We all have career questions and each week on Skimmed from the Couch, the Skims co-founders Carly Zaken and Daniel Weisberg go deep on career advice with the women who've lived it here from leaders like Taraji P. Henson and Susan Rice as they talk about the good stuff, like growing a team to the rough stuff, like leading through a time of crisis. Tune in to learn how to negotiate, land a job and build your network, even if it's virtual. Find skimmed from the couch wherever you get your podcasts or at the České.
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Di. Welcome to Switched-On pop songwriter Charlie Harding. Today, I have a story from a songwriter. Hey, my name is J.P. Sachs. JP wrote the song If the World Was Ending with Julia Michaels. It's a record that was released in the Before Times in a way that kind of seemed to precede lock down. And it resonated so widely that it catapulted up the charts and has now been nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy.
But if the world is ending, you come up for. Right. You come over and you stay the night, which you love me for the hell of it. All our fears would be irrelevant. If the world said I wanted to speak with JP not just because of the song's success, but because he has this way of thinking about the practical implications and even morality of songwriting, he shared his insights with me by telling the story of if the world was ending.
The song is about imagining a world where your otherwise good reasons for not talking to the people you don't talk to are no longer relevant. If the world is ending, you come over, right? Right, we wrote it in July of twenty nineteen, we were writing about a hypothetical apocalypse in almost kind of craving there being some sort of world event that would get in the way of your otherwise logical emotional reasons for keeping people out of your life.
I was just drafted and in traffic.
I didn't feel it when the earthquake happened, but I was in traffic when the July 4th earthquake in Los Angeles happened, so I didn't feel it.
That moment reminded me of a lyric I had written in my journal from the year and a half ago, which was if the world was ending, you'd come over. Right. And I had written that lyric as an attempt to finish a different song in my next song starts as a failed attempt at finishing the previous one. So I remember that lyric after experiencing or not experiencing this earthquake in traffic and was trying to write that song at home and stopped myself mid creative process around the same time, he gets a notification on Instagram from his favorite songwriter, Julia Michaels.
She's one of the most in demand session songwriters and has an amazing artist career herself. And for J-P, who's just at the beginning of his career. This is a big moment. I'm going to let JP take the story from here.
So she posted a song of mine called 2005 in Barcelona for Around the World with all these people happy in a foreign language where they don't know a thing about you. Halfway around the world in Barcelona. Singing songs to strangers, trying not to think about you. This wasn't supposed to be about.
It was quite a serendipitous moment because when she posted it and I got a notification on my phone saying Julie Michaels's Taijuan a story, I was listening to her EP with some friends on a road trip talking about how I thought she was the most influential songwriter of our generation.
And then I get this notification. It was very odd. So my message to back up being very enthusiastic and we got talking and she suggested we write, I actually have the voice note from that night labeled Save for Julia because I had this session coming up with Julie Michaels, who I'd never met and never worked with, but really wanted to bring my A game because she's my favorite songwriter. So I saved the idea and I wanted to impress her. And if the world was ending was the day that we met the first time and wrote the first time we sat at the piano and I told her that idea that if the world was ending could come off a right idea.
We started talking about where we were for the earthquakes.
She was at a Méndez concert, the way the earthquake right now, you could see that moving earthquake happens.
Everyone's freaking out. And Julia being the cool cucumber she is, is like, why is everyone tripping? This is normal. All is going to be fine, which is why on her Vertigo's it didn't scare me when the earthquake happened.
I tried to. It didn't scare me when the earthquake happened, but it really got me thinking. So we started talking about those stories. We started thinking about that idea of, as I said, imagining that catastrophe, replacing your reasons not to talk to somebody. We were sitting at the piano and writing, you know, sitting beside each other on the piano bench for an hour and a half, if there was any.
Stay the night with. This is the source. He would even have to say goodbye to. Right, right, right. Came together mystically fast, like I, I saying that if the world was ending, you come over right and she just went straight into you come over and you'd stay the night. Would you love me for the hell of it? As you are aware, she is a mystical songwriting angel and she didn't intend to be a part of if the world was ending.
I was singing the song, but I kept messing up the back half of the second verse. How to think about you without it ripping my heart out. I couldn't get that Chanes right and she was getting frustrated with me. So she was like, Fine, let me show you. And she comes into the booth.
