Forward with NACCE

Unveiling Creativity: Insights from Hit Songwriter Michael Peterson

August 16, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Unveiling Creativity: Insights from Hit Songwriter Michael Peterson
Show Notes Transcript

Join us in this inspiring episode of Forward with NACCE as Dr. Corbin sits down with accomplished recording artist and hit songwriter Michael Peterson. Discover the journey of a creative mind and how trusting your instincts can lead to unexpected success. Michael shares his insights on the power of creativity, the importance of giving back, and the role of serendipity in entrepreneurial endeavors. Get ready to dive into the world of storytelling, songwriting, and using AI in the creative process. Tune in to uncover the lessons learned and the wisdom gained from over four decades in the music industry. Don't miss out on this captivating conversation that will leave you inspired to embrace your own creative path.

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Michael - 00:00:10:

 When you are doing your work and dreaming your dream. And no one is paying attention. It’s tempting to imagine sometimes or to worry that maybe your work isn't good enough, that what you're doing must not be up to par, because if it was, somebody would notice and you'd get all of the affirmations and the accolades. But I just found, especially in the creative field, that oftentimes, you've done your best work, but no one has noticed yet. And I just want to say, keep everything. Don't throw anything away, save it. You might be a hit songwriter and just don't know it yet, like I was.

Intro - 00:00:48:

 Welcome to Forward with NACCE: Inspiring Entrepreneurial Action, a podcast that shares the stories of everyday entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders, and the communities that support us. We hope that this diverse collection of stories brings you inspiration, inspires you to take action, and ignites entrepreneurship in your community as we make our way forward together.

Becky - 00:01:12:

 Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I’m Rebecca Corbin, President and CEO of NACCE, and I am excited to celebrate. We have over 125 episodes. We've reached nearly a thousand American cities and 62 countries around the world. And today is extra special because we have in our studio a recording artist who is a business person who gives back in so many ways to the community, Michael Peterson. So Michael Peterson, thank you for being here. How are you doing today?

Michael - 00:01:43:

 I am just doing really fantastic. I have been so much looking forward to spending this time with you and with your audience. So, thanks for having me.

Becky - 00:01:50:

 Well, thank you so much. And we've gotten to know you over the past couple of years. And I know you became very close to some of our staff members. But I want to go back a little bit further in time to maybe a little bit of your early years. And you're an accomplished performer. Some country western music fans like myself knew some of the hits that you've had. But take us back in time, what was influential for you growing up? Where did you grow up? And what were some of the influences in your life that led you onto the career path that you have today?

Michael - 00:02:23:

 Well, thank you very much for having me on. And that's a great place to start because I think everything that becomes something of note, you know, starts somewhere. And sometimes when you're in that place where you haven't found your up note part yet, you wonder if you're ever going to be up note, you know. And so for anybody who's listening, who's in that place where you're at the beginning and you're wondering if anything great can ever come, just hang on, keep working. Because we all start somewhere, you know. And for me, I remember getting out of college. I grew up in Eastern Washington state. And then I went to school in Tacoma area at Pacific Lutheran University and played mostly played football there because that, you know, I wasn't super interested in school, but I was interested in sports and music. And I had a scholarship for both. But when you're a 18, 19 year old young man, being on the football team sounds more exciting and you think to yourself, I can always do music later. So I made a decision to step aside from my music scholarship and just focus on football. Well, ironically, this is sort of one of those stories I was saying to your listeners who might be in that early place, you wonder if there's something ever going to happen for you. There's so many things that happen that you just never see coming. So the fact that I decided to play football instead of pursue music in college actually led to my music career. We just say, how did that happen? Well, my quarterback for our football team, after we got out of college, ended up getting into music business and ended up marrying a big pop star by the name of Denise Williams. She had lots of hits, let's hear it for the boy, probably her most notable hit. And because I’d played football, he and I were good friends, which led to us making a record together. Then he married Denise, and then they signed me to my first publishing deal. So how is it that you, and management deal, and record deal, so how can you, you can't imagine like that quitting music would lead to being in the music, right? So it's just great how life unfolds. There's so many beautiful, unexpected chapters that are awaiting all of us. I love this quote that says, "'the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.'"

