Quest for a Million Listeners: Matt Farley on Songwriting, Philosophy and His Creative Life

By December 21, 2017 No Comments

When researching Matt Farley and his media company, Motern Media, you come across some of the most odd topics: songs about poop, celebrities and thousands of other topics, literally.  Over his career, Matt has amassed a catalog of nearly 20,000 songs and he’s only been doing this full-time for almost a year now.

Though he’s been creating since an early age, it’s only been recently that he’s starting to get the recognition he deserves. Other prolific songwriters, like, Jonathan Mann have even written songs about Matt, like, this one.  Just google him and you’ll find all types of articles (like, this one) or check out his appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show.

Matt Farley is a genius.  He’s an opportunist, but more importantly– an all-around great guy.  Just read this interview and see what you think.  I was fortunate enough to get a moment out of his busy schedule to ask him more about his creative life.

Interview with Matt Farley of Motern Media

Before we get started, Matt wants you to know:

On June 2nd 2018, I’m doing a 5 ½ hour concert in my hometown of Danvers, MA so you can find info about that on the website. We did it last June and it was super fun– 5 hours of entertainment. We got people that came from Canada, Seattle, Colorado, Tennessee, all over… it was kind of like a convention. It was really fun. We’re going to do it every year around June 3rd which is my birthday.

It’s kind of cooler and more fun to have this one event a year. Hopefully, it’ll become a thing. But, it’s three friends of mine and I on stage, and we had the time of our lives! Every time we talk to each other, that’s all we talk about now.

Meet Matt Farley

Questions and Answers

CJ: Do you have the world record, yet, for the most song releases?

Matt Farley: Um, nothing official. But, I think I’m up there.

But, I’m fine: I don’t need it to be verified by some some outside organization or whatever. A lot of that world record stuff is kind of gimmicky.

…200 more to get to 19,000 (songs). Yeah, I’ll be happy when I get there, for sure. There’s a guy named Jonathan Mann — he’s been doing a song-a-day for about 10 years. It doesn’t add up to as many as me, but it’s very impressive.

And then, occasionally, I’ve looked up prolific songwriters and usually it says Bob Dylan and I’m like, “What?” Bob only has a few hundred (songs).

Again, if I wrote one song that people liked, I’d be happy with that, too.

CJ: I called you several weeks ago to talk about the relationship of SEO and songwriting topics, since after all, you have the data from releasing nearly 20,000 original songs. And your answer was surprising. Basically, the only actionable notes I took from that call were: songs about poop and animals seem to be the most successful song topics. Can you explain these findings?

Matt Farley: Well, it has to be a mix between things lots of people are searching for, but that there doesn’t happen to be a lot of songs about. And I think, the only way to find out if you’re right is to bother putting out the songs, ya know?

So I have a hunch, “I betcha this would be popular,” and then you spend the time to actually do it. So it’s just a lot of trial and error.

But, I had the poop idea a long time ago. Like, 20 years ago, I was like, “Man, an album about poop– I betcha it would sell!” It was just always in the back of my mind. But, at that point of time, you couldn’t really independently release music and get it anywhere. So it was only when iTunes came around that we started to have the chance to try stuff out like that.
So really it’s all about luck, ya know! So if I wrote about everything, I’ll eventually figure out what people are searching for.

I just do it. If I’m coming up with the name of my band, I might search to make sure that nobody else has that band name. Most topics you’re going to find other songs about them, but it’s just you want it to be no more than, like, a handful of songs. If you look up songs about “cars”, you’re going to have millions of songs about cars, in general, ya know. But songs about “windshield wipers” — probably not quite as many.

I also think it’s hilarious, too– it’s so funny! I’m cracking myself up and just imagining someone on Spotify browsing and then finding– like, I have a whole album about office supplies. And I just feel like it would blow people’s minds and they’d just be, like, “Why? Who would do this? What?” So that’s what I’m trying to create (laughs).

CJ: What is it about your drive and creativity which makes you want to sit down, produce and release these type of songs to the world?

Matt Farley: I just like to work, ya know, the whole process of working is a good one for me. I’m just happiest if I have a task in front of me.

Anytime I can think of ideas for song topics, I’ll write them down so that when I have time to come downstairs and record, then I don’t have to waste time to thinking about what I’m doing next. It’s already written in front of me on a list.

I think that’s a good way to avoid writer’s block. Because you always have the next (task) right in front of you. And all the myths about the ‘tortured artist’ kind of thing is something I don’t subscribe to. I view it more, like, going to work. Like, working in a factory. Where you just get down, and hit record and make some music. And don’t agonize over it so much.