It's funny, you know, I think I figured out how to think about you with In My Heart Out.
She sings it and I'm like, if you think I'm going back in there, you're mad like you are singing the song.
And I know you know, we know you also. Everything is fine, it's to people who are together in their imaginations and their longing, this dialogic loneliness very much with themselves in a part, but also in their heads thinking about nothing else but one another, like two people very separate and knowing that that separateness is important, but needing that other worldly event to circumvent all of that rationality.
But if the world was and then you come online and you come over and you say. Julie and I are both in the wordy camp of songwriters, we we we try and fit as many words into the cadence as we possibly can because we have a lot to say. We knew we had this really wordy verse and we had this really wordy chorus and we knew we wanted it to have some sort of ascending lift of some kind.
I know you don't know what you can do for five minutes. Fine.
So the course of the last thing we wrote in that melody very much just follows the courts. I'm just kind of walking up like B flat minor if I ever see before.
I did fight over F after a major night because I just played that on the piano and just kind of sang along with the A..
You know, we know you weren't just walking up metaphorically, you know, you know one. Know no one from each other, and that's fine, and Julia goes, Oh, that's it. Let's make it that just sort of set up that moment of space, that moment of suspended emotion landing on that question as to what was it?
And then you come over. You come over, right? You come over, you come over, you come over, see? So the post chorus of that song is an ad lib by Julia.
She's saying second chorus to the end twice and then left. So one of those times when she got to the end of the second chorus we hadn't written, you'd come over right. You come over, you come over, you come over. Right. We did not write that in session. She's saying that as an ad lib. And then after she left, I asked Ben if he could put that on the first chorus as well. And then I stacked to it and it became our postcards.
So I was. And then you. Come on. To me, songs hit harder when they live in the questions, because songs have always been a mode of sorting through my emotions, but if I waited to figure them out before I wrote them, they'd be really boring, preachy songs that the songs exist in the questions I'm asking myself. They exist in the process of me trying to figure things out, not having them figured out. I got a lot of really lovely messages about the song pre Tony Tony, because I think people forget that it felt like the world was ending a little bit then, too.
We were speaking to a feeling in 2019 that was pondering that hypothetical catastrophe, pondering that world where you can call the people who are emotionally tumultuous for you. And it seems justified because, you know, you want to check on the people you love and you don't care about all the petty bullshit that gets in the way if there is some larger than life thing. I think it was relatable to a lot of people when that was a hypothetical. I think it was relatable to even more people.
When that became real literal, we started getting a lot of messages on Twitter accusing us of insider information. Julia and I had some sort of insider scoop. So that was that was the first sign that the song was going to exist and a little bit of a different light. And, you know, all of us trapped at home thinking about who we want to be trapped at home with the.
You know, I heard a lot of stories throughout the life of this song about people reaching out to maybe an estranged family member that they hadn't talked to, and in that certainly means more to me than people reaching out to exes who hurt them. But they want to reach out to the people who hurt them to make them feel better. I've really tried to be adamant about how this song is not in support of the texting of exes. I am opposed to the testing of exes.
I take a little responsibility for all exes texted in quarantine. That isn't that isn't the message of the song, nor do I think songs are ever suggestions. If anything, we should not be following in the footsteps of the way songs love because songs were written by songwriters and songwriters are historically not the most healthy in their relationships.
But ironically, the two songwriters really hit it off that day.
So we fell very madly in love. I am speaking to you from the home in which we share.
There's more intertwined elements of my life in this song than I even know how to talk about all at once, because I was kind of in a fuck it. I'm going to do whatever I want to do to make myself happy mood that day, because I was coming back from Toronto after finding out that my mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. And then the next day I flew to New York, had a meeting with my label about the songs that were going to come out and the next day flew to Los Angeles next day, wrote Julia.
So when I walked to that session, I was sort of in a the kind of I don't give a fuck attitude that comes from getting that sort of life changing news and then to write that song and then to fall in love with Julia to have that song changed my life, you know, to have Julia by my side in the last months of my mom's life, you know, my mom getting to see me, having the beginnings of success in my career and the last time she ever saw me perform was on Thallon with Julia.