Becky - 00:04:44:

 Oh my goodness, I love that. And we talk about that along with our NACCE community, sort of the gift of serendipity. And one thing I know about you, just reading about your past career, but just knowing you as a person, is you're willing to put yourself out there. And we also say a lot, one thing leads to another. And so there's sort of this invisible hand, if you will, I think that speaks to the creation and inspiration. And I have to give a nod to my colleague, Beth Kerly, who's our Senior Director of communication and marketing here, who attended a V-Wise Conference, which you can tell us a little bit more about what that is, because I know your wife does a lot with serving veteran communities, but she mustered up the courage to approach you. And one thing leads to another, and here you are. So I want t dive a bit into the work that you've done on behalf of veterans. We do a lot to try to support veteran entrepreneurs here.

Michael - 00:05:43:

 Yeah. Well, I would love to talk about anything that you want to talk about. Just rewinding for just a moment, sort of back to where it all started. Another pivotal moment for me is I remember being out of college now in my early 20s. Needing to get a job and for a number of variety of reasons, sort of life related, I ended up leaving school before I graduated. So I had four years and needed a couple of classes, but life didn't sort of turn out that way. So I had found myself out of school and needing a job. So I just remember, how it was a heavy feeling of looking through the want ads and realizing that there was really nothing there for me. And the thing that I made note of was that many of my friends we're looking in the wan ads and they found things they were interested in. But all I ever really wanted to do was like, where's the music, what's next with, like helping people and doing music. And those were the things that really, and it was that inner unsettledness. As I, of course I went and got a job because I needed a job, but it was not really satisfying this sort of longing that I had. So whatever that longing is for any of your listeners who are tuning in, pay attention to it. It means something. This thing that just scratches on the back of your neck and won't let you be, you know. And so that's, I think that's kind of, that's where I came from, was that place of trusting my instincts and being willing to take a risk. And I think that those are two things that in retrospect, I see now those were great qualities. At the time, I probably looked a little crazy and felt a little crazy to my friends who were out stepping into corporate jobs with 401ks and all of that stuff. But I was out there swinging because I just,  knew what I felt. And I just couldn't imagine having a life that settled for something I wasn't going to love. And I think that those are qualities that make for a good entrepreneur.

Becky - 00:07:57:

 Yeah, I mean, you're right. I mean, those risk-taking, I think, you know, burden hand assets, what you're talking about, opportunities that present. And that is a good point for people who are listening. You know, sometimes it's not the conventional places. I don't think, like I know when I was looking for a job, it was the same thing. You open up the newspaper and look through. There's different resources, but it's really following that sort of internal compass that you have. And I think that's really important. Like you said, later on you were giving back, but if we stay in sort of this time period for a little bit longer, what did that feel like when you finally got on the stage and you were getting close to really people knew who you were? How did that feel and how did you keep yourself grounded?

Michael - 00:08:46:

 You know, I’ve never really reflected a lot on that. So I’ll say this, when you have a plan, whatever your plan is for, and you work your steps and you navigate the challenges. You know, you might have 99 disappointments for everyone. You know, yeah, we got it. So those, yeah, we got it's really mean a lot more. And I give you a good, one of my favorite stories is you look back on your life, you pull little nuggets, right? So this is one of those for me. I was, so I had a record deal with Denise Williams company and then I had a publishing deal and I had some songs on the radio in the gospel music industry. And, you know, that sort of ran its course and then I found myself sort of in a way sort of full circle like, okay, what do I do now? I thought this was going to be bigger than it was, become more of a career, it's not. I have to get a job, what am I going to do? So two things happened. It was in late November and Christmas was coming. I didn't have much money in the bank. And I just... you know, got on my knees and said, I need some guidance, you know, and, um, you know, should I hang in there? Should I go get a job or whatever? Well, a check showed up. I royalty check, my very first royalty check showed up the week before Christmas. and, you know, this will sort of show my age a little bit, but I was in my, you know, late twenties. So this is almost 40 years ago now, but a $1,500 check 40 years ago was a substantial check.

