“I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. I am working most of the time.” ~ Leonard Cohen
Writing songs is hard. How do you say something compelling, relatable, unique and yet authentic, all in the space of 3-4 minutes?
For me writing is a constant process, not an event. I think about songs all the time, always seeking to improve upon my work, whatever that means.
Editing. Evaluating and editing the work is the key, and in my opinion, what can often times take a song from good, to greatness.
But, maybe the song is great already? Maybe I should leave it the fuck alone? Martin Heidegger discusses the concept of the “thingness of the thing” as a way of understanding creative work. Maybe it just is what it is? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origin_of_the_Work_of_Art
There is also David Letterman’s less etherial take, encapsulated by his regular “Is This Anything” bit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UdLBwqmus4
If the goal of writing a song is to reach a wide audience, it’s usually not ok to just sit back and let that song be what it is upon it’s initial writing. I was inclined to just let my work be what it was as an young writer, and would often fall into making the same set of mistakes over and over because I was either too scared or too lazy to edit my songs:
VAGUENESS: sure, songwriting is the great and etherial opportunity to imply things, but too often songs are not specific enough for the listener to get a sense of what the song is actually about, making it impossible for the listener to relate to the song. I often found that my songs were too vague to be embraced by my audience.
EXIGENCE: exigence is a concept, asking if an item or action is called for, required, needed. An answer to the question, “what’s the point of this song?” Perhaps the song is specific enough, but is it called for? Do people want to hear this song and its topic? I often found that many of my songs were uncalled for.
INTENTION: is the song meant to tell a story, or meant to be a vehicle for the singer’s talent? I often found that many of my songs were a vehicle to show off how well I could play the piano, or sing, or how much music theory knowledge I could flex.
Speaking of intention, it’s not my intention to sound preachy or imply that I write empirically great songs every time. I certainly don’t. My intention is to express empathy with writers who care deeply about their music and want it to be great. I want my songs to be great and to reach lots of people, and trust that you want your songs to be great too.
Many great artists have discussed their approach to work and songwriting, beautifully summarized here: http://jeanettearsenault.ca/2010/06/best-songwriting-quotes/
Dan Wilson talks about being flexible in his approach and editing in this wonderful interview from a few years ago. I find reading it to be very inspirational: http://www.americansongwriter.com/2010/10/semisonic-success-story-an-interview-with-dan-wilson-2/
Great songs bridge the gap, and shatter The Industry Lies: http://bit.ly/1PgxEfa
I believe in great songs and the power that resides with them enough to make that concept my professional mantra. Join me in sharing it: Great music will always find an audience.