What I Learned from Rodney Crowell

I just finished up my second songwriting camp with Rodney Crowell in Nashville Tennessee. Just as I did last year, I walk away with mixed emotions.

First, I’m a seasoned songwriter. I’ve been doing this a long time. I understand how to write well. I understand the art, structure, and emotional aspects of songwriting. That said, there’s always room to learn, and learning takes place at any kind of workshop or conference we attend.

This year, there was a great bunch of faculty and guests. Check out this list:

You can imagine that with a list of artists and songwriters like this, and 120 students, things can get crazy. And they do. The four-day camp is a bit exhausting and emotionally draining. The biggest drawback of the camp is the sense of competition and schmoozing I witness. For me, there are entirely too many people at the camp and not enough quality instructor-to-student one-on-one time. That’s just the nature of the beast.

If I had my way, I’d rather have 30 minutes alone with each of the faculty members and be done in half a day. I think I might get more out of that. Nice dream.

In the format of the camp, each songwriter gets to play two or three songs before the whole group and/or one or two of the teachers. That’s tough for a guy who has literally written more than 1200 songs, including over 50 written in 2023 alone. Of course, some of my songs are weaker than others, but you get the point. I’m working at a similar level to the teachers. I’ve just never been “discovered.”

Now let’s get on to what I like about the camp. I’m not going to lie. Last year, when the camp was over, I felt like shit. I had the blues.


The blues.

I felt a little bit cheated, shorted. But I left with something else. A desire to become a better songwriter.

This year, I didn’t have the same level of expectation as I did last year. I didn’t expect to get phone numbers or emails from any of the teachers, or that they might connect me to people in the music business. I didn’t really expect that last year but thought just… maybe.

So the let down was a little less severe this year. But here’s the payoff.

I’m leaving with the same desire to up my songwriting skills. To write better songs. This year, the final performers, John Paul White, and Lera Lynn, both had some great work that got me to thinking specifically about these three aspects of song:

  • Melody
  • Dynamics
  • Chord progressions

As a seasoned songwriter, I’ve already experimented in these areas and I continue to do so. Lyrically, I’m fairly confident in myself, although I know there can always be improvement. Musically, I’m getting better. I’m creating my own voice, my own style. It’s only taken about 25 years. But I can still improve and learn to thrive within my own vocal and musical limitations. That’s what I’ve been working on for the past year, and that’s what I’ll continue to work on.

So what did I learn from Rodney Crowell?

Rodney gave me a few pointers on a song I’d just started writing the day before the camp started. It’s a song called “A Little Bit Lonely” written for the 22nd anniversary of the loss of my firstborn daughter, Angel Hope. I appreciate his pointers. In fact, I wasn’t sure the song would be a keeper. But based on one of Rodney’s suggestions and a conversation with John Paul White, I think it will be.

But what did I really learn from Rodney?

Toward the end of the camp, I realized something.

Rodney Crowell is a talented singer-songwriter, and by no means is what I’m about to say next meant to lessen his status as an artist in the music industry. However, the faculty members and guests that Rodney chooses to be a part of his camp are all as or more talented than Rodney. If you don’t believe me go listen to their work. So here’s what I learned from Rodney Crowell.

Surround yourself with people whose talents exceed your own in some way. Have the graciousness and humility to accept their gifts as being stronger than your own and lift them up.

Okay, this essay is much longer than I’d planned and I like to keep my posts short, so I’m going to shut up now. Will I go back to the camp next year? Only time will tell. – dse

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Author: Dan Steven Erickson

Dan Steven Erickson is a great undiscovered American songwriter.