Becky - 00:10:31:


Michael - 00:10:32:

 You know, and it showed up as a royalty check. Sort of, it was like, it was like mailbox money. It just kind of came and it was a green light for me. It just was a little nudge that said, you're going to be okay. Stay the course. Here's some resource, hang in there, right? Well, so we got into the new year and I just a little discouraged again. And I just thought money was starting to run out. Things weren't, bookings weren't showing up. And I decided that, you know, maybe I would, maybe I would like to be a dare officer, like in a police department, like work with kids, work at a school or something like that. So, I started the application process for the police department and I did my physical test and I was getting ready to take my written exam. When I got a phone call, completely out of the blue, from somebody I’d never heard of before. Who said to me that they had a song that I’d written. And there was a very famous at that time, probably still to some people, it's the most awarded gospel music quartet in history. They won all kinds of Grammy’s and double awards and they're called The Imperials. And this guy called me and said, hey, The Imperials found this song of yours and they want to record it. And I’m like, I had no idea how they had it. I hadn't pitched it to anybody. But again, life had sort of worked out to where a friend of mine was on tour with Denise Williams. They did a show with the imperials. He was pitching his songs, which were on the same disc, and gave it to them. They hunted me down through however they found me, I’m not sure. But anyway, the point is that this was a song that I had tried to get other people to record for 10 years. It was a 10-year-old song. Had been around for 10 years and had been passed on by everybody except me, who had made a recording of it. So the imperials recorded it. It ended up being the first single off the album and ended up going to number one. And it was a really a life lesson for me there. And the life lesson was this. Here was something that I’d created that I believed in, that for 10 years had been pretty much ignored. And then one day it finds its home and it goes to number one. And I realized at that moment I had been a hit songwriter for 10 years. I just didn't know it.

Becky - 00:12:53:

 Oh my goodness, what a story. 

Michael - 00:12:55:

 So the takeaway for me on that, for anybody who cares to see if this applies to their life, is this. When you are doing your work and dreaming your dream and no one is paying attention. It's tempting to imagine sometimes or to worry that maybe your work isn't good enough, that what you're doing must not be up to par because if it was, somebody would notice and you'd get all of the affirmations and the accolades. But I just found, especially in the creative field, that oftentimes, you've done your best work, but no one has noticed yet. And I just want to say, keep everything. Don't throw anything away. Save it. Because most of the songs in my catalog that have been recorded have been songs that have been around for a decade or more. And you might have already made your masterpiece, but no one's paid attention yet. And so, you're dismissing it yourself. You might be a hit songwriter and just don't know it yet like I was, you know? So those were the lessons that empowered me as I went forward to remind myself to trust my gut. And believe in my work and have confidence in it. And you can't control everything, but you can control what you create and how you create it and how often and how you go about trying to bring it to a larger group of people. Those are the things you control. And if you focus on those things, your odds of succeeding, I think, are greater.

Becky - 00:14:29:

 Wow. I heard the expression, I’m not sure if it comes from you or it's just one that you use about... a godly. And we use that around here sometimes too, where you're working hard at something, your passion is in it, get little nibbles of success, and then all of a sudden... God winks at you and says, here we are, this is it. And it's affirmation. And I think it can come in different forms. But I think you do make the point about trusting your own intuition. And if you know that you're on the right path, we've all been in business dealings, friendships, relationships where our internal compass says, no danger, do not go forward. And I’m sure all of us have made the mistake at times of doing that. And I think you're a great, I think, testament to putting yourself out there and learning from those things. So as you sort of evolved in your career, tell us a little bit about some of the things that you're doing now. I mentioned a little bit about our connection to you, which came through some of the charitable work that you do. But tell us a little bit about what you do business-wise and what you're doing to give back these days.

Michael - 00:15:42:

 Well, thanks. So every career has arts, especially in the music business. So you're on top one day and then the next, who are you again? Will you take my phone call? And I went to Nashville, I had some significant success. And then for a number of reasons, my career sort of took a downturn. And it's funny, you think at some point you think, well, I’ve okay, I’m there, I made it. I’m kind of in this saddle now. But life brings things you didn't expect. And so one of the, I think the great qualities that successful entrepreneurs have is the ability to pivot. And so I found myself without a record deal and without a publishing deal and said, what am I going to do? And it was in those moments, I think, when you take a hard look at yourself and you see what's in your toolbox. And there's that old saying I love that says, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Becky - 00:16:47:

 That's right, that's right.

