beginning before we got caught up in all the rest of this. So I do think there are some practical tools you can use to get out of those times.
[00:26:05.620] – Kitty
Yeah, definitely. We, my husband is a computer animator, so we’ve lived in California, Australia, New Zealand and now Sweden for, you know, films and now video games. And we were taking this 14 hour flight to Sydney to move there for the second time. I don’t know what it was. It’s honestly embarrassing. But I’m going to I’m going to say it anyway. I’m not sure that I’ve ever told anyone. So 14 hours, you’ve got, you know, one hundred and fifty movies to choose from, to entertain you so that you don’t want to throw yourself out of the metal tube. And I was watching Hannah Montana. It was new, newish. And I was like, I’ll just watch this. And I loved it. And then I was asking the stewardess, do you have any scrap paper? And I wrote two songs on the way to Sydney, of course I’m not a songwriter, but in my mind I, oh my gosh, my creativity just, like, went crazy. And I’m like, oh my gosh, I have to keep this up. Like, what else can I do that will keep me just excited about getting back into the book, even though I’m just like, should I actually try to play these on my guitar? Or I mean, like I’m not a songwriter, but something hit the button. And I was just like, oh my gosh, go with it. Go with it.
[00:27:26.320] – John
Yeah. I mean, sometimes I think that, you touched on something, is you go back and find something you love, you know, whether it’s a television show or a record or a book or a movie, you know, every five years I’ll watch “The Song Remains the Same” by Zeppelin, you know, and it’ll be like, oh, you know. I’ll watch “Stripes” or I’ll read Steppenwolf or something, you know, again, just to kind of remind yourself of that joy and it’ll take you back to that time, you have that joy, too. So I do love, I do dabble in short stories. And you know, kind of the keynote thing is it’s been fun for me because it’s still a way to express myself, but it’s a different thing. It’s not the thing I’ve been doing twenty-five years. It’s not singing “Superman” for the ten thousandth time, even though I sing it in the Keynote. But it’s an intellectual challenge too. So I think you’re always kind of looking for ways to stimulate yourself, especially if you can be doing the same thing over and over again. How can, like for songwriting now I’m not making records, but I’m trying to create projects where I can write songs for those projects, whether it’s television or film or musical theater, because they’re new and interesting. And I’m excited about it instead of just kind of making a record in this world where records don’t exist and doing whatever, all my friends from the 2000s are miserable doing. So sometimes you kind of look, you know, try to change the field to play a little bit, maybe find a fun way to do what you love to do, but maybe in a different format or maybe a different commercial venture.
[00:28:57.220] – Kitty
I love that. That’s such a great idea. And there’s so many things, on the one hand making a living with art, a lot of challenges, on the other hand, there are so many different directions that sometimes I have to remind myself or my friends, I’m like, we’re creative people that’s what we are, we can think of another way to do this. You know, like people are figuring out ways to do writers conferences online. Writers conferences at one point for probably at least twenty five years that I’m aware of, because those were years that I was going, this was how you met agents and editors and got your book known, but now people are just figuring it out. OK, so how can we recreate the experience? But I love the people who are like, how can we not recreate the experience but create a better experience? That’s even better on video when everybody’s at their computers instead of being able to walk around and talk to people. So there’s so many exciting things that we can figure out other ways to do. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent because this is just one of my hot buttons.
[00:30:07.290] – John
No, I think you’re right. I mean, you see that in music. I mean, the music industry has kind of been decimated in the business, but you’ve seen opportunities for songwriters and creators to make a living at it. You don’t need to sell a million records and owe the record company, a million dollars, you know, you can build a fanbase online, you can sell 50 thousand records, you can sell 750 tickets in a city, and you can build on that. And then you have a real career. And, you know, you don’t have to let some guy or some record company president tell you if you’re worthy or not. The audience will do that. The public will do that. So in certain ways, it’s an amazing time. If if you’re an entrepreneur now, you have to have other skills beyond just your talent. You have to be able to sell yourself. You have to understand business. But we live in an age where I could hear a song on the radio right here and I can karma it and, you know, two minutes later it’s on my Spotify and the artist is getting paid. And not only that, if somebody could like Bruno Mars and go, oh yeah, if you like Bruno Mars you might like Five For Fighting and they can find me. So there are things out there that as entrepreneurs, which we have to be, yeah, because we can’t rely on anyone else, that we can take advantage of. You know, my wife is writing a book and she’s going to self-publish it on Amazon, but she’s doing some keynotes and she’s using her relationships from the music business. And so it’s also exciting in that way. But we can’t rely on the old way, which I think you were getting at. We can’t assume that the way it used to work is how it’s going to work anymore, because, frankly, if you look at all these record companies that try to do it the old way, it didn’t. And that’s why they’re struggling. But you see a lot of new artists who are making it on their own.
