Belmont alumni Daniel Ethridge recently performed on “American Idol” and received the coveted approval from all three judges.
Despite being eliminated in the Hollywood round, Ethridge’s true passion is still songwriting.
“When I was a voice major, I got really into writing and realized that’s what I wanted to do full time,” Ethridge said.
On “American Idol,” Ethridge sang “Fire Away” by Chris Stapleton and an original song called “One Day They Will Know My Songs.” His original piece impressed the celebrity judges, especially singer-songwriter Lionel Richie.
“I love singer-songwriters. It’s not about big booming voices, it’s about storytelling in your case,” Richie said in the taped segment. “I believe that you can go places.”
Ethridge plans to. He writes his songs with a destination in mind, then works backward to create a road map to get there.
“I think I’m a more effective writer when I understand what the endgame is, so I know what I’m aiming at,” he said.
“My process is aiming at the hook, it’s aiming at the title. I have some friends that are great at starting with the first line and writing to the end,” Ethridge said. “I’m not good at that. “
When writing about personal experiences, Ethridge doesn’t allow passion and emotion to steer him out of control.
“It’s passion approached with a practical mindset,” Ethridge said. “It’s understanding that our life experiences are what shape us as writers and expanding on them, but from a point that’s a little more removed.”
For Ethridge, one of those defining life experiences came by chance when he was a teenager. While laying in bed, tending to a broken heart, he heard a Paul McCartney song, and the lyrics moved him.
“I was going through some stupid high school breakup that felt like it was the end of the world. I remember hearing ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles,” he said.
In that moment, he started to understand the power of music. He had always thought music was just a pastime — something frivolous — but that day it spoke to him directly.
“That moment I got it. Music matters.”
Since then, Ethridge has also come to appreciate the power of language, he said.
“I love wordsmiths. I love understanding how they approach the lyric, because everyone has a different way of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you.’ Fitzgerald and Hemingway would say ‘I love you’ completely differently,” Ethridge said.
An avid reader, Ethridge learns from all kinds of writers, from the journalists at GQ and Esquire to young adult author John Green.
“The importance of reading as a songwriter is that it helps with the economy of the lyric. If John Green gets 300 pages to tell a love story, and I get half a page and three minutes, it’s understanding how to condense it and use highlights, but then use legitimate detail,” Ethridge said.
Ethridge takes pride in his recent success on American Idol and the reception he got to his lyrics, but he hasn’t lost touch with the point of it all — the music itself.
“I talk to people all the time who say ‘God, I wish I could play music.’ We get so wrapped up in our little world that we forget that what we do is pretty badass and not everyone gets to do it.”