And frankly, I think that method can produce just as good quality music as someone who is a more traditionally recognized (with their approach). A lot of people, like, Woody Allen or Stephen King– they just go to work everyday, and I like that approach.

CJ: What is the relationship between Matt Farley, Motern Media and your Motern Media Bands — are they one-and-of-the-same and if so, why not release all the music under your own name?

Matt Farley: I started using pseudonyms just to keep things tidy. I was doing a lot of songs about athletes. And I thought, “I’ll call myself The Boston Sports Band to do all the songs about athletes in Boston” and then I’ll call myself The Kansas City Sports Band to do songs about athletes in Kansas City. And so on and so forth.

Just because I imagine a Kansas City fan would be mad– ya know, they’re buying the George Brett song and then they’re, like, “Wait, what’s this thing about David Ortiz, too– that’s no good.” And then I just kept going with it.

In retrospect, it would probably have made more sense if I had done it all as Matt Farley because then it would be a lot easier to see that I had made all this music. Currently, I’m sure there’s a lot of people who know The Kansas City Sports Band, but have no idea of all the other stuff I do.

But, I’ve had fun with it. And I’ve kind of created this whole scenario where some of the bands have rivalries against each other, and there’s frequently issues where Matt Farley (the boss of Motern Media) is overworking his artists and then they get mad. And they write tracks where they criticize me and stuff.

CJ: Like, diss tracks?

Matt Farley: Yeah, diss tracks against myself. So, yeah, it’s fun. I don’t really regret it. I probably would’ve been more popular if I hadn’t done this, but when people do discover it, then it’s just that much more fun for them because it’s like, “Wait a second, this is the same guy!”

CJ: Have you considered pursuing a more traditional route for your songwriting or have you always been committed to taking an unconventional path (for your music)? How did you get started– what did song 1 of 19,000 sound like?

Matt Farley: I was born in 1978 so I was in highschool and college in the 90s. I was recording songs on 4 track cassette recorders back then. And it was a mix of somewhat more traditional stuff with my band Moes Haven, a guy I went to college with, Tom Scalzo — he and I would record. But essentially, it was a similar approach– we’d come up with a list of topics. They wouldn’t always be wacky, though– ya know, it would vary greatly. And then spend the weekend just churning out music and recording it at a pretty frantic rate, which is still the approach.

And I guess the only difference is, when we were done, we’d only have two copies of the albums– one for each of us and we’d beg our friends to listen to it.

So then by 2004, that’s when I learned that you could independently get stuff on iTunes. So then we began to releasing things. And then I discovered that the only songs anyone were purchasing were the weird ones. And then by 2008, I said, “You know what, I’m just going to write about crazy stuff for the foreseeable future and see what happens.”

All I’ve ever wanted to do was to just work on projects: whether it was writing books, or writing poems, or making movies. That’s all I want to do. So all through college, once I found some friends who wanted to do stuff like that, every chance to get them to do it with me, I would.
And then after college, the main goal was to get a job where I could do 40 hours a week, and not have to take the job home with me so that when I was home, I could just make more music.

That’s all wanted to do. I only quit my day job less than a year ago so it’s been a very long process. Now it’s pretty exciting– I’m a full-time musician!

CJ: What is your creative process like? Do you get inspired by a song concept first and then put music to it or do you start with music and put lyrics to it?

Matt Farley: It’s usually a list. Even now, I don’t just do the silly, weird songs, ya know? I kind of switch it up: do a couple weird albums and do, like, “serious music”. But it’s the same approach with either one. I just make a long list of phrases or title ideas. Often if I’m watching TV, and I hear the characters say a phrase that I like, I’ll just quickly open up the notepad in my phone and write down that phrase to start the writing process.

But then also if I’m sitting at the piano and I’m banging at a few chords and I like the sound of them, then I’ll open up the voice memo part of my phone to record that. But, it’s more often, the concept comes first, and then the lyrics and music come more-or-less together.

CJ: How could someone replicate your strategy — what is required as far as creativity, time and other resources in order to release that many songs?

Matt Farley: It just takes time and being relentless– I think is the most important part. I think most people would get frustrated by it a few months in. Because, I mean, it’s crazy. On Friday nights, most people want to go out with their friends or something, but I wouldn’t. I would just stay in and record music.

Last night, I was up til 11:30 recording songs in the basement. So it’s really just time. If you’re focused and love doing it, and you don’t mind sacrificing all that time to do it, then chances are you’re going to create something people like, I think.

