ARTIST PROFILE: Former Yale lecturer and singer-songwriter releases ‘field guide’ to songwriting
In his new book, Mike Errico ’89 details the secrets to songwriting success with interviews from professionals, his own unique advice and wisdom from poets and authors.
Courtesy of Mike Errico
From TikTok songs sung under teenagers’ breaths to theme songs from beloved children’s shows, music is a constant in contemporary life. Few, however, understand how artists are able to summon melodies from the depth of their own imaginations.
Former Yale lecturer, professional songwriter and rock journalist Mike Errico ’89 seeks to demystify the songwriting process in his new book “Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter,” which will be released on Nov. 15.
“It’s not surprising to me that he’s compiled almost a decade of insights into this book,” said Sarah Solovay ’16, a former student of Errico’s and a professional songwriter. “It was clear from the jump that he was so inspired by the creative alchemy of it all, and cared deeply about how to bring out the best in each of his students.”
Errico began his songwriting career in the same way that he joked much of his life has gone: backward. He became hooked on songwriting after his father, a classical pianist with the same legal name, offered him a spot in a contemporary music course reserved for himself. The songs he wrote in that class eventually appeared on his first EP, “Bite-Size”. According to Errico, what followed was an “auspicious touring” career with artists such as Raul Midón, Bob Weir and Amos Lee.
While touring, Errico began writing for the rock magazine “Blender,” where he traded in his guitar for a film crew. This “weird” transition marked his new career in music journalism.
Errico returned to a career in academia back at Yale after receiving an invitation from Kevin Hicks, former Dean of Berkeley College, to teach songwriting to students. The conversation was a “a life-changing experience” which “hooked [him] on teaching,” Errico said. In following years, the course proliferated to other campuses as Errico taught at Wesleyan University, New York University and the New School.
Errico’s former students include Solovay, pop artist Michael Blume ’13 and Hana Elion, lead singer of the electronic-pop duo Overcoats.
Although Errico in no way claims the success of his students as being wholly determined by his influence, he credits himself with helping them find “a writing voice,” a skill he elaborates upon in his upcoming book.
Elion took Errico’s class at Wesleyan and described him as a “kind soul” who believes in all his students and “what they may have to say through their art.”
“I think this is such an important distinction, and it’s the reason that a lot of Mike’s students become artists in their own right, rather than just professional songwriters,” Elion said. “Mike believed in me and encouraged me to follow my dreams. A few months [after taking the course], my friend JJ Mitchell and I started Overcoats. Mike’s been along for the ride every step of the way, to offer guidance and support.”
According to Blume, Errico’s class was a “unique opportunity” to glimpse into the pop music world, which is often overlooked in favor of “institutionalized music forms” in places like Yale.
“While opera and musical theater are canonized, pop music is seen as lower brow — which is sad and boring,” Blume said. “Taking Mike’s class as a senior was pivotal in my ability to see myself working in the pop music sphere. Mike is super dynamic and kind, meets songwriters where they are and, especially at a place like Yale, is providing invaluable insight into a world that most students have such little access to.”
Errico strives to use the book to further expand the reach of his courses and allow his method to be accessible beyond the limits of Yale and other universities.
“I teach a popular form [of music] in a place where most of the population can’t afford to go,” Errico said. “The book is my first attempt to breach the wall.”
Errico added that the book is his way of giving the “best” of what he has to share — at a much lower price.
Filled with steadfast ideas on how readers can implement a creative practice — such as daily journaling, acceptance of preliminary failure and admiration of Yale’s own Verlyn Klinkenborg, lecturer in English, forestry and environmental studies — Errico’s book promises to provide advice for individuals with any level of songwriting experience.
“Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter” can be pre-ordered on Errico’s personal website.