And I think, you know, if there's anything a parent wants for their kid, it's to know that they're going to be loved and that they're going to be OK doing something that they love. So my mom got to see the beginnings of both of those things at the end of her life, which is all tied into this song, which was written three days after we found out about her cancer. So it's all it's all very oddly symbiotic to this day.
I mean, my grandfather was nominated for a Grammy in 97 and he won for best solo performance of the Bach Suites for solo cello. I remember my mom getting that phone call that he won. I remember her screaming vividly and I remember crawling around being confused as a toddler, finding out about the Grammy nomination.
I'm honored to welcome you to this year's unveiling of the nominees for the 60 third Grammy Awards. Next up, Song of the year. The nominees are Black Parade. The box cardigan circles don't start now. Everything I wanted, I can't breathe.
If the world was ending, the first thing in my mind was hearing her screaming on the phone and then calling my dad and then looking at Julie and being like, how on earth did this happen? And it's pretty special. You know, my first my first big song, my first Grammy nomination, I get to share it with somebody I love. It's something I don't know how to talk about for or describe yet, just how intertwined my personal life, my musical life, my love life all kind of wrapped around that moment in that song.
So then you come off as a scholar of music and they're going to monochord means uncertainty, it means questions, it means lack of resolution, all of which are very much present in the song. You know, we don't know if they're coming over happened or not. So it felt right. And on that biffy minor and just singing, just all stacks are gone to people. No verb right up front. Singing that final question over five minus seven. And that felt like the right feeling to end on.
When we come back, JP breaks down the beauty and limitations of songwriting, talks about his new single with Maren Morris and explains why his songs never seem to end.
Hey, it's Charlie, and I want to tell you about a new podcast called Good Words with Kirk Franklin. Good Words with Kirk Franklin welcomes people from every cross-section of life seeking inspiration and empowerment through intimate conversations, exploring faith, redemption and the realities of today's world. Kirk invites us to see ourselves in the shared moments between him and his guests. The show provides a fun and energetic outlet to lift people up and share trials and tribulations that guests have overcome along the way.
Guests include Chance, the rapper Pharrell, her, Kelly Rowland, Leonard Doyle and many more. Listen and subscribe to good words wherever you get your podcasts for new episodes every Tuesday.
Let's talk a little about a new podcast from Spotify and a higher ground that's about to fully take over your feed on renegades. Born in the USA, President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen get together to talk about the country that's made them who they are. Today, the two icons weave their own pursuit of meaning, truth and community into the larger story of America, investigating how this country has shaped their lives and lasting and surprising ways. And while President Obama and Springsteen might seem like an unexpected pair, they've managed to build an authentic and lasting friendship based on their shared sensibilities, moral vision and an unshakable belief in the American ideal.
And now this is our chance to eavesdrop on that friendship and renegades. Born in the USA, President Obama and Springsteen trade stories about their hometowns and the role models that shaped who they became. They also explore manhood, what it means to be a father and what it was like to grow up in America. It's a truly monumental conversation between two American friends and it's available to listen to right now over on Spotify. Listen to renegades born in the USA for free today, only on Spotify.
You've written a song about both the power and also perhaps the limitations of a song. Well, Ben. You're selling line by line with Maren Morris. Can you tell me about how the song came together? I do that a lot. Yeah, and the reason I do a lot is because I love talking to people. And great songwriting sessions to me are just great conversations that turn into a song at the end. And I get attached to those songs and conversations and then want to stay a part of them.
So it's happened on a number of occasions where I've written something that was either just meant for me or just meant for someone else, and then mutually decided, like, how could one of us just take this song? Like, This has to be ours. Now, the duet with Maron wasn't we didn't go in trying to write a duet. I didn't go in with Len in trying to write a duet, then go with Julia, trying to write a duet.
I didn't go in with Macy trying to write a duet. It's all sort of happened because we both felt personally invested in the conversation and thought, you know, why not sing it together? It'll probably keep happening. So with Marin, she's married to another songwriter, Ryan, and obviously me and Julia. So we were talking about sort of what it's like to be representing a love from both sides when both of you are a writer, and that the joys of that, the complications of that, how that can occasionally come with its land.
Yeah, I mean, you say in the bridge of the song that it's complicated having all your shit on display.
