I can never quite know what I'm in for when I listen to Matt Farley's music. For every song he's written about life's little nuances, he has as many that would feel at home on an episode of Rick and Morty. Of course, you might expect this kind of variety in a catalogue as vast as his.
I wanted to talk to Matt about his unusual career and how his perspective on songwriting has evolved, 18,000 songs into it. I'm excited to share his story and advice in this first episode of The pATCHES Podcast. Click the links below to listen and subscribe on the platform of your choice. Then, go check out Matt's Spotify list of his 200 best songs.
Transcript: 001. 18,000 songs and counting
“The Poop Song” has had – it’s getting close to 400,000 streams on Spotify which is, like, insane. I have, like, some of my favorite musicians on Spotify don’t even have 50,000 streams. I feel bad about it! I sang poop for a minute and a half and it’s like, it’s running circles around some of the greatest compositions of all time.
So, you know, hey it works it was just a clever little idea, I was just like, “Well, poop, kids must type in the word ‘poop’ into iTunes” so I just wrote, y’know, I’ve written hundreds of poop songs, um.
I’m Matt Farley from Motern Media, I release music under the names The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man, The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, Matt Motern Manly Man, Projection From the Side, The Motern Media Holiday Singers, and The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, and Pee.
You’re listening to the pATCHES podcast, I’m Dan from pATCHES.
And today we’re hearing from this guy – Matt Farley. I learned a lot from talking with Matt because his approach to creating music is something completely different from my own – his recordings don’t have the best sound and aren’t the most fleshed out, and he doesn’t think they need to be.
I was on the tonight show, and um, I performed my song on the piano and vocals, and then The Roots performed my song as we went out to commercial, and I was like, alright, well, these guys know what they’re doing they are so much better than me. But, um, that’s not what I do, I think of myself primarily as a songwriter and the recordings are, y’know, just good enough to get ‘em out there. And, y’know, if The Roots ever want to do like a full album of covers of my songs they have my blessing.
What I really enjoy about Matt’s work is you never know what to expect – you’re as likely to laugh at something goofy as you are to reflect on one of his novel insights into a common phrase, and you can’t be sure if his music will make a deep connection with you or annoy the hell out of you. And what’s great is there is always something new to be surprised by, and that’s because Matt Farley has written over 18,000 songs, releasing his music under 70 different aliases.
His story begins like many musicians, starting a band in college and writing music with friends.
My buddy Tom and I, we called ourselves Moe’s Haven, and um, we would spend entire weekends just recording songs…
…and it was so much fun. College ended, and usually you just move on but I was like, I don’t want to move on I want to keep doing this. Uh, and so we kept doing it, y’know, we’d meet up at least once a month or so and have these crazy songwriting sessions. And, y’know the only people who listened to it would be our friends if we forced them to listen to it.
So even back then Matt was already thinking of crazy schemes to get ears on the songs he was writing.
I would volunteer to drive people to the airport just so I could get them in my car and I could force them to listen to it and I could try to gauge their reaction to the songs.
And he carried on this mindset when digital distribution came around and changed how he was able to reach people with his music.
And then iTunes happened like ’04 and I discovered that anyone can release an album and I was like, “wait, just anyone can do this? there’s no one stopping us this is crazy!” So we put out all our albums, we ended up having 25 albums, and um…
Looking over the response to all these releases, Matt made an observation that ended up becoming a turning point in his songwriting career.
I noticed that no one was buying them except for when we wrote really weird songs, y’know, with weird titles, specifically if you had an animal, or celebrity, or food, and it was like oh! People are typing weird words into iTunes and most songs are just about love! There’s not a lot of songs about, um, monkeys. So then I was like, “y’know what, I already know how to write songs all day, how about I just write songs about topics that people might be searching for and, uh, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.”
Artists need to appeal to as many listeners as they can to make a living from their music. Matt casts just as wide a net as any other successful musician, but he’s built his thread by thread. Each of his songs is another tiny fiber that helps to capture just a few listeners but he’s able to zoom out and see how the larger web allows him to build his living from his music. It’s easy to be critical when you don’t see this bigger picture.
When people say my songs are bad or just kind of write me off as a hack, I feel a little bad about it but, um, also it’s like, when you graduate college it’s usually like, look all your little hobbies are gonna have to take a back seat, you’re gonna have to start paying the bills, etc., etc. So, it’s like I wanna – if I can earn enough money singing about poop that it will give me time to write about the “serious” songs, that’s fantastic! I’m earning money doing something I like doing, and then, y’know, I’m not bogged down by a 9-to-5 job, um…
that’s just it – Matt’s found a way to support his love of writing music by
writing lots of music. And it’s really not anything he feels bad about.
