Street Fighters And Street Writers

Legendary Nashville songwriter Sharon Vaughn calls herself “a street writer.” Not a street fighter, but a street writer, and they’re related. It’s all about practical and applied skills. This is so badass and broadly applicable, here’s what she means.

Vaughn says a street writer knows how to walk the line between a personal poem and a commercially viable song.

The personal poem is purely self-indulgent. It’s an emotional purge. The commercial song is purely for selling something. As a shell, it might feel empty or “vapid” (her word choice, couldn’t change it).

A street writer takes just enough of the emotional purge and combines it with structure needed for commercial viability. When done right, it produces a gut-checking and sometimes chart-topping hit. She aims to walk that line any time she works her craft.

For the rest of us, we have to strike our own version of the same balance. What’s human enough about our work to be emotionally honest and commercial enough to sell? Whether we want hits or just to resonate with people, it’s always a mix of the two.

Walk the line. One part soul and another part spreadsheet. Be a street writer.

Check out Sharon Vaughn’s interview on the Follow Your Different podcast. See also the related idea from David Ogilvy on being a killer poet.

Here’s Vaughn telling the story and performing her breakout hit, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”