It is complicated. It's also even more complicated in its previous shit shit that doesn't exactly apply to the current moment anymore, because as I said earlier, you know, songs exist on a timeline and they don't cease to be true even if they aren't true in the moment. You know, songs that I wrote three years ago don't expire in their sincerity just because they're not feelings I don't have anymore. But, you know, it's hard to hear someone you love saying about shit that happened before you.
So we were talking about that. And I think every line in that song is just something we we said in that conversation.
You said in the verse that there are things that I sing that I never have the confidence to say.
There are things that I sing, that I have the confidence to say the things I believe that I only think about when I sit down playing, which feels both vulnerable.
Also, I would think like songwriters hanging out with songwriters, dating songwriters. I think maybe as a listener you might feel like, well, you almost have like some expert therapy level way of communicating. But does that line still feel true? Does it do you still need songs to say to communicate emotions that might feel otherwise too dangerous to say out loud?
There are some lyrics on my album that I wouldn't even feel comfortable saying to my therapist. There are some lyrics on the album that are so divulgence that like they make people uncomfortable.
But, you know, I was watching an interview with Phoebe Walbridge, the writer and star of the show called Flyback.
It's called Fleabag Flyback. And she said that she knows it sounds good when it scares her. And I was like, damn, that's real, and it inspired a particular song on my album, which started out a poem and just as lyrically frightening. But I think that's what makes it that's what gives it its value. You know, every profession has its hazards. And I think one of the hazards of being an artist and songwriter is that we have to be a little bit more transparent than we're comfortable with, because that's what allows a listener to feel like they can access a part of themselves that they're a little scared of.
And if I can write a song that gets you a little closer to the parts of yourself that you're afraid to look at, then I think that song is doing its job.
But perhaps that's also why we shouldn't take action based on these songs, like perhaps a little like there's the truth that we're looking at might be too close to being something you actually want to say. Like don't call the X from ten years ago after listening to generally a song. That's a bad idea, but it's OK, do that. It's a useful place to reminisce on where it might be fruitful in your relationships.
Yeah, I think they're tools of introspection, not suggestions at how to how to approach your relationships.
Well, in line by line, you both allude to the strength and power songs and also subverts yourself. The chorus deals directly with this. On one hand, you say, you know, you apologize for things that don't sound so good because, well, it just rhymed. And so you're kind of saying, well, it wasn't true.
It just I found that the song just happened to work sometimes if it don't sound.
Sometimes there are insensitive truths that can show up in a song where the meaning or the the excitement of a lyric can take precedence over the part of us that considers how they are going to affect the people, they make reference. Now, I've spent a lot of time considering what is and isn't crossing the line on details about lives that are not our own. And what I've landed on is that as long as we are talking about our feelings about a person and not the person themselves, then we are within range than where we were playing by the rules.
But that to me is the line.
Do you feel you ever crossed that line in the past and felt you were too expository?
I don't think I've really ever shared anything about past relationships that reference specifically who those people are. I think it's always just been about my feelings about those people in those. My feelings about those people are my own. Yeah, but details about those people are theirs. And I do think there is a moral structure with which we have to consider what we say to potentially millions of people. Right.
I once had a songwriter in my studio whose name I won't mention who was freaking out because they were about to release a song and they forgot to let the other person know and that relationship hadn't gone well. And there I could see that moral quandary taking place before our interview, trying to like text furiously call this person who doesn't want to hear from this other person. There is a responsibility.
I mean, you know, you listens to a good amount of my catalog and you don't know who those songs are clueless.
But there are probably seven people who might be a little more clued in or whoever, you know, whoever these songs are about, you know, the people who know me and her at the same time.
Yes. And you know anything that I write about Julia, because she's a little bit more of a public figure, like it's all it's all OK by her. Right. Right.
I don't say anything about her that she doesn't that she doesn't sign off on the landing that you all stick is that you got four chords, three minutes. You'll never fit in it.
So I'll just take you line by line and I'll write about you for the rest of my life, which is both taking a jab at your own artistry and sort of saying, I can't accomplish that much in a song. And so I'm going to have to keep writing songs about you. So it's both beautiful and it's also saying songs have limits. And I'm curious if those limitations for chords, three minutes, do those constraints ever frustrate you in wanting to make larger, more nuanced artistic statements?
Yes, a couple thoughts on that one. That lyric is a little bit of a lie because the song is more than four chords and more than three minutes, which I've always found kind of funny.