[00:31:47.130] – Kitty
Yeah. Now, you probably get asked this question from friends and just people who are talking to you or see you at some place, OK? Not to see you out right this second, but John and I get asked from friends and friends of friends, my teenager wants to be a writer. My teenager wants to be an animator. Can you please tell them something? And sometimes I can tell that the parent wants me to say what I’m not going to say, which is don’t do this, this is too difficult. But John and I tend to say, listen, and we sometimes have done this with the teacher in the room, come to think of it. But we just get so into what we’re talking about, we forget that we might be offending the teachers and the parents slightly. Our view happens to be the same. And we tell kids, listen, you should absolutely be pursuing your passion, do not let anyone stop you. Keep in mind, though, that you do have to pay the rent and eat and, you know, you might need a car depending on where you live. So find something else that you’re good enough at and willing to do for those things so that you can focus your time and energy on actually doing the creation where you are not putting so much pressure on it that you actually break it. What are the things that you say to young people that are thinking- I kind of really think this songwriting or the band that I created, I think this could be a thing.
[00:33:14.310] – John
No, we’re kind of of the same mind, and it’s not just other people’s kids, I have a daughter at NYU majoring in musical theater. I have a daughter who’s feeling all those things we did. And my parents, as I said, they’re very supportive but there were caveats that went with that. It wasn’t like drop out, drop out, go join the band and rock on, because you know one thing when I talk to some of the younger kids, like, well, I need the freedom and I need to write and to find my muse and I tell them, if you don’t have a Plan B, you actually don’t have freedom. Freedom is knowing that you’re financially secure and you can pay your rent and to write. I have a lot of friends who did that. They dropped out and they just pursued their music. And then they’re making minimum wage somewhere. And they didn’t have time to do their music because they were working 60 hours a week to pay their rent. So I do think having that Plan B gives you freedom to pursue that craft. And I also tell parents, it’s like if your kids have the passion for it, they’ll figure it out. Because you also have Little League parents who are like my kids going to be Elphaba on Broadway and my kid’s going to be a number one writer and all this stuff. And, you know, I think my mom was wise, by 13 or 14, she gave me the basics. And then if I wanted to do it, I’ll do it. If not, I’ll find something else, because you really want your kids to find a passion for something. And it doesn’t have to be music. It can be anything. And they don’t do that, because if you don’t have that passion for the arts, as you know, it’s going to end bad because I don’t care who you are, there’s going to be rejection. There’s going to be downtimes, there’s going to be a struggle. People are going to ridicule you. And if you don’t have that passion and spine to say, you know what, this is what I love to do, I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it to go over the cliff, you know, then you shouldn’t be doing that in the first place. And, you know, there’s no guarantees. I don’t care, you can be the best singer songwriter, the best dancer, the best novelist, the best artist. We live in a subjective business, in a subjective world. You know, we old fogies, just my wife, we were kind of talking about the Grammy nominations, you know, and we always think that the younger generation sucks. You know, that’s our job, all kind of narcissistic, bitter, grumbly, gold-plated rock stars. But, you know, it’s like, you know, you wonder what’s common, you know? Will these songs today be played in 10, 20 years? You know, so, you know, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. But I just tell parents, give your kids, support them in whatever they love to do. And if they’re good kids and they work hard and they find that Plan B, I don’t care what it is. I don’t care if it’s, you know, building a house, you know, delivering pizza or writing a song, if that’s their passion and they’re good kids, support them in the arts. But look, it’s going to be a long and winding road.
[00:36:22.170] – Kitty
Now for anybody who’s watching on YouTube, you’ve got a hockey jersey on the wall behind you and your band name comes from hockey.
[00:36:29.970] – John
[00:36:29.970] – Kitty
So, I mean, somebody could also be thinking, that’s what I really want to do. I want to be a hockey player. So really, there isn’t that many things in life that I think are the easy road. I mean, if it’s something that you really like, there’s probably people who absolutely adore the number crunching and going to Wall Street and doing all the trading and stuff. But even they had to work really hard and be so good that they were one of the people good enough to be hired in that job. So in a way, we’re really talking about anything that you want to succeed at.
