Andy Hackbarth

Singer/Songwriter. Guitarist. Producer. Adventurer.

Singer/Songwriter. Guitarist. Producer. Adventurer. 

Musician's Friend Features Andy's Songwriting and Recording Success Secrets...

Songwriting and Recording Success Secrets


Our panel of singer-songwriters offers tips to write better songs & capture them brilliantly in studio demos.

As our panel of working songwriters proves, no two writers go about creating a song in precisely the same way. And that’s good. We all have to discover our own unique creative processes. But still, learning how successful songwriters have made a go of their art can provide inspiration, both aesthetic and practical in shaping your own songwriting process.

While you might loosely describe our panelists as working in the folk genre, as we’ll see, their approaches (and the instruments and tools they write and record with) are decidedly different from one another.

Working with inspiration


Writing a new song is usually night work for Andy Hackbarth, a Colorado native who mixes folk with classical guitar on his three albums, including the brand new Panorama Motel—written and recorded during a painful breakup.

The business of song-starting is generally a late-night endeavor for me—when the noise of the day is finally dying down and I can hear myself think again. It's my favorite time of day. I'm not sure if it's out of habit or want, but I just seem to always reach for my guitar, prop a pillow up and lean back in my bed and see where my hands land.

If something develops musically, I have a million song ideas that I can look to. Stuff I've stored in my phone, little melodies stashed in the voice memo archives, hooks/song titles or just random thoughts I had after watching a film or reading a book or hearing a song on the radio. I think we're most honest, vulnerable, and open, late at night when we're tired and bruised up a bit, so that's where the best songs are born.

Folk-Americana singer-songwriter Sarah Lou Richards, who recorded her first EP Emerald City in 2009 and recently signed with SteelDrivers lead singer Gary Nichols to produce her sophomore full-length, will tell you that time of day doesn’t really matter when she sits down to write or where the session might take her. But she has stuck with one aspect of her process from the very beginning:

I generally sit down with my guitar and song notebook (I’ve been writing in the same one since 2008!) and dive in. Sometimes I know what I want to write about, sometimes I don’t. It usually takes a few minutes of quiet to clear my head and get in the space to create. What happens next is anybody’s guess!


For veteran composer-performer Kate Campbell, currently touring behind her 13th CD, 1000 Pound Machine, it’s a matter of realizing when an idea has staying power.

I've been writing since I was a little girl, so I usually know when a story or phrase pops into my mind or hangs around in my mind for a while that I should pay attention. Then, when I sit down to write, I try and figure out why that notion is so interesting to me to get behind the hook.

For the record

Writing a song is one thing. Creating a work in progress, one you can perfect when the time comes, is another. And as with the act of creation, there’s more than one way to go about creating song demos. Hackbarth, for instance, embraces a reasonably high-tech approach to recording.

I've tried quite a few different interface/software combos over the years, but I'm pretty much just running Cubase 7 now, on a PC, with mostly Waves plug-ins. Cubase makes sense to me; the way it's laid out. Visually, I really like it. I have Pro Tools 10 as well but just haven't taken to it as much as Cubase.

I ran an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra for a long time, but recently switched over to the Komplete Audio 6 interface, just because I'm always on the road these days and needed a better mobile setup. I rarely record with my desktop anymore.

I have a Neumann TLM 103 and a pair of Rode NT5s that are my go-to guitar/vocal microphone setup, and I try to always borrow a Grace preamp when I can. I'm starting to get more into Kontakt 5 for sampled instruments, although more as a writing tool. It's amazing how a small change in instrumentation can alter the direction of a song, from a writing perspective.

Richards has a straightforward and simple DAW setup when it comes to recording demos of her songs:

Once I have a pretty solid song I try and record a decent guitar/vocal version of it right away. I use Garageband on my Mac and have a Focusrite interfaceM-Audio BX5a monitor speakers and Shure 58 vocal mics in my home studio.

Campbell, however, keeps technology use to a minimum.

I'm very old school—pen and paper. If there's a musical thing I don't want to forget I'll use the voice memo on my iPhone.

Tools of the trade

It’s no surprise that Andy Hackbarth composes on a guitar, since folk and classical music were among his early influences and he studied classical guitar at Aspen Music School.