Yeah, you have some diminished chords in there. You got your playing your jazz chops.
And also, I think that lyric, you know, for the non songwriter is is just as much about recognizing that love as big and beautiful as I would hope every everyone's life comes across is more than we're ever going to be able to understand in any given moment. So songs are the way I understand my feelings at any given moment. But whether it's songs or any other method of, you know, being present in our emotions, I think that's just a recognition of if it's as beautiful and big as I think it's supposed to be, it's never going to feel like fully encapsulated in a single moment.
But regarding do I feel limited by the structure of songs to express myself? Yes and no. I've often said in sessions that if I could pick one superpower, it would be deciding any word could rhyme with any other word. Yeah. I also wish I spoke another language so I could have have the freedom to see what kind of rhyme schemes and meanings I could find in and different a whole different world of rhyming opportunity. But I also don't care too much about things rhyming.
So I allow myself to break those rules because I'd rather it feel genuine than it sounds pretty. I admire the statement that you said in another interview that you feel as though songwriters are guilty of romanticizing dysfunctional love and you make it a personal mission statement to romanticize functional love.
Can you speak to what made you realize the sort of dysfunction in the songwriting community and what made you want to approach especially love songs from a different perspective?
Yeah, so quick disclaimer. I do it all the time. I absolutely romanticize dysfunctional love. So I'm trying to balance out myself just as much as I'm trying to balance out the general piles of how many love songs I think are in the You hurt me, but I like it variety of songs. I just think there's a lot of that dysfunction is something we try and analyze because when something's a little dysfunctional, we talk to all our friends about it.
We try and figure it out. We stay up at night stewing about how, you know, how this might be sorted out or why this is going the way it is, or what my boyfriend's mother, when he was eight years old, said to him that gave him these intimacy issues that are now causing him to be afraid of being vulnerable with me. And because I understand that about his past, I need to be a little bit more loving and affectionate.
And he'll show me that when he's all that business, which is super real, all that to say, I think we spend more time trying to figure it out when it's dysfunctional than we do when it works. And I think songs come from the process for most people of trying to figure it out. You know, you walk into the room and you're like, I can't stop thinking about this. It's the tension that we're always trying to work through. And that's where the songs come in.
When something is beautiful, when something is easy, we don't stew on it as much. We don't sit with our journals like writing for hours, trying to sort through it. We just exist in it. But that lack of analysis makes the songs harder to find because people always say it's easy to write breakup songs. You know, when I'm when I'm single, I write more. When I'm heartbroken, I write more. It's because you're trying to figure it out.
And when you're trying to figure it out, you've got more to say. And I'm guilty of that as anyone else, and that's perfectly normal, but I think being a songwriter has allowed me to realize that for both my art and myself in my life, there's a lot of benefit for taking time to analyze the things that don't hurt as much.
And making sure that I lean into it, I dig into the nuance of the feelings I want just as much as the feelings, I don't it's very clear that you think very intensely about the sort of ethics of your song and how you want it to be experienced.
How do you want me to listen? How do you want people to listen to your work?
My hope is that my songs make you think about yourself in your own life and not really about me. I kind of like would kind of prefer I be out of the way, not because out of an insecurity or a shyness, but because I think arts at its best when it has you thinking about yourself, it has you thinking about the people you love. It has you thinking about your own life. I'm of the belief that the more personal I can be in these songs, counterintuitively, I think the more out of the way I am because of them being generic.
I think it runs the risk of a listener. Well, for me, when a song feels very generic in its language, I think about what they're trying to say. If something feels like it said in such a personal, unique way, I just hear it like someone's telling me a story, like a like a friend of mine is telling them something that happened to me. And then I'm thinking about how I relate to that. In the same way, my favorite movies are often stories that have nothing in common with India and moved to tears.
There's no reason song shouldn't play by the same rules. You know, the more personal, the more universal is the cliche that sums up what I'm trying to say here. So I guess that's the way I want people to listen. I want people to listen. And I would hope that it has them in there in their own feelings and their own introspection less than it has them trying to dig into mine.
I also am guessing that you aren't the kind of person that loves a film where someone walks off into the sunset.
I mean, I have watched The Bachelor from time to time, so I'm not fully caught up in my own pretentiousness.
