I had the great pleasure of having dinner recently with the legendary British lyricist, Don Black. Besides being known for some of musical theater’s most eloquent and memorable lyrics in shows ranging from Sunset Boulevard and Tell Me On a Sunday to Bombay Dreams and Bonnie and Clyde, he’s also responsible for 100’s of pop and Hollywood hits like “Diamonds are Forever”, “Born Free”, Michael Jackson’s “Ben”, and “To Sir With Love”.
Like all successful career writers in this business of hits, misses, and everything in between, he’s had his fair share of each over the years. Every Oscar and Tony he’s won was built on the back of a vast cannon of work that has defined each step on his career journey.
So I asked him to share some advice for writers who will inevitably have to navigate through many ups and downs on their path to success.
First, he recommended to always have a few projects going at various phases. There’s a good chance that if one project is having a misstep, there’s another project with a glimmer of something wonderful to cheer you up and keep you going.
Second, he recounted a story about one of his early musical theater projects. After opening night on the West End, he was devastated to see a less than stellar review of the show. However, the very next day he got a call from Andrew Lloyd Webber complimenting the lyrics and asking him to join him on a new project – launching a successful and longstanding collaboration.
Each project leads to new contacts, new artists, new collaborators and new opportunities for success. Great advice from a man who has made a career in this thrilling and heartbreaking business. The work we all do is very personal and learning how to work through the highs and lows can be as challenging, but ultimately as rewarding and necessary in building a career, as creating the successful songs/shows themselves.
If you want to hear more of Don’s behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, check out his fantastic and inspiring biography: Wrestling With Elephants.