Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Craft Of Songwriting

In my experience as a professional songwriter I have found that the art of writing songs is most often realized in the strangely elusive, yet profoundly exhilarating throes of involuntary inspiration. Those ethereal moments when natural talent and capability fused with illuminative spiritual clarity passionately embrace the creative muse in the process of giving birth to a mystical vision.

It's really quite easy. Patience is definitely required though as it happens so rarely that you'd be lucky to claim a handful of such experiences throughout a professional career. It does happen, but not often and when it does you better know what it is that's really happening and how to deal with it because it will not strike in quite the same way ever again when it does happen.

When it does, it's a gift and the chances of capturing that elusive muse without having first mastered the craft of songwriting are infinitesimally small. So it pays to consider the true essence of songwriting through a professional songwriters craft perspective.

Songwriting looks deceptively easy from a distance. As if anyone could do it and believe me, I've never met anyone in my life that didn't think they could. Everybody thinks they could be a songwriter. How hard could it really be to come up with a poem and a simple tune anyway..? However, as my song "Down On Highland Street" says "everybody's a dreamer, believers are few". Songwriting is a serious craft and that serious craft can best be summed up in one simple word. Rewriting. That's the "not so easy" job of real songwriting. In fact, rewriting is highly challenging and extremely demanding of a songwriter’s time, energy, focus and mechanical skills. It's a professional task. The rare gift of true inspiration is wonderful and a real joy to experience for even the most successful writers, but a career cannot be based on mere chance.

Songwriting is in fact, the least "easy" craft to master because it is widely perceived as being a simple exercise of putting words, chords and melody together and creating a song. Anyone can do that right? Many musicians especially think they can write songs because they know something about music. In fact, some of the best musicians I've ever met are the worst songwriters in the world mainly because, to their way of thinking, the music is everything. So the music is what they tend to focus on primarily.

That's not songwriting. That's musical composition at best.

Songs are not just "music with words" anymore than they are just "words with music". Songs are their own unique issue. Of course words and music together constitute the realized song, but songs are discovered as those intangible yet completely recognizable images of the heart, mind and soul as expressed and perfectly conveyed by forging of melody, lyric, rhythm and tempo.

It also doesn't hurt to learn how to incorporate "hooks" in your songs. I'll relate more on that study in a future post but for the moment let me just say that a great passion of mine is the artful usage of hooks in my work...musical and lyrical. Indeed, the greatest professional compliment I think I ever received in Nashville was when a publisher described one of my songs as having "more hooks than a Mississippi trout line". That line itself is a lyrical hook.

He must have been a songwriter.

The "craft" of art cuts across all fields of creative expression. Indeed, Picasso was reputed to have painted up to a dozen versions of each of his most famous works, destroying each one until he felt it was the best it could be. Having to struggle and rewrite [and rewrite and rewrite] doesn't make you a bad songwriter but failure to do so might. Honing your craft by writing and rewriting is the key. A great song is not written quickly and it is important to learn how to go back and re-work, re-work, re-work and re-work until a good song becomes a great song. It is imperative to the process that you open and extend the writing process itself. So keep writing!

As the late Maggie Cavendar so eloquently enshrined it at NSAI many years ago "it all begins with a song"!

More pro songwriting focus in the weeks ahead, but for now it's back to the music room and practice time for me. Who knows, I just might write a new song today. If so, you'll be the first to hear about it. Thanks for listening to my songs. Glad you like them.

P.S. Good Luck to Troy and Joni in Nashville. Two new writers on their way to Music Row.


RightWingBob has a great Sept. 26 post on No Direction Home, the new Martin Scorsese/Bob Dylan bio/documentary, as well as his usual brilliant insights following all things relating to the genius and masterworks of Bob Dylan including a brief revisitation of RWB's mission statement as to the true nature and intellectual purposes of RWB. Always very worthwhile reading for anyone who appreciates the songs and intelligence of Bob Dylan. I'm a big fan of RWB.

Check him out.


A plug today for a great and favorite conservative magazine which now has a brand new website at

Western Standard is the brainchild of Ezra Levant and company and offers some of the very best writers in the world today such as the inestimable Mark Steyn and the brilliant David Warren whose work I respect so much I have him linked here at FRANKtalk.

I highly recommend Western Standard to my fellow Canadians especially. It's time to stand in full support of a true conservative vision in this country before it's too late for argument or debate. Congrats to Ezra & Company. FRANKtalk is in your corner.


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