A Lesson in Opening Lines, Courtesy of John Mayer


The opening line is debatably the most important line in any song. If well-written, it will engage listeners from the song’s outset and make them emotionally vested in the story. If badly written, it can cause people to switch off (literally and figuratively) and become completely disconnected from you as the storyteller.

I love John Mayer’s songs – they’ve always had the ability to hook me from the beginning and keep me interested in what he has to say till the very last line. Allow me to demonstrate, via ten of his songs, how a well-crafted opening line can grab your attention and initiate a kind of imaginary dialogue between the storyteller and the listener:

1. I’m not alone – I wish I was. (Something’s Missing)
You wish you were alone? Why, John? Why would anyone wish they were alone? Please explain your predicament to me!

2. I was born in the arms of imaginary friends. (Half of my Heart)
Amazing imagery, John! I need to listen to the rest of the song in order to try and understand what it represents in your (real) life.

3. Gravity is working against me. (Gravity)
Me too, John. Let’s have an in depth discussion about our existential crises. You go first.

4. Lightening strikes inside my chest to keep me up at night. (Heartbreak Warfare)
Wow. Pretty sure I felt that lightening too.

5. Too many shadows in my room, too many hours in this midnight. (In Repair)
Tell me more, John. What’s haunting you?

6. Just when I had you off my head, your voice comes thrashing wildly through my quiet bed. (All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye)
That sucks for you, John! Who is this woman you’re singing about, and what are you going to do about her voice’s impromptu nighttime visits?

7. Check your pulse, it’s proof that you’re not listening to the call your life has been issuing you. (Great Indoors)
You’re right – I’m really not living up to my potential. What else can you tell me about myself that I was having trouble understanding?

8. I’m so alive, I’m so enlightened. (New Deep)
Dude, what’s your secret?

9. I work in the dead of night, when the roads are quiet and no one is around to track my moves. (Assassin)
Sounds pretty clandestine (which definitely makes me want to know more). What exactly does this “work” entail?

10. I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore. (In Your Atmosphere)
That’s a very bold statement. Why not? What have you got against the LA?


Obviously, I’m attempting to put into words something that happens on a completely subconscious level, in order to make a point. The point being that an opening line is important, and can be the difference between a great song that people want to listen to till the very end, and an average song that loses people’s attention before the first chorus.

What are some of your favourite opening lines? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Photo courtesy of Alejandro De La Cruz on Flickr.

Songwriting: A Blessing, Not A Burden


One of my resolutions at the beginning of this year was to write fifty-two new songs before the dawn of 2014 – an average of one song per week. It’s now October, and I’ve written four complete songs so far this year. Four! I am behind schedule, to say the least.

I could list a thousand excuses as to why I’ve written so little in the past ten months. I’ve had ongoing health struggles, and energy and motivation have been in short supply. But when did songwriting become something that I consider to be a further drain on my energy? Writing has always been my refuge during difficult times, my way of working through the things that overwhelm me. Yet somehow in this past year I’ve let it become just another thing that seems too overwhelming to face.

That needs to change. Now is the time to stop making excuses and just write. Writing songs is not a burden, and I don’t know why I’ve allowed it to seem so. Songwriting is a gift – one that enables me to see the dark and messy things in a clearer light and begin to make sense of them. It’s not something I wish to neglect.

So, maybe I won’t quite make it to fifty-two by January 1st, but I’m going to at least make songwriting (and writing in general) a priority again!

Has anyone else been going through something similar lately? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Inspiring Artist of the Week: Natasha Meister

Natasha Meister

I’m very excited to share this week’s inspiring artist with you all! Not only is Canadian-born Natasha Meister crazy-talented, she’s also one of the sweetest and most humble singer-songwriters I have the pleasure of knowing. She is the first woman in South Africa to be sponsored by Fender, and has received much notoriety in this country for her bluesy, soulful voice and guitar skills. Natasha (who resides in Cape Town) regularly tours South Africa, so if you live in SA then be sure to catch one of her live shows! You sign up to her mailing list (via her website) to keep up-to-date with her tour schedule.