[00:37:03.030] – John
That’s what I tell people. You know, for me, my success is 10 percent talent if that, it’s all the other stuff. It’s the relationships. It’s how you treat people when you’re first coming up. It’s how you treat people when you have the number one song in the country. That’s who you are. You know, if people believe in you as a person, that might be the tipping point. So there’s so many things. It’s the work ethic. It’s like going back to the drawing board. It’s who do you surround yourself with? There’s so many things that goes into being a success in anything and, at least for me, very little of it is talent, and we can talk about what success is anyways.
[00:37:44.260] – John
Success is defined in many different ways and unfortunately in this society, we tend to define success by fame, fortune, clicks, chart positions, you know, ticket sales. But there are many songwriters that nobody knows who are having a huge impact on people’s lives or as many novelists who may not have the top 10 know New York Times bestseller list, but they are changing lives and making a difference and fulfilling their own ambitions and destiny. So I think we always have to be careful when we talk about success, because, frankly, most folks who have the kind of pinnacle of success, what we think it is, I have met a lot of them, not a lot of them are necessarily happy or in a good place to kind of readjust their thinking on that, too.
[00:38:30.820] – Kitty
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And, you know, you touched on something that that’s another kind of near and dear to my heart. The tagline to the podcast and to my teaching Write Now Workshop stuff is write a book, change the world. And you have written songs that have changed the world. I find that to me, OK, so this is what I think, changing anyone’s life for the better is worth the time. That’s how I feel. So even though like on the one hand, depending on who you are, I just write romance novels. The fact is, is that I had a friend who told me that she was an ICU nurse for babies, so the NICU Ward, and that I shouldn’t put down, I shouldn’t self-deprecate about the romance novels because if she lost a baby at work, then when she came home, all she wanted was anything that would take her away so that she could forget about it for a while. And so romance novels did that for her. And I was like, oh, OK, I am helping people. I’m helping people who are helping other people do things. And so do you have in your own life an example or just words words of encouragement for other people who are trying to figure out, is what I love to do worth doing? I mean, sometimes that’s one of the things, it doesn’t have to do with what’s happening in the world. But sometimes you just get down in yourself. And if I remember this correctly, in your TED talk, you said you wrote a thousand songs before “Superman”.
[00:40:06.980] – John
Oh, yeah, no, you know, I started writing songs at 15 and, didn’t get a record deal until my late 20s and then got dropped from the record deal and somehow found another way to get my songs heard. But yeah, of course, it’s always frustrating. “Superman” for me was just a plea to be heard. I just wanted them to listen to me. I didn’t care if they liked it or not. You know, I was tired of paying my friends to show up at the coffeehouse so I could play a gig. But yeah, I think we’re always kind of full of self-doubt and, is this worth it, all this time I’m putting in, and I think everybody has their own answer for themselves because there are practicalities with the world. As much as I want to be a hockey player, I ain’t never going to be one, you know. So, you know, I’m not going to sit here and say, if you just work hard enough, all your dreams come true. But I think, again, what I found this year is for so many of us are writing, it’s more than just a commercial exercise. It’s really something that keeps us. It’s good for our wellness and yeah, it’s nice if you can make some money off it and it’s nice if people will like it, but I’ll tell you this, I don’t care how successful you are, there’s going to be a lot of people that don’t like it. You don’t know you’re successful until you have people that hate you. I really found that out quickly. What you really don’t want are people who are ambivalent. When you have success, all of a sudden you get a lot of haters, your critics and all that stuff. So I think that’s a question we all have to answer ourselves and why are we doing this right now? And is this right for us right now? And, probably for me to answer that question for people they know within themselves and but it is a struggle and we as I said at the beginning, we should give ourselves a break and not not feel like it’s a life or death situation or life or death answer. And if we want to take some time off and do something else and it pulls us back, it’s like an ex girlfriend, ex boyfriend, an ex lover. It’s like if it’s meant to be, we’ll find a way back. Yeah. And if it’s not, that’s probably better for ourselves,
[00:42:27.160] – Kitty
Right. Yeah. Yeah. When I was in a screenwriting program in L.A. and you know the people were if there’s anything else you can think of that you’d like to do, you should do it, because this is really hard, and people are looking around going, yeah, no, this is where I want to be. And it was a really hard life, but it was one of the things, I’m kind of one of those people who seems to, it seems like I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. It’s just that I started realizing in hindsight that there are certain skills that I keep bringing to the different things. But, you know, being involved in the film industry and making films and then seeing the rough cut and going, oh, my gosh, we’ve wasted all that time and money. And then afterwards, when we do all the colorization and the music and it – let me just say to a musician, of course, you know this, but I never realized how much music creates a film or television show.
