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Music to Last a Lifetime: An Interview with John Ondrasik
Episode 23625th February 2021 • WRITE NOW! Workshop Podcast: Write a Book, Change the World with Kitty Bucholtz • Kitty Bucholtz
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Today's guest is John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting music fame. In addition to writing and performing music, John is also an inspirational speaker.

John shares with us how he views art and creativity, how he gets out of a funk, and the importance of doing things you love. He encourages us to find new creative challenges in addition to our main interest. He also reminds us that we are entrepreneurs, and we have to figure out new ways to make our creative businesses work as times change.

Learn more about John and Five For Fighting on his website, and be sure to listen to his TEDx talk for even more encouragement.

[Photo credit: Jeremy Cowart]


[00:00:07.690] - Kitty

Welcome to Write Now Workshop Podcast, where you can write a book and change the world, I'm your host, Kitty Bucholtz. And this is episode 236, Music to Last a Lifetime. An interview with John Ondrasik coming to you on Thursday, February 25th, 2021.


I want to start this episode by telling you find the bookmark button or the save button on your podcast app. Or if you're watching this on the computer, save this episode. You are going to want to come back to it whenever you need a boost. This has been one of the most encouraging episodes that I can remember recording. And I have had some amazing guests. I think that you and I have both enjoyed just about every single person. When I say just about, I think I mean, every single person who's been on the show. But today's episode just really made my heart feel like, yes, this is someone who's been in a business of creating for so long. And it hasn't always been easy and he hasn't stopped doing it. And sometimes he has found new ways to do it or he does it around something else that comes into his life.


And I'm thinking this is exactly the kind of encouragement that we all need, because I really believe that today is not the right day for you to decide to quit. Maybe it is, but probably it's not. And I want you to listen to this episode, and at the end, you ask yourself, what do I think is success for me? Because maybe what I'm doing is actually enough to make me happy right now. Maybe I have some goals and plans and a specific path that I'm on that I think is going to lead me even closer to the things that would make me happy. Am I happy enough to keep on going?


I hope you are. And if you're not, that is totally fine. Nobody said that you have to do this forever. But if you can't stop writing, if you can't stop making up stories, whether they're in songs or in books or in some other format, then I just want to encourage you with this episode, I think that you're going to tell yourself, yes, this is totally worthwhile, what I do matters because what you do does matter.


First of all, no matter who you are, what you do matters. You can make a positive difference in the world, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, the smallest things could have a ripple effect that you have absolutely no awareness of. And I think in some ways that's something that's like a gift that God gives us so that we can not be too full of ourselves, being like I know that I can positively influence every person around me today.

[00:03:01.510] - Kitty

The thing is that we can and we should. That is my belief. I do believe that your book or your song or your screenplay, whatever it is that you're working on, can change the world in a positive way and make it a better place for other people. And I think that that is totally worth all the time and energy and sometimes blood, sweat and tears that we put into it. If you're wondering about the blood, sometimes for me it's just a matter of picking up a knife in the kitchen to make a sandwich and thinking about my story at the same time. And then, yes, that is why John does not, my John, does not allow me to use knives anymore, because sometimes I forget that I am not in this world when I am playing with dangerous objects.


But sorry for the aside, honestly, the things that you do and the things that you're thinking about, they matter. And if you're in a place where you have a half finished book that you've really been wanting to work on, but you just can't get yourself to do it, there's this place inside my heart that sometimes I really, really want to work on something, but I'm afraid that I can't do it. I'm afraid that I can't do it as well, to give it the substance that it has in my head, that it won't come out on paper. And there have been times when I have set something aside because I'm like, no, I can't. I just can't do it. I can't do it by myself.


If there's any chance that you feel like just maybe somebody could help you get this book out and make it something that you're really proud of and happy with, give me a call. Now, when I say call, of course, you know, Internet calls. Go to my website, WriteNowWorkshop.Com/writingcoach, or send me an email at Kitty at KittyBucholtz.Com, because one of the things that I do and love is helping other people finish their books.


The two things that are really the most important things in my creative life, which pretty much make up my life, is writing books and helping other people finish their books. So I've got the Finish Your Book membership group, where we get together twice a week and do writing sprints, and I love that because there's so much energy, there's so many books being written. It just makes me super happy. I never want to get off the call with people, even though it's my bedtime when it ends.


And then there's also the one-on-one coaching where I'm specifically working just with you to get your book the way that you want it, or the Self-Publish Your Book coaching, which is your book's already done, it's already edited, it's ready to go, you just are not sure exactly what you're supposed to do to get it up on the various online stores. And all of these things, I do them because I really do believe that it might be your book or this other book of yours or this book of mine or this other book of mine that helps people in some way that is worthwhile. And if that is just something where I've had a really long day at work and I just really need to get away and escape into some other world where things work out and people fall in love and stay in love and the bad guy gets it in the end. I've been reading a lot of books where I'm just, I need to read a book where the bad guy gets it in the end.