My main guitar is a Larrivee LV-09. I bought it when I was living in Nashville. Larrivee guitars are BIG there among writers, and for good reason. I honestly haven't played a guitar I liked more. Ever. Wish it came in Sunburst. I also have a Martin D-28 and a 1964 Gibson Hummingbird (that I want to say was from the Earnest Tubb estate) that I play live as well, but the Larrivee is my baby.

I also play on a nylon quite a bit, both for classical/Spanish style music as well as some of my original indie singer-songwriter tunes. My travel nylon guitar is a La Patrie CW Hybrid—a really beautiful-sounding guitar. And I have a handmade Carlos Pina as my “concert” classical guitar.


You won’t find classical guitar music in Sarah Lou Richards’ repertoire, but when it comes to writing and performing she’s still primarily a guitar kind of gal. Though she also knows her way around the piano.

I generally write and play on my acoustic Breedlove guitar. I also have a Taylor and a Takamine, but generally I am drawn to the Breedlove, affectionately named Lucy O’Connor. I also do a little bit of writing on the piano, which is always a breath of fresh air. I love the challenge of creating through a different filter and the piano allows for just that.

Need to brush up on the ins and outs of acoustic guitars? Take a look at our Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide.

The same goes for Kate Campbell, who says she typically composes on guitar or piano (“whatever is handy”), though she switched from piano to guitar as a teenager during the folk-rocking ‘70s. And stuck to it almost exclusively ever since. The notable exception is her new LP, 1000 Pound Machine, on which she returns to the piano, the instrument she learned to play as a child.

Clearly, there’s no wrong way to write a song. What matters is finding a method that works for you and applying yourself to it with dedication. As Richards says, once you’ve done that, what comes next “is anybody’s guess.”

Critical Blast Features 'Panorama Motel'

Americana songwriter Andy Hackbarth wrote and recorded Panorama Motel in the wake of a messy breakup. The record finds Hackbarth singing over acoustic guitars, dobro, upright bass and organ -- turning his recent brush with heartbreak into some of the most moving songs of his career.

No song sums it up better than the title track, which takes a headfirst dive into the frustration that follows a breakup.

“It’s reflective of my music career as a whole,” Hackbarth explains, “from the classical/Spanish guitar background to the darker, more indie/acoustic rock writing style that I’ve been gravitating toward lately. It’s beautiful, but dark and emotional. I’ve always loved the sound of the nylon-string guitar, and paired with layered violins, guitar swells and some haunting background vocals its aim is to capture the despair and loneliness we all feel after a breakup.

Pittsburgh In Tune Gives 'Panorama Motel' 4 Out of Five Stars...

‘Panorama Motel’
Andy Hackbarth (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

All of us have gone through breakups. A relationship, marriage, what have you that you’re sure will last forever comes to an end, more often than not leaving you a quivering mess. Singer/songwriter Andy Hackbarth went through a similar breakup recently but instead of wallowing in his misery, he poured his heartache into his music.

The result is the fantastic “Panorama Motel” EP. It’s a seven-track gathering of classical-tinged folk tunes that get better with every listen. Lid-lifter “Mountains” sets the tone for the 24-minute release and is the best of a very good bunch.

“It’s reflective of my music career as a whole,” Hackbarth says of the song. “From the classical/Spanish guitar background to the darker, more indie/acoustic rock writing style that I’ve been gravitating toward lately. It’s beautiful, but dark and emotional … its aim is to capture the despair and loneliness we all feel after a breakup.”

Additional standouts include “Isn’t That Enough,” “Steal You Away,” the title track and haunting closer “Oceans.” “Panorama Motel” is a win-win situation — we get thoroughly entertained while Andy Hackbarth exorcises his relationship demons. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Elmore Magazine On Panorama Motel - "...A powerful album...sincere and catchy...crooner-worthy."

Tomorrow sees the release of Andy Hackbarth’s Panorama Motel. It was written and recorded following the aftermath of a breakup. As a result, Hackbarth was able to create some of his most moving songs to date. His upbringing in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado also inspires his music. Influences of folk songs and classical music can be heard blended with Hackbarth’s own signature sound, drawing on his years of studying classical guitar at the Aspen Music School.