I had a job once at a treatment facility for disabled kids, and one of my responsibilities was wiping people’s butts. So when people say to me, like, “Do you feel guilty that you make money singing about poop?” I’m like, well look, I’ve made money wiping people’s butts, so, I’m not above that. It’s like, don’t be so precious and frankly I try to quell the artistic side of me as much as possible because nothing annoys me more than a pretentious artist. It’s like, shut up and sing about poop, that’s what the people want!
So Matt finds a balance between the novelty songs and and the rest of the music he wants to make, and he’s aware that they both have their own purpose.
The silly songs are good, I’m proud of the silly songs, but also they are kind of a gateway for people who dig deep enough to find, um, the more complex stuff. So the silly songs are like advertisements for the other stuff.
Because of all the songs he’s written, he thinks a lot of them are really worth listening to.
I’ve written 18,000, almost 18,500 songs and, um, look obviously I’m a little bit, um, what’s it called… biased, but uh, I think I’ve written like, at least like 1000 songs that are all-time greatness.
And this is one of the things I love about Matt, and one of the things that’s kept him going – he believes in himself and the projects he works on.
Y’know I guess I grew up loving the Beatles and loving Bob Dylan and just thinking they were the greatest and thinking I was just as good. Y’know, that’s a good way, everyone should be that way. I think everyone should think they are the greatest of all time… I know I do.
One of the things that’s obvious from just how many song Matt’s written is the persistence and determination it’s taken to keep going.
A lot of people totally would have quit. I mean, most people would have quit after college, y’know, just like “uh, you made some fun songs with your buddy in college, I mean, now get on with your life.” But I was like no! We didn’t just make some fun songs, we- the albums we made in our dorm room are masterpieces and the world needs to know! And so, y’know I kind of set up my life in such a way that I could, um, attempt to get the world to figure out how great we were. My job after college was working at a group home for teens, and I got down to where I could do 40 hours of week over the course of 3 days. The pay wasn’t great, but money is less important than time, so I had four days per week to work on music and then the other three days I just worked my regular job essentially non-stop but it was totally worth it. Now, um, I don’t work there anymore because I’m earning enough to just do the music, but um, you have to be thoughtful about every aspect of your life, y’know do you get a nice car? Because if you’re buying yourself a nice car then that means you need to earn more money and if you’re earning more money then it means you have more time spent doing the thing that gets you the money, which at that point was not music. So, um…
And that’s how Matt was able to spend so much of his time writing music. It makes me think of Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule - the idea is that, with enough practice, you can become a master of something just by developing a subconscious instinct for it. And this seems to be what’s happened to Matt after years of crafting song after song.
Yeah so, um, I don’t do it in a scientific way I just do it and keep doing it and I guess innately you just start to go in the direction that works better. But it’s definitely not a conscious thing like, oh, maybe the melody should go like this or just like alright, what chords did I just hit on the keyboard and what do I feel like singing over them, uh, it seems like it is mostly an unconscious thing, just the act of doing it, unconsciously you figure out how to do it and boom you’re doing it better.
But this doesn’t mean Matt is immune from hitting a wall. The difference with him is, he’s learned to push through it.
And y’know, sometimes I come down and the first hour that I’m working on music is just not happening but then the juices start flowing and it’s like, ah, yeah! It’s like running, no one likes to start running, no matter what, I think, who knows some people might. But it’s kind of like, you’re sitting on the couch, and you’re like, “aggh, do I have to go running?” but then a mile into it you’re like “oh, alright, this is why I did it!” So, it hurts a little bit but in a good way but everything worthwhile probably hurts a little bit.
And following that same philosophy, he makes it clear it’s important to finish whatever it is you’re working on.
My advice to anyone with writer’s block or just not knowing what to do is just finish it! Because there’s something different in my point of view between abandoning it and… it’s different if you abandon it halfway through then you’re going to get into the habit of not finishing things and I think that’s a bad habit, so, um, no matter how bad it is, just finish it and uh, I even release it too, which, is potentially a mistake. But I don’t think it is a mistake because there are so many albums I release I’m like “Alright, songs 1, 2, and 6 are brilliant and the rest stink” and nobody ever mentions songs 1, 2, or 6 but they mention other songs as being their favorites so, I’m not a good judge of my own work. So I’ll just do it, just get it done, let’s tidy it up here, just boom get it done and move on to the next thing. That’s how the creative pipeline for me works, at least.