Michael - 00:16:48:

 You know? But I began to look at my toolbox and I realized I wasn't just a recording artist, singer, songwriter. I was a creative person. So I looked at my toolbox, I realized there was more than a hammer in there. There were all kinds of tools in my toolbox. The ability to write, the ability to engage people and build relationships, the ability to serve others with my talents, the ability to be a creative thinker and a problem solver, the creative abilities to imagine things that, because that's what creative people do. They look at a blank sheet of paper and they imagine something that's not there yet. and so at that time, I just felt compelled to see if I could rebrand myself, if you will, not just as a singer-songwriter recording artist, but as what I started calling creative communications. That wasn't a phrase I’d heard from anybody else, but I just thought, well, that's really what I am. I love to communicate because I’ve done a lot of public speaking and I love to create. And if I can do that in a way that it helps organizations to find solutions for challenges that they face. So in the beginning, because I had no track record of doing that, I did what a lot of people thought was a crazy thing. Instead of drawing up some contracts and setting some fees and starting to try to market myself to find quote unquote clients. I just thought there's a thousand people in those lines trying to get those gigs. But what I had was a little bit of celebrity, which I think was a nice open door for me. And then I had the willingness and I was in a place financially where I was able to do this. So it made sense for me. I was able to say, hey look, just don't worry about the money. How can I serve you? And so I started basically just serving organizations. I didn't go in and say, hey, let's do it for free. But oftentimes organizations I was trying to help didn't have much money. So then I had a decision to make, would I help them if they had no money or not? And then I decided that if I helped the people that didn't have the money to afford me. Then two things would happen. One is I’d get a chance to get to know what they're doing better and how I could help better, to know how I could pivot better. And the second thing is they would have a chance to experience my value if I had value for them, right? And I guess the third thing that happens is I made a lot of friends. So over the course of about five years of doing that, I would say probably 75% of what I did ended up being pro bono. But the 25% that wasn't pro bono, became very lucrative. And because if I had, but if I had been, you know, hanging a shingle and trying, like I wouldn't serve anybody until they gave me a deal and paid me. Then who knows, that might've turned out okay too, but a lot of my friends that tried doing that just ended up doing something else. I just stayed with, I put myself in a place where I could keep doing what I knew my talent was, but just doing it in a new way. And what came out of that were clients like the US army, the new Holland farming equipment manufacturing company, I mean, big major international organizations. But it took years of sort of nurturing those things. And then I started to have a reputation of being able to help these organizations. But it's not something they teach at the business school, is it? go serve people.

Becky - 00:20:35:

 But I think that's the opposite of what they teach you at the business school. 

Michael - 00:20:39:

 Right. But there's a sensibility to that in that opportunity brings opportunity. And if your opportunities are limited because of the money, then remove the obstacle and find ways to express your gifts and your talents in a way that provides, because, you know, success leaves clues, right? So if you're a volunteer, it's what happens when you do an internship or you volunteer. People can say, well, look at the fruit from their gifts. And then that leads to people saying, well, that worked for them, maybe it'll work for us. I was just at a place in my, at that point I was in my forties, you know, former country music, senior star guy, um, trying to pivot. And that's just the way that I did it. You know, other people will do it their way, but the takeaway for me is this. Look for opportunity and remove the obstacles. If money's an obstacle, remove it if you're able, because it led, well, it led to my beautiful marriage that I have now with my wife. It led to significant financial, three contracts that were over a million dollars that came my way. I never saw that coming. I was just trying to help people.

Becky - 00:21:58:

 I don't know if you ever read that book, The Go-Giver. You think of The Go-Getter.

Michael - 00:22:02:

 I love that phrase.

Becky - 00:22:03:

 Yeah, it's that giving. It also reminds me of the difference between transactional relationships and really leaning into a trusted relationship because we do a lot of that work in our nonprofit life. NACCE partners with a number of different organizations. Sometimes we have contracts and MOUS, but usually we'll start small, try to get to know someone and see, is this somebody that aligns with our mission? Is this somebody that we trust that if things go well or they go poorly, are we in this together and we kind of move along from there? But yeah, I love that and I really appreciate the fact that you are giving back to NACCE, the national organization for community college entrepreneurship. So we will see you in Nashville in October. Some of our listeners are members, some are not, but you'll actually get to meet hundreds of people from around the country. tell us a little bit about your idea, what you're doing, because I understand from my teammates here on the ground that I’ve got a number of people really excited about this storytelling competition and some of the other things. Do you share with us what you have in store?

