Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Stolpe.
Hi Andrea, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.
I’m one of the lucky few who got to pursue music right out of high school. After Berklee College of Music, I put down roots in Nashville and began a staff-writing career at various publishing companies including Universal Music Publishing, EMI, and Almo-Irving. Over the course of three contracts and well over a thousand songs, I couldn’t help noticing patterns in the writing process that most of my collaborators used. I began writing about these patterns, and consolidated them into a book called ‘Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling.’ At the same time, I decided to pitch the book’s curriculum as an online course to Berklee College Online, and gratefully, they accepted.
After over a decade in Nashville, my husband and I needed a change. So we packed up and moved west to Los Angeles. My work caught the attention of USC’s Popular Music Program which was just starting up, and in the fall of 2009, I began teaching songwriting for the degree program at Thornton School of Music.
I recently started offering personal experiences for songwriters through my online and physical songwriting retreats. With those and my work with USC and Berklee, I feel privileged to connect with thousands of songwriters and musicians every year. It’s a network of creativity I’m so grateful to be part of.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Songwriting is one of the most satisfying (and difficult) pursuits I’ve ever tried to master – right up there with raising healthy kids or keeping a marriage together.
The struggle to believe in yourself while you’re trying to be heard is very real for many songwriters and something I dealt with early on in my days as a staff writer. So many great songs sat in the dusty catalogs in the basement of the publishing companies I wrote for. It wasn’t that they weren’t great songs – they were.
There are dark, dark days — days when we’re searching for the secret of how to connect our writing style with the commercial market and missing the mark. Days when we’re consumed with doubt, wondering whether our money and time are spent in the right places, demoing the right songs, with the right people, and in the right way. As creators, we often struggle to step outside ourselves far enough to see our music in the context of the monetized world.
In my case, I was fortunate early on to be surrounded by talented, insightful musicians who mentored me in how to stay focused through times of drought.
This is why I began offering songwriting retreats to both new and experienced writers. It is in a community of like-minded writers that we come to understand the musical and lyrical characteristics of our unique sound. Then, we can begin to produce the concentrated leap in craft and opportunity surrounding our songs.
I appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Lately, I’ve been spending some time reconnecting with my own desire to create music. I’m getting back to my roots as a piano player, and writing and recording with simple instrumentation has guided my songwriting in interesting ways. Of course, if the song works as a simple piano/vocal, it’s gotta work in any produced situation. But I know if my song requires production to make it work, there’s something weak in the foundation, and I’ve got to go back in and work on it.
Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I think there’s a stigma in the music industry that if you’re truly an artist, your sole delight in life is to make art – And it’s not great art unless it’s paying your bills all on its own. But I’ve never been completely satisfied as a sole creator. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘tinkerer’ – insatiably interested in ‘why’ a song works and what I can learn from it that will make my creative process easier, more consistent, and more fruitful.
Writers who write for a living are privy to the best guidance in songwriting our business has to offer, just by virtue of collaborating with other professionals. And though I love collaborating with the highly skilled, I feel really connected to those whose talent is undeniable but simply need the application of craft in a supportive and knowledgeable community.
Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with us. You mentioned you’re offering songwriting retreats for new and experienced writers. Where can we find out more?
You’re so welcome. All retreat info can be found on my website. In 2021 we’re running both online retreats, and physical songwriting retreats in New York and Nashville. In 2022, we’re expanding across the US to include Los Angeles and beyond.