[00:06:23.490] - Kitty

So if you think that there's any chance that you just need a little bit of help and encouragement and direction, then let me know because I want to help you. I don't want your book to never be written if it was always meant to be. So there's me on my, you know, I would call it an apple crate, except for that, it's really where my heart is, so here is me with my heart on my sleeve saying it's important. Keep writing. It really could be something amazing, even if it's just amazing to a few people and it moves them in some way that makes the world a better place, then I don't see how that could possibly be a bad thing or not worth your time.


OK, so I'm going to say I'm going to stop talking about that. Also, if you are thinking about possibly self-publishing your book, you can get the Self-Publish Your Book Checklist from my website, also at And remember that the show notes and transcripts for every episode are at You can go /episodes and just search for the episode number. Remember, this one is 236 and I'm going to put a link to John's TEDx talk in there too, because it was another just really encouraging bit of, you can do it. Keep going. This is how long it takes sometimes. Sometimes it's a lot more work than you think.

[00:07:49.350] - Kitty

Sometimes this piece comes out so perfectly and wonderfully and quickly and this piece takes you six months or, you know, in the book world, this book came out in two or three months and that book took seven years. I've got a couple of those seven year books. So anyway, I want to give you all the encouragement you possibly can. So in addition to today's episode, definitely check out John's TEDx talk again, link in the show notes. And right now, I think we just need to go right into the conversation with John. Enjoy.

[00:08:25.290] - Kitty

Today's guest is John Ondrasik. John has soared in every aspect of the music industry, from songwriting to producing to performing. This Los Angeles native better known as Five For Fighting, a hockey penalty moniker he chose to pay homage to his beloved L.A. Kings, has been a one man team unto himself, constantly shooting and scoring while setting the bar higher each time. His collection of heartfelt songs have found their place in the Great American Songbook and continue to stand the test of time. "Superman", the worldwide hit single, went platinum and became an anthem for the heroes of 9/11. "100 Years" went double platinum and continues to give every age group a lifetime's moment of reflection and nostalgia. John likes to say he was a 20 year overnight success who faced the rejection and struggles not uncommon to aspiring singer songwriters. Yet there's more to him than the music. His off the ice endeavors are equally, if not more, impressive. He performs for the USO and has found a new hat in inspirational keynote, speaking engagements across the globe. So, yes, in addition to making music, John is making a difference. He's pulled a hat trick of sorts, not just being an accomplished singer and songwriter, but an advocate for causes that are important to us all. Welcome, John.

[00:09:44.640] - John

Thank you, Kitty. Thank you for the kind intro.

[00:09:47.620] - Kitty

I have to say, just trying to figure out how to narrow it down after you get so many things going on in life. Sometimes people have so many cool things to say and there's a lot of really interesting stuff on your bio. I encourage anybody who already knows that they love your music, Five For Fighting, to just go look at your website some more. Also we should start with this, I'm from Michigan and you're an L.A. Kings fan. So we just have to know, like, can we still be friends? Is that going to work?

[00:10:21.560] - John

If you're a hockey fan, how can you not love the Detroit Red Wings? They are the hockey team of hockey teams and great organization and legends galore. So we hockey fans stick together.

[00:10:37.570] - Kitty

And in addition to the fact that I'm just going to love the the Red Wings for the rest of my life, no matter if they're doing well or not doing well, I mean, you can't be mad at somebody who had twenty four years of getting to the Stanley Cup, so.

[00:10:51.360] - John

Oh yeah. And they were in the playoffs every year for like three decades. And, you know, everybody's got to kind of go down and come back with both the Kings and the Red Wings. Now we're what we call rebuilding. So I'm sure I have more confidence in the Red Wings getting it right than the Kings. But, you know, hey, I never thought we'd win a Stanley Cup and we got to see my dream come true. So that's my hockey dreams, at least.

[00:11:15.260] - Kitty

And you'll be pleased in your seventy five degree LA weather today. Let's see, it's February as we're talking. And yesterday, my husband and I went for a walk and there were kids playing hockey on the ice. And I was like, oh, no, they're going to see you, it's like an old woman because they're like 14 maybe. And I'm like, I just want to go out there and just play around a little bit .

[00:11:39.240] - John

Put on your skates, you know,

[00:11:41.120] - Kitty

Wouldn't that be, so fun. So listen, let's start with kind of you've got great information on your bio. People who love you probably already know tons about you. But let's focus a little bit more on the writing side. So what was the first thing? Start wherever you like. But I was just thinking about, you know, you started playing music when you were very young, but then you were a teenager, if I understand, when you started writing. So how did you get into the writing and how do you think it stuck with you?

