Sometimes going in circles can feel good.
A circle of songwriters who meet in Rochester every second Thursday at 7 p.m. provide creative commentary and have been the start of many musical friendships.
“I want to encourage people to create,” says Dan Conway, who founded the group in 2017.
Conway says some members bring a new song to the circle every month and others may have months between introducing a new song.
“We have members representing a multitude of genres at all levels of musical skill, including lyricists who don’t play an instrument at all,” he says. Currently, the group has 273 members in their Facebook group, Rochester, MN Songwriters. “Anyone interested in songwriting is welcome.”
A typical meeting might start with eight to 15 members spending time socializing. Then, one at a time, each musician performs their song, perhaps on guitar and piano, and the rest of the group gives constructive feedback. “We’re a very supportive group,” says Conway. “We all know how vulnerable you can feel when you share a song that you’ve invested yourself in and put your emotions into. We make sure the songwriter group is a safe space to open a vein and be vulnerable.
After originally meeting at Forager Brewery, the band migrated to Hidden World Records.
“Vy Thong of Hidden World Vinyl Records welcomed us with open arms,” says Conway. “Vy is so supportive of all the local scrappy musicians just trying to shake things up.”
Or, when the weather cooperates, the group will meet outdoors at a local park.
“Getting a glimpse into someone else’s creative process is fascinating and inspiring,” says Conway.
Pat Egan has frequented the group regularly since its inception. “I learn something new with every meeting,” he says, mentioning lessons he learned about lyrical content, song structure and phrasing. “It’s my people, local songwriters trying to improve the songs they’re working on.”
Songwriter Chris Tauzell, who performs with local bands Amateur and Als Fona, agrees: “It’s important that people just share their creativity with like-minded people to give feedback so that people can grow as an artist.”
Megan Kleven says it took her a little while to “bring up the courage to bring an original song” to the group, but once she did, she found the group to be welcoming and supportive. “When someone explains their vision for a song, you get a little insight into their writing process,” she says. “I feel like I can be a part of this process, albeit to a lesser extent, and it’s always an honor.”
Kleven says the band is also a wonderful networking opportunity that has opened up performance and collaboration opportunities for her.
Conway mentions that several members who met in the band now play together in bands. Conway’s band, Cosmic Orphan, just released their debut single “Raise the Alarm,” a song he worked on in the band.
Band member Peter Wegwerth connected with Conway through the songwriter’s band.
“A lot of people in the band have become really good friends,” says Wegwerth, who also performs in Als Fona. “It’s been great seeing them at meetings and hearing the new songs they’ve written and sharing what I’ve written.”
Thinking it would be a good way to meet other musicians in Rochester, Justin Jacobson, who releases music and performs as the Garden Tigers, joined the band online and decided to join their inner circle of songwriters. Since then, he’s found friendships in the band and also picked up some “priceless” stuff he can incorporate into his songs. “I think it’s important to keep learning and growing as a musician and songwriter. This group is a great and positive way to do that,” he says.
Nathaniel Pettey, who records as O’Rion, says he plans his work around reunions because he’s found them so helpful. He says the group gives him motivation and “helps him block writers”.
After spending time away from the band and the music during the pandemic, Oliver Books recently got back into songwriting circles about six months ago. He says it’s been “a great way to reconnect with creation”.
“There’s something really fun about someone saying ‘Well, here’s what I would do differently’, instead of the usual ‘Hey, great set, man’ and sticking with it. that,” says Books.
“The most rewarding thing about this band is hearing our members’ songs come to life,” says founder Conway. “I want this community of songwriters to help each other improve in our craft. Everyone brings something different to the table.