Saturday, August 6, 2011

Song Writing

  There has been an off and on debate on the originality of several established song writers recently.

  I was very excited about the first song I wrote.  But, by the time I got home on my bike I realized what I had done was write the Brian Wilson's/Gary Usher's song "409" with different lyrics.  ( and )  It was an important lesson.

  Its not unusual to start off writing parodies and "sounds a like" songs to learn the craft, but you can't mistake those efforts with a significant achievement.

  As you work on your craft (And, it is a craft; not magic that makes it work for you.), you begin to figure out not just music theory and poetry, but what appeals to others as it is "mass" communication. 

  Gradually, you'll begin to notice the work of other composers and players.  For example John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix both blew their share of minds.  I remember listening to Dave Brubeck the first time.  Brubeck loved odd time signatures in both his original and re-arranged recordings.  One thing I learned is how a good song could be improved and that a good song can be changed in any number of ways without being ruined.

  At this point, composer should consider taking up a second or third instrument.  Not only will this make you more apt to gain work as a player, but it will force you to look at music differently.  If you don't want to learn a new instrument, perhaps buying instructional DVDs on other instruments, amps, and recording techniques would be good.

  Hopefully, at some point you learn to make things unique.  For example, McCartney and Harrison used to talk about adding "jazz chords" (9 chords; diminished chords) to convey additional emotion and add distinction to a song.  For example, 7 chords tend to imply movement in the Western mind so they can create a dynamic tension.  Two things the Beatles did a lot was mix common chord structures and change time signatures.

  At this stage in your development, it would also be good to investigate other art forms, the artists themselves, and the stories behind their works.

  To really be successful, the creative person must be able to go to that odd place where creative people work.  This realm of the mind is one of both extreme concentration and child like wonder where rules are suspended and brainstorming can run wild.

  When you combine your skills with your disciplined mind, you should find yourself having a level of songwriting craft that makes it look easy to others.  However, don't feel bad if you can't write "Help" in ten minutes, because someone said you need another song.  One practice technique is to write a song a day while in different frames of mind.

  At this point, song writers usually have enough skill to write in the style of other song writers or re-write the songs of others to the point where most can not tell.  (You know, take a sad song and make it better.)  Some of the clever song writers will take elements from different sources, such as a century's old poem and combine it with a traditional melody.

  To the causal listener, these types of songs sound original, but other musicians can usually figure out the influences even it it is in a different key or time signature.  Hopefully, you have a fellow musician with enough knowledge that they can determine if what you have is an original song or if other elements of the composition have to be changed or if the Producer can just mask the run of the mill tune with a wall of sound.

  "The Greats" typically make a leap to another level where even their peers are stunned by what they do next.  Revolver was quite brilliant and underrated, but Sgt Pepper was so stunning in composition, arrangement, sound, and appearance that it set things differently from that point forward.

  As you get older, the genius moments occur less often, because of the nature of the mind.  Competition for your time and attention is normal as you age.  Sadly, so is the decrease in faculties.  Later, the memory starts to fade.  (Hopefully, your Producer will remember that Randy Newman song if you don't.)  It doesn't help that the entertainment industry is fast paced and the world is high on content.

  Successful well known song writers have a pressure to deliver product that can frustrate and delude their work.

  New technology is a big driver in all types of innovation, so consider if each innovation is right for you.

  Another thing that I've found helpful for promoting creativity is getting a life coach to help me work through problems or to help push me into exploring other aspects of my personality.

  Here's Christina Aguilera working with her life coach:
  (I wish I could sing like this beautiful girl!)

  OK, for you a field trip to a national park might be more like it.  But, just like in a relationship, you will need to shake things up from time to time for you and, hopefully, your audience.

  Another thing, its OK to have fun:  Here's the Beatles:

  Later:    No, its not Abby Road.

  I can't find the one recorded in the Memphis Hotel.  I suspect they're really deep in the rum and Coke on that one.

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