[00:43:26.590] – John
No. Some very good friends of mine are music supervisors. And I’ve done a lot of writing for film and television. And you’re right, when you find that right piece of footage and the right sentiment with the right song, it’s the Holy Grail man and it doesn’t happen a lot. But those people who do that, you know, they’re rock stars themselves because I’m the same way, you know, I get pitched films, I will just see footage, they have either temp score in there, but then you put the right song in there and the whole scene comes alive. And that to me is what’s fun about creative stuff. And that’s why I like to dabble in other mediums. You know, I learn stuff like you learned and I have a lot of friends who are screenwriters. Yeah. And it’s miserable. You know, it’s hard. And the bosses are not cool and but I have a friend who’s incredibly successful and has more money than you could ever spend and has a ton of TV shows and can do whatever he wants. And he’s kind of semi-retired, the notes he sends me every day- it’s like, oh, I just wrote this. Check this out. Here’s an idea. What do you think of this? He’s also as insecure as he was when he was nineteen. Why didn’t you respond? Why didn’t you respond? The guy’s got like a hundred million dollars and he’s like, obviously, but that’s who we are. But he loves to write.
[00:44:43.540] – Kitty
[00:44:43.870] – John
And I love that about him because all that other stuff. Yeah, that’s cool. But that’s not why he does it. So I think there’s some of that in all of us and we have to kind of remind ourselves of that, you know, if this is who we are, this is what we do, let’s do it.
[00:44:57.870] – Kitty
That’s awesome. That is the perfect way to kind of wrap up our interview, because I really do believe that pursuing whatever is in your heart. Well, OK, I, I believe pursuing whatever that is in your heart, if it’s not hurting other people, but if it’s helping, if there’s things that you can do that make other people’s lives a little bit happier… I mean, when I found out, you know, how sometimes, I don’t know if this is true for you, but for just a regular person who’s not a musician, I would listen to the radio and they stopped sometime about 20 years ago or something, they stopped saying that was such and such by so and so. And I would listen to all this music going, I love this. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who does it. So I don’t know how to buy. I was so mad when they stopped doing that and then I started moving around the world and then I lost total track of television and music and stuff. So I’m not going to say I apologize. But when I found out that you wrote “This Dance”, that’s one of your songs, I was like, oh, oh my gosh, how am I not going to be a fangirl? I mean, I love “Superman”. It’s on my playlist because I write superhero novels for women. So it’s one of the songs that I listen to to get me back in the mood when I’m doing other things and come back to write. But to prepare for the interview – now, I’m just going to be a little bit of a fangirl here – to prepare for the interview, I was listening to music and watching your TED talk and reading your bio and just like immersing myself in all things Five For Fighting. And when your publicist maybe – is that word you use?
[00:46:36.970] – John
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:46:38.440] – Kitty
I wrote to her and I said, I don’t want to embarrass myself if this is a song that he’s sung, but he didn’t write when we’re talking about writing. And she wrote back, no he wrote that. And I was like, oh my gosh, that song, I just have to hear like the first few bars and my heart, just like does that kind of soft, squishy thing. And then I want to dance with my husband. And then last night I have this writing group and we write for little half hour sprints. It’s just like turn off the microphones and everybody just go and we write as fast as we can. And so I was listening to “This Dance” while I was writing and I was like, oh my gosh, Jack has to like grab Tabitha’s hand and say, forget about the kids, forget about the things that you’re worried about. Just dance for three minutes and it’ll be to this song. And I was thinking, OK, legally I can’t like put the lyrics or anything in, but I can put the title and the artist and I’ll be like, this is the song they’re listening to. And so here’s me going crazy because this is what music does to me. I find that song and I’m like, oh my gosh, this reminds me of the way that this is going to happen in the book where this happens. And so there’s me just saying, oh, my gosh, I love that song.
[00:47:56.770] – John
Number one, you can have the lyrics. Number two, the fact that you even know that song gives me goosebumps because it’s a deep cut. But thank you so much. I always kind of envisioned it as a wedding dance song. And it was kind of one of my attempts to try to write like a Billy Joel honestly, or one of those kind of just piano vocals, you know.