Hackbarth says that Panorama Motel is reflective of his music career as a whole. “From the classical/Spanish guitar background to the darker, more indie/acoustic rock writing style that I’ve been gravitating toward lately. It’s beautiful, but dark and emotional. I’ve always loved the sound of the nylon-string guitar, and paired with layered violins, guitar swells and some haunting background vocals its aim is to capture the despair and loneliness we all feel after a breakup.”

Listen to “Steal You Away” below. Like the rest of the songs on this release, “Steal You Away” is catchy and sincere. It’s a stand-out on a powerful album that is filled with songs about broken hearts, temptations, and a voice that’s calm, strong and crooner-worthy.

Nashville Blues Society on 'Panorama Motel,' Andy "..shows his versatility as a writer and musician..."





Andy Hackbarth was raised in the Colorado Rockies region, and his earliest influences leaned toward traditional folk and classical music.  He studied classical guitar at the Aspen Music School, and has used his skills and knowledge of folk to experiment with electrified folk music.  The result is his latest set, “Panorama Motel,” a seven-cut affair that shows his versatility as a writer and musician.

Adding to the mix is the fact that these cuts were written following a difficult break-up, and one can feel what he was going through as you listen.  Andy is on vocals, guitar, and keys, and uses dobro, violin, and upright bass from other band members to achieve the desired sounds.

As with most relationships, this one starts out full of youthful passion and eternal hope, and the opening cut finds Andy’s “got the Mountains, and I got the girl” for a cool weekend getaway.  He continues in this vein with “I good a good, pretty woman by my side,” and “Isn’t That Enough.”  The first sign that things are about to falter is when Andy begs of her, “Don’t Say you’re running down a dead-end road with me.”

Pretty soon, he’s got a room down at the “Panorama Motel,” and is “missing you like Hell.”  Seems that his only friends are “the whores in the hall” and “this ole guitar,” which breaks off a lengthy, snarling solo at the bridge.  The set closes with the shimmering, haunting “Oceans,” punctuated by unique, multi-layered vocals and sparse instrumentation.

Sometimes it takes some pain to spawn a period of fine creativity from an artist.  Such is the case with Andy Hackbarth down at the “Panorama Motel.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Marquee Magazine On 'Panorama Motel'...

With a bouncy island feel Andy Hackbarth kicks off his seven-track EP Panorama Motel, which could go down as one of the most positive break-up albums of all time.

According to Hackbarth the album was written in the wake of a messy breakup, but Hackbarth doesn’t wallow in sadness on the acoustic, poppy, singer/songwriter tracks. Even at times when he’s directly addressing the breakup, like he does on the title track, he finds the inspirational vein of the message and references chin-up mantras, like “breathe,” and “everybody says it’ll be alright,” while also conveying the frustration of a failed relationship.

On the album’s most emotional song, “Ocean,” Hackbarth performs almost a cappella, and the power of the song, as well as its subject aren’t lost, but at the same time, they never seem to have a poor woe-is-me message. Instead it feels like Hackbarth is moving forward with a bit more wisdom under his belt.

BC Music Review Calls 'Panorama Motel' a, "Small gem of folk-pop!"

Andy HackbarthPanorama Motel

Andy Hackbarth’s seven-song Panorama Motel tells a folk-pop story of a happy relationship that goes bad. His vocal and melodic style brings to mind any number of progenitors, from Paul Simon to Elliott Smith, but soulful harmonies and rhythms help him carve out a sound of his own. Above all, it’s a beautiful-sounding album, for which partial credit must go to producer John McVey.

The tale opens with the shiny “Mountains” and the thoughtful love song “Isn’t That Enough,” and climaxes with the dramatic pop-rock of the title track. It ruminates with the acoustic ballad of regret “What I’m Doing Here” – which reminds me of late-period Johnny Cash – and closes with the quietly arty counterpoint vocals of “Oceans.”

What do you call a seven-song, 24-minute album these days – an EP? a mini-album? Back in the early days of the Beatles, 10 or 12 songs would fit into those 24 minutes on two sides of an LP you’d never complain wasn’t a complete album. So I’m calling this an album – one that says what it has to say and no more, then says goodbye. It’s a small gem of folk-pop.