Over to Natasha, for a sneak peak into her songwriting process!


Name: Natasha Meister
Albums titles to date: “Half Way”
Release date of next record: 2014
Favourite songwriter: John Mayer
Instruments: Vocal and guitar

Describe your music in five words or less:
Versatile, relatable, rhythmic, rock edge.

How old were you when you first started writing songs?
I first started writing songs at the age of about 14…just going into highschool…those were the most personally evolving/confusing years of my life. I would write about a bad day at school or a boy I had a crush on.

How has your songwriting changed and developed over the years?
I like to think my songwriting has come a long way since my teen years. My head space was all over the place during that time…and nothing I wrote would ever really make sense. There was no song structure, the lyrics were meaningless as all I cared about was that they rhymed. I was still developing my vocal and guitar skills, so chord progressions and vocal melody lines weren’t strong, didn’t have a natural flow, and lacked dynamics. Only now do I feel as though I’m finally getting to the point where I’m so much more aware of the details. My songs feel like they make sense these days…my focus is to write meaningful lyrics, as I believe music is such a powerful tool and I want my songs to have the right message.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
“Someone Like You” by Adele, because it is such a powerful and relatable song…and everyone has been through heartbreak. I think it is one of those timeless songs.

Approximately how many songs have you written, in total?
About 25 completely finished songs.

What’s your favourite of all the songs you’ve written, and why?
I’d say my favourite at the moment is one of my newest songs called “Alive”. It’s about a broken world where people are at war with themselves and blinded by darkness and God is the hope and light we have to live this life on earth with purpose and meaning.

Which five artists/bands have had the biggest influence on your music?
Blues legend, B.B. King and modern blues guitarist, John Mayer, were the biggest influences when I was first starting out. And with my recent love for rock music, I’ve been obsessed with the sounds of Foo Fighters, Paramore, and Switchfoot.


Complete this sentence: Music is…the essence of life! Something my grandmother used to tell me.

What’s been the most memorable or exciting moment of your music career to date? Completing my debut album “Half Way” has been the highlight of my career so far. That was such an accomplishment for me. Although I like to think I’ve improved a lot since the first album…I’m still proud of myself for putting it out there.

Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring songwriters/musicians reading this?
Music is a powerful tool/gift, so use it wisely. Don’t sell your soul just to be what this world wants you to be…stand your ground. If music is your passion, be confidant enough to share it with the world…but always remain humble. And one last thing…don’t stand in the way of yourself…dream big!

Click here to buy “Half Way”


You can keep in touch with Natasha at the following places:

Official Website


Independent Music


Jon Foreman on Songwriting

Mali & Jon

At the aftershow in Cape Town

It’s no secret that I think that Jon Foreman is the best songwriter of my generation (or at least, the best that I am aware of). If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know that his songs were instrumental in changing my life.

I first watched this in-depth interview with Jon in 2008, but I watched it again at the weekend. It inspired me even more than the first time I watched it, especially as I’ve now experienced first-hand the truth of some of the principles he talks about (with regards to songwriting).

I hope this inspires you as much as it did me!


Photo courtesy of Cuan Korsten

Inspiring Artist of the Week: Gareth Asch


I’m pretty excited about this week’s inspiring artist. Gareth Asch is the lead songwriter and frontman of my favourite South African band, K, Ray and the Bird. We’ve been privileged to play many gigs with them, and even more privileged to have become great friends with them. When we go to Cape Town, they’re the first people we call. I never get tired of their music, and each live show brings a different element of the band’s collective character to the forefront.

Having chatted a lot to Gareth about songwriting over the past few years (and having listened to a lot of his songs), I’ve been continually impressed by his songwriting ethic. I’ve never known anyone to write so many songs!

Oh, and he’s one of the most hilarious people I know. Case in point:


If you haven’t yet heard K, Ray and the Bird’s music, please take a listen using any of the audio tracks/videos embedded in this post, or click on any of the links at the bottom of the page for more info on the band.