One of the ways musicians tend to lose drive is by getting too caught up in the details of their project. It’s like painting with a magnifying glass and forgetting that the eventual audience will only see the picture when it’s hanging on the wall across the room.
Yeah! And, y’know, people… In Pet Sounds the Beach Boys album, people talk about like, um, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” there’s the intro and then the big drum comes in and then the song starts… And they’re like “oh, Brian Wilson was really focused on when that drum would happen, and it happened at a beat where typically that drum wouldn’t happen and it changed everything!” And it’s like, come on! That didn’t change anything! It’s just a good song! It’s just a good song! Ah!
Matt might take this philosophy to the extreme, but he makes a point I think we as producers seem to often forget – the song is what matters and the little things we sometimes obsess over don’t end up making much of a difference in the end. We’ve spent 45 minutes doing something like eq’ing a kick drum and by the time we’ve made marginal improvements to it we’re completely burnt out.
It can drive you nuts. Like, y’know, people can spend so much time worrying about this tiny little thing that no one’s gonna notice… It’s like just try to write a pretty good chord progression and a pretty good melody and record it as well as you can without losing your mind, and move on to the next one. Because, if the song’s no good, all the work in the world isn’t gonna make it better. And so, um, just get it done, and maybe you learned a lesson from this mediocre song that will help you write a great song next.
But musicians and producers will find all sorts of reasons to not see their work through. One of the most common excuses is feeling like you don’t have the right hardware or software.
One thing that people also get bogged down in is the equipment. And it seems a lot of the people who want the good equipment are the ones who get the good equipment and never use it too. And then they just have, like, this little corner of their apartment when they finally get the equipment it’s just sitting there.
Matt’s pretty clear these things shouldn’t stop anyone from doing something creative, and not letting them is one of the things that distinguishes the best artists.
Supposedly Francis Ford Coppolla, um, his approach to making movies was not to be like, waiting until they had all the exactly the right money and the right investors and everything lined up, it was just like, “Alright I’m making a movie. Are you with me or not?” And he just did it and he was just a force of nature and everyone rallied behind it.
When you think about what you actually need to make a strong artistic statement, you’ll probably find you don’t need very much at all.
I’ll often times think back to Robert Johnson, the blues singer from the 1930’s, and he only had I think he only had a handful of recording sessions just with a guitar and vocals in a hotel room, like one microphone.
And that music is outrageously influential and, y’know, incredibly lo-fi. So, um, you don’t have to be perfect. And frankly the more perfect it gets, y’know, the less interesting it gets, often. Perfection is a little bit dull.
His point is that legendary recordings could not be so inspirational if the artist decided to wait for better technology and they never got recorded at all. Great songs are great in spite of and often because of these constraints, and songwriters can’t afford to get too wrapped up in what they don’t have.
I get frustrated when I see people, they’re like “I can’t be a songwriter until I have the right equipment.” And frankly, your phone is better technology than a lot of people were using 25 years ago. Y’know, I was doing stuff on tape and it sounded horrible. If you’re recording yourself on your phone, it’s gonna sound better than Robert Johnson’s recordings from the 1930’s and those things are like the greatest things ever! So, a lot people are sitting there like “Well, if I can just save up enough to afford this really great program and this great microphone and this great blah blah blah then I can be a songwriter.” And it’s like no! You probably have a phone that has the voice memo app, so, y’know, use that. Or just use a tape recorder or something!
Or anything. The point is, don’t make excuses to avoid writing and recording songs if that’s what you want to do. There’s something inherently meaningful to preserving art for posterity – after all, a recording is like a time capsule of your ideas that will last forever.
Yeah, but then again, we’re all just ants, y’know, building a little ant hill that’s then going to be blown away by the wind, so ultimately everything is fleeting. But, y’know, don’t wait just do it. Get started. You’re gonna be dead soon so, sing as many poop songs as you can before that happens.
That’s our show! This episode was produced by me, Dan Hilse, and Pierce Porterfield with help from Lily Moore and Jim Jung. Special thanks to Matt Farley for agreeing to talk to us, you can learn more about Matt and hear the songs he’s written by visiting moternmedia.com, the link is in the show notes.
The pATCHES podcast is a project of patches.zone, a website dedicated to creating resources for music producers. If you’re looking for sample packs, Ableton live tutorials, or music production guides, be go check out our page. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts to get all of our next episodes. Thanks for listening!