John Ondrasik – “Five for Fighting” – on music, song writing and work ethic

John Ondrasik

After giving you a preview of this interview 2 weeks back, we have the real thing.

John Ondrasik is very inspiring – he is an Applied Science and Math major from Berkeley while also being a successful singer and songwriter. He sings under the moniker “Five for Fighting.” I reached out to John as I love his music. After 7 months since I first emailed his wonderful agent, Steve, we finally spoke. John’s video wasn’t working but I didn’t want to risk missing him for another 7 months. What followed was a wonderful 25 minutes. I hope you enjoy it as much as the team did.

My favorite bits –

“I think I was always into my music and was passionate about music, but I was also pragmatic enough to realize that there might not be a career at the end of the tunnel. In school I was very focused on the math and the sciences. The deal with my parents was that they would continue to support my music as long as I had a back-up plan. That was going to college and getting a degree where I could get a real job one day.”

“I am one of those 20 year overnight success stories where I worked 20,000 hours before I made a penny doing this.”

“As a young songwriter (and I tell this to other songwriters all the time) the key is to write a lot of songs, and I was. I was writing hundreds of songs a year. Not many good ones, but “Superman” was just one of those songs.”

“I think it’s almost harder sometimes to write that second song that is not just a copy of your hit, but a song that takes the next step. “100 Years” took almost a year to get right.”

“As much as you can talk about talent and inspiration and all that stuff, I’m a true believer in work ethic. If I’m not writing or playing, nothing’s happening.”

“Inspiration can come from painful places. Most of the good songs come from painful places, introspection, and integrity.”

”It certainly is a process, and it’s a very frustrating process because, at the end of the day, what sounds very simple is very hard to create.”

”You have to have an ego, but you also have to realize that it’s not all about you. You have to remember what got you there.”

“Even with technology, it costs $50,000-$200,000 to make a record when you hire mixers and engineers and musicians. Then you have to promote your record and it’s not free to hire a band, it’s not free to go on a TV show for people to hear you.
(With piracy,) I’m concerned that it’s becoming so hard to make a living at music unless you’re a superstar that music will become more of a hobby and the true singer/songwriters that can become part of the culture will be factored out just because there’s no income stream and there’s no career. I am concerned about it. I think it’s a big problem.”

I write my best lyrics when I’m not staring at the page. I’ll put my headphones on and go for a two hour hike, and I’ll write lyrics. I find that staying active, staying healthy, and working out trigger those endorphins which stimulate the creativity too.”

Even at my cynical old age, I do love the idea of starting from nothing and creating something. It doesn’t have to be just a song. It can be a poem, a book, a business, entrepreneurship. I love that spirit of starting with a blank slate and then ending up with something. It doesn’t even have to be great because I truly believe that the joy is in the journey.”

Full transcript, as always, on