How Music Saved Me – A Triumphant Road to Recovery Through Songwriting

Based on the Podcast Episode: “How Music Saved Me – A Triumphant Road to Recovery Through Songwriting with Lisa Richards” – Episode 20, The Magic of Songwriting with Francesca de Valence

Below is an open conversation with Australian songwriter Lisa Richards about her triumphant journey from addiction and abuse, to listening to and following her fierce and bright voice; a voice that pulled her out of the darkness to learn how to sing, play guitar, write songs and record, all the way to releasing her 8th studio album.


The little voice that could

I wasn’t productive for the first 27 years of my life. The trauma I grew up with seemed normal to me so I just thought ‘suck it up and get on with it’.

At the same time I had a little voice in my head that said “maybe you could sing”. But then another voice said “you can’t sing, that’s a stupid idea, that’s for other people”. I ignored the hopeful voice and continued on a path of self-destruction. Eventually I started listening to that voice and it started to lead me. And it still leads me.

How music led me to becoming sober

I used to hang out with the band The Naturals and one of the band members said to me, “Canberra is a good place to sing and start a band”, and so I went to Canberra.

The Naturals had a female sound engineer and so I did an audio engineering course and a project was to record a song. So I recorded the only song I wrote on piano. The first piece of feedback I got was that I have a unique voice and I could do anything. That little voice said “maybe you can, maybe you can”, and so I started listening to it more and more.

I played that tape to people and then suddenly people wanted me to sing in their band. Moving to Sydney to sing, I was still on a path to self-destruction. Another pivotal moment was that I got into Bondi Youth Wave, a youth program. Here, I got some clarity that I didn’t want to live in such a destructive way so I went off the dole and busked a capella in the streets of Sydney.

I went to Crossroads Theatre at Kings Cross and there was an open mic. I got up and sang “Plain Gold Ring” a capella and that was the beginning of my life changing. One of the people there offered me an amazing opportunity to perform. We started writing songs together, I played a concert in a cave, we formed a band and I went into rehab. And when I got out, I stayed sober continuously – and that was 30 years ago!

Making music and making records

Writing songs took me to the USA, where I started playing guitar at the age of 30 in New York City as I wanted to go solo. I got a manager who helped me make my first record. I called everyone that I knew and asked them “Do you have any work?”. I got a job at a venue where Alanis Morrisette played her only small show. And I asked if I could open for people and I opened for Toni Childs, Jefferson Starship, and so many more.

I had a belief back then that one day my prince would come – a lawyer that will get you a deal, or a manager, or a knight in shining armor to propel your career. It’s not like that anymore.

They were saying the same thing then to me in the 90s and they still say it now. Go out there and tour. You have to build something before you can expect others to come along and support that.

I courted a manager who was also managing Blodie. But that didn’t come to fruition. Reflecting back, my career is a story of people being interested in you, without ever actually committing.

I had my very first album and I got a showcase at SXSW. It took me 2 years to pay the album loan back but someone gave me a plane ticket to Austin from NYC. People were telling me Austin was a good place. I took the ticket and played the showcase at the premiere listening room. No label bought it.

How I funded my 8 albums

My first album was made on spec with 4 different producers plus $2000 that I borrowed.  The second album was made with a bunch of people who helped me record demos that I ended up packaging into an album. Album number three was time traded working for someone for studio time.

For the fourth album, I went back to work with someone from the first album. I paid for the musicians, but it was a spec job for the producer. This was the first time I’d paid for musicians. And I started crowdfunding here too.

My fifth and sixth album were both partially crowd-funded. Number five had strings and keyboard player that I paid for and the producer played everything else that I couldn’t play. The seventh album was grant funded.

And finally, this latest album release “Waiting to Fly” was really different. Because I couldn’t tour the seventh album due to COVID, this meant that that album didn’t have a chance to earn an income and so I had to look at album number 8 in a different way.

I had a realisation that people I’d previously worked with and people I wanted to work with needed to be paid, and I couldn’t afford to keep paying people whilst making so little.

Learning to produce my own music

7 years ago, when I moved back to Australia, I invested in some gear: a good mic, a audio interface and a Mac computer to do demos. But I didn’t do anything with it. It was all aspirational.

I had always told myself I’d never be able to record and produce. It was a strong belief but I applied for a grant to learn how to record and produce. I then discovered there were musicians around the world that you could hire to play on your songs.

I Heart Songwriting Club was part of the structure of writing album number seven in 2019 and number 8 in 2022. I thought I would record an EP but the pandemic kept going, and so I kept going – writing, recording, producing and arranging until I had an 11 track album.

I often say, ‘I did this by accident’. But really, I just followed that voice cluelessly to emerge from a dark place.

Embracing imperfections

I can so easily forget there’s a whole world out there and stay in my studio. But when I’m out in the world connecting with other humans, that’s when opportunities open up. My tendency is to think that connecting with people is something I don’t have time to do because I have to stay at home and work.

I’ve learnt to become more comfortable with the imperfections that I carry and that I am. I have a harsh voice in my head that gives me a hard time. I have to be quite diligent with my thoughts. And sometimes I’m better at it than other times. It hasn’t just gone away. And that’s the voice that I use when I write, sing, and connect with others. That light, that’s the place I work to put my energy.

Timestamps for podcast audio:

4:20 – How music overtook Lisa’s old substance abuse patterns

22:35 – Lisa’s songwriting journey started in NYC in her 30s

34:00 – How Lisa’s success was a series of ‘small accidents’ and asking for favours

41:00 – How Lisa’s funded 7 albums completely independently and developed to eventually record and produce her 8th album

54:00 – Lisa shares about writing her song “Waiting For Love To Cure Me”

1:00:00 – Lisa performs “Waiting For Love To Cure Me” at IHSC Headquarters

About Lisa Richards: 

With a voice described as both ferocious and sweet, and a percussive guitar style, Lisa Richards writes songs of longing, loss, love and hope. Songs steeped in musical expressiveness and lyrical succinctness, borrowing from the traditions of folk, blues and jazz with her feet firmly planted in her own musical corner of the world. Shaped by her childhood in Townsville North Queensland, as well as long stints in New York City and Austin Texas she now resides in Canberra, Australia.

Contact Lisa: Website / Facebook / Instagram

Song Credit: “Waiting For Love To Cure Me” – Written by Lisa Richards. Performed live by Lisa Richards at I Heart Songwriting Club Headquarters.

Episode Show Notes:

Get your creativity, confidence, and songwriting output flowing. Join The Club and receive the support and structure to write 10 songs in 10 weeks and get feedback from a private peer community. This is THE essential writing practice that has changed the careers and lives of 1000s of songwriters worldwide.

Just getting started on your songwriting journey and need more hands-on support? Establish a firm foundation and develop your musical and lyric skills with our Beginner Songwriting Courses. They are the perfect place to begin and cover everything you need to know to write your first songs. You’ll receive lessons from Francesca directly!

Don’t struggle to write your next album – write an album a year with ease! Watch our Free Songwriting Masterclass.

Want more for your songwriting but don’t know where to go from here? Take the I Heart Songwriting Club Quiz to discover your next steps and inspire your way to writing better songs.

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Podcast theme song: “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other One” music and lyrics by Francesca de Valence

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By |2022-12-15T09:45:02+10:00December 15th, 2022|0 Comments

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