A lot of your songs and without any sort of nice little conclusion, you don't like to wrap things in a bow.
Like if you listen to a little bit yours, you're like. The few things come closer, come closer. Same room, we can't even be in the same. Golf on TV. Some people call 40 and those things makes sense to me. All of them seem to end with this uncertainty, like we're almost in an art film and you're getting like, oh, I like it, I want more, like, don't let this end.
I think there's two reasons for that. I think there's an emotional reason that I just don't think songs are about conclusiveness. And then I think there's a musical reason, which is that because I was brought up with jazz hitting like, you know, a big tonic at the end of the song would have got me some side from jazz musicians. And I think there's still a little jazz musician in the back of my head judging me for not using enough chords at all times.
So I need to let that voice win occasionally by not choosing the most obvious option.
That's fair. Yeah, I still like when I go one five minus six four and a song that voice yells at me like you boring basic songwriter. And I am like, dude, no one cares, no one cares about how weird or like off the cuff your time signature or chord structure is. People care if you're telling the truth in the emotions of these chords, match the emotion of the song, because the last thing I want to do is try and impress you with the chord change that distracts you from the integrity of what I'm saying.
And that's like my golden rule with these songs is everything musically is about supporting the emotion of a lyric. And if it doesn't do that, then it's getting in the way.
You did an interview with Iroha and you talked about how there's a lot of songs about the beginning and the painful end of a relationship.
But you like to talk about that awkward middle, all of that stuff, the minutia of a relationship.
Tell me more what compels you to want to write about these middles?
Well, if you don't mind me asking, are you in a relationship at the moment? I'm married. OK, would you say that there is beauty and tension in the minutia of being in it without it having to be starting or somehow leading to you breaking up?
Isn't that the best part? It's totally the best part. And I think it's under explored the push and pull of being in. The details of loving somebody are to me, the most exciting part to get to in the middle of a song. Songs to me are all about relationship, either relationship with myself or relationship with somebody else. And there is so much more meat on the bone to me to explore what's happening when we've decided to be in it already.
Not necessarily always what's happening when we've just started being in it or we're deciding to leave it.
Maybe beyond just your jazz inclinations. That plays into the sort of consistent trend that your songs don't quite end. You don't like, you don't hit the landing like and we're out.
No, songs are not answers. And I really I really feel strongly that also songs are not suggestions. I try and say that a lot to like, you know, we look for songs for solace. We look to them for connection. We look to them to feel like we are not alone in our human experience. But I don't think we should look to them to tell us how to act. I'm in the middle of a relationship that I love, that I feel so supported in and so like mutually involved and entangled in something that we're both so excited about.
But that doesn't mean we don't fight. That doesn't mean there isn't all kinds of push and pull and tension that there is for me to explore as a writer, you know, in a single moment on a Wednesday night talking about something somewhat challenging or talking about something beautiful like those can all be songs. The only thing I really know how to write about is wherever I'm at any given moment, you know, the same things I'd write in my journal.
So right now I'm in the middle of something. I hope to continue being in the middle of it for a very long time. So that sort of my only option.
Tell me about what's next. What can people expect?
Yes, I'm putting out an album first half of this year. I've got a couple of singles coming out on that before that happens. But really soon. And, you know, we talked about a little bit over the last hour the songs that scare me, being the ones that I knew had to come out. And I'm curious to hear from you because I think you will know immediately upon listening to the album, the lyrics that I'm talking about being a little bit scary.
Gibeah, it's really fun to talk with you. I really do appreciate the sort of earnestness with which you think about your craft.
Thank you. Switched-On Pop is produced by Annie Sloan, Bridget Armstrong and Charlie Harting were engineered by Brandon McFarland except this week by the Lance. Our illustrations are done by Iris Gottlieb, social media by Abbey Bar, and our executive producers are Noshaq Erwa and Hanna Rosin were produced by Vulture and the Box Media Podcast Network. I want to say a real big special thanks this week to make it Lubin, who Hopton provides for additional production, as well as Jessica Powell from Audio SHAC A.I. for helping us out with today's music.
You can, of course, find our show anywhere you podcasts which pop dot com and you can find us on social media at Switched-On Pop on Twitter and Instagram, where we love to get your thoughts. We'll be back again next week with something really special in the Grammy's category. And until then, thanks for listening.