Lately, I’ve been in the mode of taking information in, rather than putting information and created things out. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about songwriters and songwriting. I’ve scoured books, videos, blogs, forums and all sorts of sources. It’s my way of learning.
What I have begun to realise is that there are lots of people happy to discuss the technology used on this song or the other, but very little discourse and discussion about what’s going on inside the songwriter’s brain when they make decisions about the song they are writing. That seems to be a secret or a dark art. Perhaps it’s one of those things that, if you think about them too much, the song itself disappears.
I’ve found that there are lots of people that believe if they have the same equipment as their favourite song writer, then they too will write songs like their role model. That doesn’t seem to hold.
I’ve also found that, if you pick a song apart analytically, you can find devilishly delicious puzzles, wit, intention and (dare I say it) manipulation going on. People that write good songs tend to hide structure and intelligence within them. Very little happens by accident, even if the actual process of songwriting has become so fluid, that the songwriter barely acknowledges the subtle design they are injecting into their song.
There are several important areas that the songwriter seems to concentrate upon. These are melody, harmony (sometimes in the guise of interesting and surprising chord movements) and rhythm (including stops and gaps). They all seem to look for elements of surprise and balance between light and dark, however they define it. It’s a fascinating journey into some very creative minds, when I can find the scant information that is available on the matter. It’s a journey I think I can continue upon for a lifetime.
The other thing that became obvious from my reading is that when songwriters begin to place more importance on other things, like how rich they are, whether or not they can party all night, legal wrangles, their own self importance and stardom, or whether they want to branch out into acting, the first casualty is always the quality of the songwriting. When songwriters stop caring about their songwriting, it is usually the beginning of a terrible personal end, often with literally fatal consequences. Somehow, if you are essentially a songwriter, it is important to never lose your essence.
I hope to post more about what goes on in the songwriter’s mind, when I learn something about it. I know what goes on in my own mind, but I’ve discovered that there is so much more that can go on and this is what excites me about the craft. You can always get better at it.
In the mean time, watch these two videos that attempt to delve into the mind of one of the songwriters I admire most, Neil Finn:
A good tune is hard to find, but a fine tune is good to find.