[00:48:19.390] – Kitty
[00:48:19.810] – John
But, you know, that’s another, like, really rewarding thing is, as a writer, an artist is, you know, when somebody appreciates a song that or a book or something that not a lot of people even know, you know, then you’re like, oh, you know, I’m so glad that song touched someone. You know, I have a song called Freedom Never Cries. It was never on the radio, never a hit. But when I was touring with the troops, you know, the families would come up and say, I really like that song. And as I said, you know, for me, may sound corny for me to say, but that means as much to me as “100 Years” or “Superman,” so we can find our kind of gratitude and solace in the strangest places. So put the lyrics in your book and send it to me and I’ll write the forward.
[00:49:04.510] – Kitty
Well, it is romance, but you seem with all your other lyrics to be a romantic guy. So I just might take you up on that. Sweet. Listen, this has been super great. I would love to have you talk more about music and more about like the actual writing, but I’m really excited. I think that we’ve created something for listeners that people can come back to. This can be a touchstone for when times get hard, come back to this episode. Remind yourself that even people who have had like the number one song in – I wanted to say the world, but I don’t want to like – anyway, platinum and double platinum records, those don’t come along-
[00:49:45.670] – John
The solar system.
[00:49:46.690] – Kitty
Yeah, that’s right. It’s the biggest song in the universe. Oh, you know what though? I mean, it is, because Superman’s from another planet. So there you go.
[00:49:55.270] – John
That’s true. Number one on Krypton, baby.
[00:49:59.230] – Kitty
There’ a certain peace that comes from hearing other people say, yep, me too. And then I can say to other people and I encourage all the writers who listen to me, all the writers that I work with, you know, sometimes just turn to the writer next to you and go, it’s OK, everybody feels this way, and it gives you, I don’t know if it gives you more peace and security and strength or if it just takes away the fear that’s getting in the way of you keeping going. But. Yeah.
[00:50:31.280] – John
You know, I think it’s sometimes hard to remember, and I think it’s something that we go up and aspire to doing is, you know, we’re naturally insecure for what we do, it just goes with it. But I think everyone should understand there’s an honor in what we do. There is a courage. And what we do, we put ourselves on the line and I tell performers, you know, especially kids, you know, I think the moment you walk on that stage, you’ve won because you have the courage to do something most people don’t. And maybe you’ll hit it out of the park. Maybe your voice will crack. I’ve had all the, I’ve had everything, the worst and the best and everything in between. But the fact that we do what we do, we have the courage to do that, take pride in that. And really, you know, again, it sounds corny, but listen to yourself and don’t let the outside world dictate to you who you should be and what you should be doing. That’s easy to do, especially in the social media age. And everybody’s yelling at everyone. And, you know, I think we really need to be proud of what we do and the fact that we do it and we do the best we can. And we, hopefully at the end of day, we touch some folks and they touch us back.
[00:51:40.070] – Kitty
I love it. That’s awesome. All right. So in this age of you’re probably not moving around the world right now, doing a lot of engagements, where can people find you? And also to keep track of when you do start singing or speaking in public again.
[00:51:55.970] – John
Yeah. You know, FiveForFighting.com, that’s there. You know, I do have some tour dates that have been postponed and postponed again. And we’ll postpone them one more time, and I’m doing some video concerts. We’re shooting stuff from the house and video keynotes and probably do a little writing and developing some projects. But, you know, I’m also kind of just enjoying being an empty nester with my wife and helping the family biz. So I’m looking forward to this pandemic being over and we all can kind of get back to normal and get out and rock and roll.
[00:52:32.180] – Kitty
[00:52:33.170] – John
But you know, I’ll always be at that email address. And I’ve kind of tried to get off social media because it’s so depressing. And so I’m kind of, if you want any words of advice, like mellow out on the social media, it doesn’t help, you know, your happiness quotient. But yeah. And then I’m sure next year we’ll be out touring with the quartet and touring with the rock band and I don’t know. I don’t know whether we will be in Europe. But, you know, maybe.
[00:52:57.050] – Kitty
Maybe. If you are, I’ll be there. Awesome. John, thank you so much for taking time to be on the show. We really appreciate it.
[00:53:07.780] – John
Thank you, Kitty. You know, when I saw your email and you’re all about writers writing that spoke to my heart because we’re all one big, you know, wacky family and we got to support each other, and in all our endeavors, at the end of the day, we kind of make the world go round.