By Lyndsey Hewitt
December 6, 2012
Michael “Max” McGee is no ordinary university employee. He has worked at Lock Haven University for 24 and a half years as resident director of Smith Hall, a residence hall on campus and is also currently an advisor to the university’s Hearing Board. In his spare time, however, he writes lyrics, and has done so for over 30 years. It is important to distinguish that he is a lyricist, not a music writer.
“I am only a lyric writer. I never ever wrote music. I would have a hard time telling a half note from a footnote. What I possess is the ability to write stories or song lyrics that are appealing to composers and have the meter and structure necessary for them to put melodies to them. My composer friends tell me they like writing with me because I’ve already done the hard part which is to define the tempo and flow of the music by how I write the words,” he said.
Having the lyrics he has written heard in many television shows, advertisements nationally and internationally, and having won many contests, he’s certainly a one of a kind with recognizable talent.
He has had his (and his co-writer’s) lyrics heard on shows such as “The Glades,” “Red Neck Wedding,” “American Pickers,” and more. Additionally, independent artists in many different countries have used his lyrics as well. His lyrics won in the American Songwriter Magazine lyric competition, and he was a finalist in many other competitions nation-wide.
Though he writes for all genres, it’s noticeable that country music has a strong place in his heart. “Country, R&B, folk, and pop all require strong lyrics. Country in particular is where lyric is king and a strong story is almost always necessary for major artists to record your song,” he said.
He takes inspiration from just about everything in life, right down to an overheard conversation, poetry, nature or even a television advertisement.
He writes lyrics that others can connect emotionally with, mainly about the human condition, such as love and loss, living and dying, even laughing and crying. He writes words that “help frame the emotions, aspirations, values, and chronology of everyday life.”
“I write all the time; walking, in the shower, listening to students talk, driving, eating. A word or phrase comes to me and I start to develop it. I play around with words and images and after a while the lyric starts to form. Then my composer friends and I tweak it as the melody gets applied to the words. We write and rewrite it until we like it,” he said.
He has even conducted several lyrical writing workshops for people in the community, mainly students and faculty of the university, who are interested in song writing so he can help aspiring writers and musicians learn things that he “learned the hard way.”
He grew up in Philipsburg, Pa., a small town in Centre county about an hour and a half west of Lock Haven. He took classes during high school at what was then known as Lock Haven State College, and after graduating high school decided to enroll as a full-time student in the early 70s. Later on, he spent some time at UCLA in Los Angeles as a resident hall director there, while still writing lyrics. He came back to Pennsylvania and became the very well-known RD of Smith Hall at LHU that he is today.
He has plans to end his career at LHU soon though, by retiring in January or February, depending on contract negotiations.
“I am retiring because in some ways I have outlived my usefulness [at the university]. In the resident director job you only have a certain amount of shelf life. You can only be creative or developmental up to a certain point, and once it passes you have a harder time relating to the needs of people 1/3 your age. It is better to recognize those facts and move on while you still have a value to give those (the students) who employ you,” he said.
After exiting his job at the university, he plans to focus more on his songwriting. He would like to visit Costa Rica during the dry season in order to write, and then eventually settle in Nashville, Tennessee, to what he refers to as the Nashville songwriting scene. There, he would like attempt to get his foot into the music industry in a “much bigger way.” He has had interactions with the city throughout his life, as far back as 1979, when he got his first set of lyrics published there.
Though he is retiring, he points out that his job at the university has supplemented his abilities as a lyricist.
“I listen to students and try to frame their emotions and crises into words and package them so that others can relate to their feelings and experiences. I try and find the essence of those moments and put it into words that speak to others,” he said.
He has had a long journey in becoming a published lyricist. Many times, he remembers being told his songs were no good, but he kept trying.
“Songwriting is a tough gig. If you do it only for fame and fortune, you will most likely be very disappointed,” he said.
Though it has been a tough journey, it has proved rewarding for him and plans on making it a large part of his future after retiring from Lock Haven University. Anyone can listen to Max’s songs as performed by certain artists or simply read his lyrics by visiting http://www.songramp.com/homepage.php?Who=wordman123.
Lyndsey Hewitt is a senior majoring in communication media and can be contacted at email@example.com.