Sometimes, creativity must be forced by deadlines, but that doesn’t mean creativity suffers.
The Monday Morning 3 a.m. Music Club, a songwriting workshop, began three years ago after Winston-Salem-based music producer Doug Davis assembled a few songwriters as a creative exercise.
“A lot of people don’t bring the sense of discipline and craft to songwriting that I think is beneficial to those people,” Davis said in an interview. “I wanted to create an environment where I could foster a situation in which folks were able to develop good writing habits.”
The idea behind the club is simple: Write a song in a week, based on a given theme suggested by a member via email, and turn it in by 3 a.m. on Monday morning — hence, the workshop’s name.
“We try to do something different every round,” Davis said. “Every round is about 10 or 15 weeks long. Each round has a different format, a different incentive. Every round has a different protocol; some are a little more competitive — we’ve done rounds where we’ve had outside critics come in and review the songs. Others are more free-form.”
Alphabetical order decides the songwriter who comes up with that week’s prompt. Assignments can be a general or specific as wished by that week’s arbiter.
“Sometimes, it’ll be a specific lyric or a specific phrase,” Davis said. “This past week, the assignment was to write a song that had anything to do with a New Year’s resolution of any kind. We’ve had assignments that are more musical in nature — write a punk song, a James Bond theme, a song on a kazoo.”
As to be expected, the songwriting process differs for each member.
“Some guys, as soon as they get an assignment — Monday night, Tuesday night — their songs go up right away,” Davis said. “We’ve got other guys, you know… [chuckles] a whole lot of songs go up after midnight Sunday night.”
Davis said that he’d nicked the idea somewhat from Texas singer-songwriter Bob Schneider.
“He’s been doing a similar project like this for years and years,” Davis said. “He’s had a lot of top-shelf people go through that club — Ben Folds, Patti Griffith. Jason Mraz has claimed he’s never recorded a song he did not write in that music club. What we’re doing is not exactly the same, but it’s definitely inspired by what he’s done.”
The workshop began with about 10 members. Roughly 20 songwriters cycle in and out, including Triad talents like Jerry Chapman, Renae Paige, Clay Howard, Patrick Rock and Steve Williard. Some of the rotating group participants have hailed from as far as New York and Colorado.
Due to the slightly sensitive nature of the project, Davis has always tried to keep the club small.
“We keep a pretty low profile,” Davis said. “There are different things that writers will respond to, and I want to honor that. One of the things that the guys like is that, even though it has a public profile, for a lot of people, it’s kind of a safe space. These guys are going way out on a limb, writing a song every week; it can be a pretty daunting process for a lot of people.
“We do welcome new people,” Davis added. “We just don’t have a lot of openings.”
While the Monday Morning 3 a.m. Music Club typically flies under the radar, Davis said he wants to raise awareness for the group’s charitable angle.
“This round’s incentive is to raise the most money for charity, so we thought we’d up the public profile for this round,” Davis said.
Since the workshop’s outset, the club has donated funds collected from Bandcamp downloads to Triad Musicians Matter, a non-profit organization that raises money for local musicians in need of monetary help.
The decision to give any money gathered from downloads came from necessity.
“There’s no way that you can, across the board, disable the option for people to pay for downloads,” Davis said. “I didn’t want [money] to be a factor in this at all, but people were buying downloads, so we had a problem. We had to figure out what we were going to do with that money.
“I didn’t want to be in the business of collecting this money and paying it out,” Davis added. “It was going to get uncomfortable for everyone, so it seemed the obvious solution was to find a good charity.”
The choice of TMM came naturally.
“I don’t know of any other organization that’s like that [around here] that provides that sort of help,” Davis said. “There are a lot of charities and organizations that are doing great work, but aren’t necessarily a great fit for a group of musicians that all come from different backgrounds and all have different interests. It’s something we could all get behind and support.”