[00:12:12.180] - John

You know, I was very fortunate, my mom was a piano teacher. She was a piano major, went to USC and kind of a classical pianist, and she started teaching me and my sister, very young, to play the piano, which was great because, you know, for the piano, the younger you start, the better. And she would kind of teach at the local elementary school and we would do musicals. And, you know, like many kids, I was Tony in West Side Story with a squeaky chipmunk voice. And she was very wise, about 13 or 14 when I really didn't want to practice the piano anymore. I want to go ride my skateboard. She let me quit. And which I think was wise because if I had the passion for it, I'd keep going. If not, then I'd find another passion. And of course, I had my Burt Bacharach songbook and my Steven Schwartz Godspell and the Beatles five thousand songs that I would play. And then, like many writers, I fell in love for the first time and I had to write a song for her and I was 15. And ironically, I actually wrote it on guitar, which is weird because I'm a piano player my whole childhood. But I wrote a song for a girl, you know, and as it usually does it ends in heartbreak. So I wrote another song about that and I just kind of had a passion for writing. And I was such a music fan and especially of the piano players, Elton and Billy Joel were in their prime and Joni Mitchell and although I was a rocker, too, I love AC/DC and Zeppelin, and I love the singers, I loved Freddie Mercury. I love Steve Perry. So I was just so wrapped up in music. So I, I kind of bought the studio stuff and locked myself in my room for many years and wrote hundreds of bad songs. And but, you know, it was kind of my my passion. It kept me out of trouble. And it was a way I could kind of, you know, get out my teen angst. And I just loved it. And for me, it's great to be able to sing, able to perform. But that kind of moment that you play a song for the first time that you've written and you think it has something that's, you know, all the writers on this Zoom call understand that, you know, you work for months, sometimes a year to get that five minutes of gratitude and satisfaction. And that keeps me coming back.

[00:14:39.900] - Kitty

Yeah. As a novelist, I definitely feel the same. You know, you're reading books and you think, oh my gosh, stories and books are the best thing ever in the whole wide world. And then your childhood musings kind of turn into something later that you're like, this is so weird that I don't stop like you would think. I always thought when I was in college, that's when I'll stop. I'll put away childish things. Yeah, but I actually start getting more serious. I was like, you know, I don't want to just like, make little stories that maybe just a couple of people read. I want to see if I could write an actual book that people are like, wow, when's the next one coming out? When did you start showing your music to your friends? And how is the encouragement or a lot of times lack thereof? There's also a lot of lack of encouragement among...

[00:15:31.710] - John

Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, I was very fortunate that my parents supported me. It wasn't unconditional. I think my mom, being a musician, understood the odds, but they were like, all right, as long as you're going to college, we'll support your music. And then once I was out of college, you know, as long as you're working, you know, we'll support you. And so I really have that support and kind of emotional understanding, even though I knew they were kind of just waiting for me to get over it. But I couldn't get over it. And I'm not, kind of just like you, I was never content, unfortunately, I wasn't content enough to just write my songs and play them for my friends and be happy. You know, I had this ambition to do it and to be heard. I never needed to be, you know, David Lee Roth. But I wanted to be heard and in a perfect world, make a living at music.

[00:16:30.780] - John

And I was going to go over the cliff till I just couldn't do it. And circumstances were moving that way. I was actually incredibly lucky for the stars to align. I didn't have success till my late 20s and early 30s, which is unheard of in music. You know, if you don't have hits by the time you're twenty two, twenty three as a pop artist, you're, you better go find a real job. But I just kept pushing at it and got lucky and my girlfriend who became my wife was a music publisher and behind my back, she would still get my demos to people and everybody would say, oh, he's a good songwriter, but not a good singer, or a good singer, but not a great song, you know. And but for me, it kind of worked. And as I said, there's a thousand reasons why it shouldn't. But, you know, I did enough to give myself a chance. And I've been incredibly blessed to do it, you know, for twenty-five years.

[00:17:24.450] - Kitty

Yeah, that's amazing too. Yeah. Twenty-five years. When people get past the five year mark, I think there's a lot to celebrate.

[00:17:32.580] - John

Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean just to make, I tell you, when I talk to aspiring artists and songwriters or novelists or artists, you know, they talk about, oh, what's it like to have a number one song or, you know, to be on TV or and I say, you know, I have one wish for you, my wish for you is, you know, when you're my age and in your mid 50s, that if you want to do a concert or a show or sell a book, somebody will buy a ticket or somebody will buy your book or somebody'll come to your book signing because you're still doing it and you have a career. And to me, that's what I've always kind of dreamed of. And I think for most writers, they'd be very happy with that.

[00:18:13.020] - Kitty

Yeah, definitely. And there's always something, there are things that push you up and things that pull you down. And a lot of times it's a different thing every month or every year there's something. This last year has been really tough for a lot of writers that I know. Some people like me have gotten more done than they've gotten done, more done in the space of a year than I probably have ever gotten done in the space of a year. But a lot of my friends, I was just concerned that they felt like they were losing their mojo. And for some people, they have traditional book contracts and they're going to have to find a way to work this through because this is their job and somebody is counting on them. But there's so many other people who either because they're self-publish or because they haven't been published at all, they're in charge of their own schedule. And I was just like, what can I do to help encourage them, that today is not the day to quit, even though it feels like it sometimes? What are some times where you've gone through that? And how did you get to the other side?

[00:19:17.290] - John

Yeah, it's hard, I mean, if you just want to talk about this, last year, I think I've spoken to many of my creative friends,...