Name: Gareth Asch
Band: K, Ray and The Bird

Albums titles to date: Waiting for harmony (2009); Rhymes in the attic (2011)
Release date of next record: Hopefully 2014
Favourite songwriter: Billy Joel
Instruments: Guitar and mouth organ

Describe your music in five words or less:kraycd WAITING FOR HARMONY
Quirky, harmony, deep, fun, chordie.

How old were you when you first started writing songs?
7 or 8 years old. My first song was called “Someone’s Got a Crush on Me”.

How has your songwriting changed and developed over the years?
Yes. A big step was when I started playing guitar at the age of 15/16 years old. Before that I used to write and perform rap songs from the age of 13 – 15. Then I developed progressively by playing alot in churches, playing in 5 bands and writing lots of songs and many genres too. It also helps to immerse yourself in lots of music by listening to many different artists to let yourself be inspired with regards to song writing.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
For the longest time (Billy Joel); Objects in the review mirror (may appear closer than they are) (Meat Loaf); Off he goes (Pearl Jam); Blue (The Jawhawks); Prayer (Petra); Somebody to love (Queen). Could not mention one, sorry.

Approximately how many songs have you written, in total?
300/400 (though I recently read that you shouldn’t do a stock take).


(Note from Mali: This video was shot in our old living room!)

What’s your favourite of all the songs you’ve written, and why?
“His Love is All You Need” – I remember loving the song when I wrote it in 2004 as it was inspired by real life circumstances and the song really took on a life of its own. I could not stop singing it in the shower and playing percussion on my torso at the same time. It has an old school swing groove, it is very uncool, but I just love it. I love that it is inspired by a friend, then it references Hannah (in the Bible) and then even indirectly references Jesus too. Oopsy, I think I gave the whole plot away.

Which five artists/bands have had the biggest influence on your music?
The Jayhawks, Radiohead, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, The Avett Brothers. (P.S. This was hard as I could easily think of 15 artists.)

Complete this sentence: Music is… beautiful, educational and cathartic.

What challenges (if any) have you faced in reconciling your faith in Christ with your passion for songwriting? How have you overcome these challenges?
The challenge for me is to know when to mention your faith and when to let a song leave a question in the air. I would like people to see our whole body of work and see that our faith in Jesus is there; it is just not apparent in every song individually. And I am comfortable with that. I am a Christian who loves to write songs. It overflows through most of the songs and sometimes it doesn’t in some songs. People might have a problem with that, but I think it is very normal. We want to play all types of venues without being labelled as a “CHURCH ONLY” band. The verse I think of is that we should be as “shrewd as serpants” (what Jesus said when He sent out the 72 followers.) Music can subtly refer to the gospel and sometimes be used as a carrot to an event where the full gospel is being preached. I love the fact that God allows me to express myself and uses my music in different ways. The challenge for me is that my songs don’t become too self-indulgent and about ME ME ME. I like to think every single song of ours has a Biblical reference somewhere. I also believe you can teach wonderful Biblical truth through music that can enrich people in many ways.


What’s been the most memorable or exciting moment of your music career to date?
The gig (our first CD launch) when I realised it was possible for listeners to enjoy and appreciate what K, Ray and The Bird do. Up until then, it was mainly friends and family support and I wasn’t sure if what we did could be attractive to people. It was a big personal breakthrough and very encouraging to know that we could find a market that liked what we do.

Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring songwriters/musicians reading this?
Write loads (the more the better); work with the best (sub-standard passion/talent will slow you down); Enter lots of competitions and take every possible opportunity; Gig a lot and get a manager (the last 2 tips I got from Elton’s John).

Click here to listen to clips of all the songs from “Rhymes in the Attic”!

rhymes in the attic cover pic

You can keep in touch with Gareth at the following places:
Official Website

Are you an independent musician/songwriter who would like to be featured as an inspiring artist? Email me on bookings@malikorsten.com with a link to somewhere that I can stream your music!