I think creativity is kind of like exercise, ya know? If it’s the first time you run a mile, you’re going to be exhausted. But if you do it every day for week, then suddenly you can run two miles and it’s not quite as exhausting. So I think creative energy is the same. For me, at least. Because I can write faster and better, I think, with each passing day.

I use a Tascam digital 24 track recorder studio, midi device connected to my keyboard, and I’m pretty sure it’s outdated in every way. Most people record on their laptops, I think. Just because I grew up recording on the Tascam onto cassette tapes, it’s just the way it goes right. And frankly, there’s not a lot I can do it terms of editing, and that’s better. Because if you can tweak it a lot, then you will tweak it a lot. And I think you can get kind of bogged down by thinking, “Oh, the bass doesn’t sound quite as rich as it should.” And then you’re turning knobs for 45 minutes. And nobody notices the difference– like, nobody really cares.

The Tascam is a digital recorder, but everything I do is straight into the Tascam and then I mix it on the Tascam and the basic mastering process (is done on the Tascam). It’s 100% finished (when it gets uploaded to the computer). And then it’s just uploading it from there; that’s it.

Rode NTGG2 mic is something I bought for making movies (and recording). I think anyone who knows anything about recording would be disappointed with my selection. I have four microphones down here. A few of them I bought for like $20 on Amazon because I don’t think that matters as much as the energy and the soul of the recording.

CJ: When you’re not producing a massive amount of music, what are you doing in your free time?

Matt Farley: Just hanging out with the family. I’m big on walking, too. I’ve done lot’s of massive walks. The most I’ve done is 50 miles in a day. That was 4 in the morning until 8 at night– pretty much non-stop walking.

I think that’s good for creativity– not that I’m consciously just doing it just for creativity– but being active is good and sometimes ideas will pop in your mind while you’re doing something like that. And you can just jot them down.

And a lot of people think that if you’re creative, you can’t possibly like sports or athletics. But, I disagree. I’m a big sports fan and I like to play basketball and stuff like that.

CJ: What is something that most people don’t know about you? What is your genius-level talent which allows you crank out these hits?

Matt Farley: Most of the articles written about me are about “this guy is scamming the system to make money off of streaming”, like, if you look online that’s what you’re gonna see. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of the songs are actually good, ya know? People just write me off as someone who sings about poop. And sure, I made my bed, now I have to lie in it. But I’ve got a lot of songs that I consider well-crafted works of art. Every once in awhile, I’m a little frustrated that I’m quickly written off as a hack. But, hey, what are you going to do? I can live with it.

I think persistence is the main thing. If you write 10 songs, 8 of them might be horrible, but then you might accidently write a couple good songs. So I guess my genius is recognizing not to get disappointed by the mediocre stuff and to just keep on going with it.

For me at least, it’s good to finish every song even if it seems that the song stinks. You can get into a bad habit where you write, like, a quarter of a song and then you get frustrated and quit because then, now you’ve established that’s something you’re willing to do.

What I’ve established, no matter how horrific a song is– I’m going to finish it. And sometimes the song seems really bad, and then it ends up being good. Or sometimes I finish a song, I think it stinks and I release it and then people email me and say, “I like that song.” So I think maybe we’re not good judges of our own work.

CJ: If fans want to connect with you, how do you suggest they do so in order to keep up with what you’re doing?
Matt Farley: Like you know, you can just call me, 603-644-0048. I have a Twitter account where I’ll announce the new album. My wife made a Facebook page for Motern Media, but it’s not updated that much.

Listen to the Official Motern Media Playlist:

Click here to learn more about his Quest for a Million Campaign.

Key Takeaways

Here are some notes I got from this interview.

  • When it comes to developing topics for songwriting, as Matt suggests, find a topic with a “mix between things lots of people are searching for, but there doesn’t happen to be a lot of songs about”.  As Matt has proved, there are hidden gems out there to discover.
  • Regarding persistence, Matt says you need to overcome the frustration when it comes to writing songs in this way and not let it affect you.
  • As Matt does, just keep an ongoing list of song ideas.  Whether that be on paper or an electronic format.  Consolidate the notes into one central spot for when it comes time to move forward.
  • Matt stresses the the fact that you must be relentless– he didn’t get success over night.  It takes time and a passion to persevere.
  • Matt doesn’t sweat the small stuff when he’s creating.  He says to “not to get disappointed by the mediocre stuff and to just keep on going with it”
  • And most importantly, Matt stresses to always finish what you start.

Hopefully you enjoyed this 30 minute interview with Matt Farley!  What did you takeaway from the interview?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section of the star reviews below.  While you’re here, feel free to check out more interviews!

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