Michael - 00:23:15:

 There's several people involved in it. My role is during the National Conference, we're doing a breakout session on Sunday, the Sunday before, and I’m going to do a really, I think, very practical introduction to songwriting. And if you're not a songwriter, you say, well, I’m not interested in songwriting. Really, what I’m talking about is creativity. So if you're a creative writer or you're a creative person, there's going to be a lot of takeaways in the context of this that I think are going to be real helpful for you. So it's not a how-to. but it's going to be a fun. So sharing of my journey, because I think that that is, we're all more similar than we think, right? So when we hear other people's journey, we can find some inspiration in that. But then I’m also going to deliver some tools, kind of a reading list and syllabus of things that I think people can take away from this event to use as resource to help them going forward. And then you're going to just talk about my creative process and some lessons learned after 40 years. And some real successes. I’ve had over 100 songs been recorded by other artists, Hall of Famers, Grammy winners, number one songs. So there's some lessons that I’ve learned along the way. If there's a pothole out there, I’ve probably stepped in it. And so the lessons aren't always how great I am. The lessons are.

Becky - 00:24:47:

 Those are the most interesting lessons.

Michael - 00:24:49:

 Right, right, right.

Becky - 00:24:49:

 The painful ones that we look back on. And so-

Michael - 00:24:52:

 So that's my role in that. And then Larry Franklin is going to be doing a whole thing on stage communication and storytelling. And we're going to dance around that in a shared space. And then on Monday night, we're doing a Nashville style. and people may not be familiar with this term, but it's called the end the round.

Becky - 00:25:12:

 Yes, yes.

Michael - 00:25:14:

 And so in-a-round basically came about because in the bluebird cafe where this kind of unofficially started it was a very small room that held, sat maybe 25 customers. So they're trying to think, how can we arrange this room so that everybody can see the singers and everybody has good sight lines and everybody feels close. So they decided to put the singers in a circle in the center of the room. So then there'd be four singers and one would sing, then tell a story about their song, then the next one, and they would kind of go around. So it began, so they started calling in their sing songwriters in the round. So we won't be in the round during the Monday night concert, but, but we will be doing what's called it in the round. It was sort of singer songwriters, hit songwriters. So it'll feature me. um, and, uh, you know, she played some of my head since funny, funny songs.

Becky - 00:26:09:

 I can't, I cannot wait.

Michael - 00:26:10:

 Kimberly Yates, who wrote big hits for George Jones, Kenny Chesney, uh, you know, a lot of big, big artists that he's written hits for, and then Karen Staley, uh, you can look at them up as well. Karen wrote big hits for Faith Hill, uh, Tracy Byrd, uh, lots of, lots of big hits. Hit songwriters, it's fun. It's, it's neat. It's not like you're sitting and just listening. It's very engaging. I think people are going to really enjoy that. So that's my role.

Becky - 00:26:38:

 Yeah, and people want to learn more about that. they can go on to,, the events page, but Michael, if they want to connect with you in some way and get engaged or consider if they're an organization and want to talk to you about some of the things that you do, how do people find you? How do they get in touch with you?

Michael - 00:27:00:

 Well, thank you for asking that. And one last thing I want to say about the, I forgot to say about the seminar on Sunday, is I’m also going to do a segment on using AI in your creative process. Which I think a lot of people are really poignantly interested in that right now. So bring your laptop, we'll have this be able to be on the screens, and we're going to kind of walk through my lessons learned about ChatGPT and how you can incorporate that in your creative process. so if you want to get ahold of me, it's super easy. It's my name and the word music. So that's easy to remember, Michael Peterson.

Becky - 00:27:33:

 It's Peterson, o-n, right? Cause I know there's a p-n.

Michael - 00:27:36: is my email address. You can also go to my website, which is michaelpetersonmusic. And you can leave me a message there, or you can find me on Facebook.

Becky - 00:27:48:

 That's awesome. Well, Michael, i just feel so enriched to get to know you. I can't wait to meet you in person. I’ve met your colleague, Larry Butler. He and I got together in Nashville earlier in the year. So it's just, you are the gift that keeps giving. So i thank you for sharing your story. And I encourage people to google you and remember you, lots of good memories and beautiful music. So have a wonderful day and thank you for sharing your story with our audience.

Michael - 00:28:15:

 All right, bless you.

Outro - 00:28:17:

 Thank you for joining us today. We hope that you will continue to explore the many ways to define entrepreneurship with NACCE as we celebrate opportunity, failing forward, and success, learning from one another along the way. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite platform, follow @NACCE on social media, and learn more about us @nacce.comforward/podcast. Stay tuned for a new episode each week. We look forward to making our way forward together with you.