A Songwriting Primer – Part 1 – Do you have what it takes?
Do you meet the qualifications?
Career songwriters share a distinct and unrivaled feeling of achievement that goes with the creation of something tangible from nothing more than an idea. Reaching into the ether, as if through some dimensional porthole, and coming out with a fistful of sound that not only has order, but also represents a personal creative force, forever.
OK, maybe not forever…
But if any song you write yields 10 more You Tube views than your total number of friends, the feeling of fulfilment is unquestionable. If you’ve never felt this or something equally powerful about the songs you’ve written, you might be better off pursuing another career.
I read some time ago that “the function of songwriters is to speak for people whose voices cannot be heard”. If you believe this to be true, then the first qualification to be a songwriter is to commit that you will speak in the voice that others will hear as their own.
So… anyone and everyone can be a songwriter as long as they have that commitment, right?
Saying so don’t make it so
You can call yourself a songwriter and no one will likely take you to task. After all, you aren’t claiming to be a pilot or a doctor, and just about everyone at some point in their life has created a song, usually in the form of taunting or ridiculing a foe, or perhaps a lyric scrawled on a bathroom wall.
Unfortunately, creating a song makes you no more of a songwriter than kicking a ball makes you a soccer player.
There is one pesky little caveat to that first qualification: You will speak in the voice that others will hear as their own…in a way that others enjoy hearing.
Songwriting is an interactive craft that requires a necessary element, involved listeners.
Put aside that you love your songs and have been getting compliments from everyone you allow to hear your songs. Inevitably validation of you as a songwriter will not come from you, nor your manager, girlfriend, classmates, friends or relatives. Exposing your songs to your acquaintances is the most natural first step toward getting affirmation of your skills, but make no mistake that this is a songwriting hobby and should never be confused with songwriting as a profession.
Get it straight
Too often I hear people touting themselves as songwriters. Personally I will suggest that there is a serious distinction between being a “Songwriter” and simply writing songs.
First, you will be defined as a songwriter by the people who want to hear your song(s), want to hear them enough to pay for the experience, and will openly recommend your song(s) to their friends.
And second, by definition a professional songwriter is one who makes a living from writing songs.
Respect people who write songs for a living, it is extremely hard work.
Beware The Magic Bullet
Some clever people have discovered that they can actually make money from songwriter wannabes. These business people are selling dreams via instruction books or pay courses and seminars with the implication of bestowing the gift of “hit” songwriting.
The dream weavers of songwriting are particularly insidious because they can get paid and yet owe no more accountability than the weatherman. This is because songwriting is subjective, and as I mentioned earlier extremely dependent upon the interactive listener (who is of course totally random and unpredictable).
It’s tragic that professional education programs have admittance interviews and exams to assess qualifications but songwriting education is still the territory of snake oil and magic potions. We live in cruel times when people desperate to fulfil their dreams are easily convinced that for a fee they can acquire a profession as complex as songwriting, without any sufficient evidence to prove that they can support the skill.
I personally don’t know of anyone who has become a successful songwriter as a direct result of books, lessons, seminars, workshops, camps, cruises, or circles.
There must be some way
Because personal expression is as unique as faces and fingerprints, there are no guidelines to follow that will guarantee you a good song.
There are however common tools that may make you better at your “craft”.
Make no mistake that songwriting is a craft as much as a gift of inspiration. You can improve and finish your songs the same way an artist completes a canvas.
MUSICIAN KNOW THYSELF
I have been writing songs since before I knew how to play an instrument. When I was young I wrote simply to please myself, and it was part of my lifestyle and expression. I didn’t care if anyone ever heard my songs, only that they provided me with a feeling of achievement and escape all at the same time.
I know (perhaps better than most) that for a specific type of personality, songwriting is a powerful force, as powerful an addiction as any drug. Thus the process must be managed sensibly and the songwriter must have some tethering to stay on track.
Be Open to Suggestion
Over this series of articles, I will reveal some simple songwriting tools, guidelines, and tips. I can’t tell you if your songs are going to be good, bad, or super hits, but I can offer you some constructive ideas on how to develop your skills and get the most out of what you do.