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Singer/songwriters: How do you go about

mauvepink 11 Jun 09 - 06:08 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 09 - 06:16 AM
mauvepink 11 Jun 09 - 06:31 AM
George Papavgeris 11 Jun 09 - 06:32 AM
Banjiman 11 Jun 09 - 06:38 AM
BobKnight 11 Jun 09 - 06:43 AM
mauvepink 11 Jun 09 - 06:43 AM
George Papavgeris 11 Jun 09 - 07:16 AM
Banjiman 11 Jun 09 - 07:25 AM
Banjiman 11 Jun 09 - 07:27 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 09 - 07:29 AM
George Papavgeris 11 Jun 09 - 07:34 AM
Anne Lister 11 Jun 09 - 11:55 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 09 - 12:13 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jun 09 - 12:20 PM
GUEST 11 Jun 09 - 12:52 PM
GUEST,mauvepink 11 Jun 09 - 12:55 PM
George Papavgeris 11 Jun 09 - 01:20 PM
George Papavgeris 11 Jun 09 - 01:22 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jun 09 - 01:22 PM
GUEST,highlandman at work 11 Jun 09 - 03:12 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jun 09 - 03:24 PM
Anne Lister 11 Jun 09 - 04:11 PM
john f weldon 11 Jun 09 - 04:33 PM
JedMarum 11 Jun 09 - 05:19 PM
Tim Leaning 11 Jun 09 - 10:00 PM
GUEST,Bert 11 Jun 09 - 10:18 PM
Black belt caterpillar wrestler 12 Jun 09 - 07:54 AM
john f weldon 12 Jun 09 - 08:35 AM
john f weldon 12 Jun 09 - 09:41 AM
bankley 12 Jun 09 - 10:56 AM
GUEST 12 Jun 09 - 10:57 AM
Mr Red 12 Jun 09 - 11:05 AM
Mr Red 12 Jun 09 - 11:21 AM
PoppaGator 12 Jun 09 - 01:49 PM
john f weldon 12 Jun 09 - 02:14 PM
Anne Lister 12 Jun 09 - 03:08 PM
M.Ted 12 Jun 09 - 03:30 PM
PoppaGator 12 Jun 09 - 03:35 PM
Anne Lister 13 Jun 09 - 04:35 AM
PoppaGator 13 Jun 09 - 07:17 AM
Anne Lister 13 Jun 09 - 12:53 PM
Peace 13 Jun 09 - 03:38 PM
The Sandman 13 Jun 09 - 06:44 PM
mauvepink 16 Jun 09 - 08:29 AM
Mr Red 04 Jul 09 - 06:49 AM
alanabit 04 Jul 09 - 07:46 AM
GUEST,Pat Wictor 05 Jul 09 - 05:04 AM
SharonA 05 Jul 09 - 06:59 AM
SharonA 05 Jul 09 - 07:45 AM
Ian Fyvie 05 Jul 09 - 10:57 AM
Art Thieme 05 Jul 09 - 11:55 AM
Mr Red 06 Jul 09 - 06:33 AM
Mr Red 06 Jul 09 - 06:42 AM
GUEST,mauvepink 06 Jul 09 - 07:26 AM
Tim Leaning 06 Jul 09 - 09:05 AM
Jeri 06 Jul 09 - 09:32 AM
GUEST,billhudson 06 Jul 09 - 01:23 PM
Ian Fyvie 07 Jul 09 - 10:22 AM
Jeri 07 Jul 09 - 01:53 PM
Amos 07 Jul 09 - 02:18 PM
Artful Codger 07 Jul 09 - 03:29 PM
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Subject: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: mauvepink
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:08 AM

I have had a couple of goes at writing songs, not very successfully, and was wondering this morning: How do the singer/songwriters go about doing it so well?

Do you make the tune first and the lyrics to fit it or do you write the lyrics and then compose the song? Is it a mixture of these? It's not quite a chicken and egg thing is it?

I am always amazed when a great song is written how a fusion happens between the music and the words. If one or the other is only slightly adrift it can all be ruined. So, my question to those who write, compose and sing their own songs is as the above... How do you set about it?

Best wishes

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:16 AM

People have kindly told me that this has been a help:

Songwriting tips


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: mauvepink
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:31 AM

Thank you for that Tom. Was trying to PM you but it seems I cannot do it for some reason.

Hope to see you in July. Good luck for the future :-)

pm


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:32 AM

Ah, but it's the iceberg beneath the tips you have to watch out for! Seriously though, Tom's notes are excellent, better than mine (so I will steal with pride in the future, Tom); but here are mine anyway: George's Tips

This is worth hours of discussion. Hey, Tom, I just had an idea: How about doing a programme on songwriters, getting each one to give their ideas and perhaps discuss the making of a song or two? We could start with you and me, talk to Jez, to Dave Webber, to Les Sullivan etc etc etc. We could run run the programme on some of the folk shows, or on the Music Well station... Now, there's a thought... Phil, are you reading this?


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Banjiman
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:38 AM

Just all the boys together then Yorgos? Tut, tut!


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: BobKnight
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:43 AM

Don't worry about whether the words or the tune comes first. There is no right or wrong method - just do it. And good luck.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: mauvepink
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 06:43 AM

Thank you, too, Yorgos! It seems I will not see you this year but your CD is still well played and one particular song loved so much.

Last night I heard Water Melon Seeds too :-)

Have a great year

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 07:16 AM

Boys, Banjiman? More like old men... Just names off the top of my head, don't extrapolate or assume anything other than fuzzy-headedness on my behalf :-) Of course, we'd approach Maggie Holland, Linda Watkins, Sarah Morgan,... am I forgetting someone? Something to do with arrows....

Ooooh, I am SO naughty, aren't I?


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Banjiman
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 07:25 AM

..... LoL George.

Just a lttle reminder in these days of fighting 'isms!!


Have you come across Anna Shannon yet? She's great.

Anna Shannon Have a listen to The Farming Boy & A Little Piece of Africa. Absolute class.

We do seem to have an abundance of talented female singer/songwriters in North Yorks (and a few blokes as well.)

Paul


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Banjiman
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 07:27 AM

http://www.myspace.com/annashannon

Hopefully a link that works this time.

Apologies.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 07:29 AM

Thought I'd posted but it seems I haven't.

I've added a link to Yorgos' site from mine (hope that's ok with you Y), and also some stuff I've been meaning to add for years from Bob Kenward - (hi Bob if you're there)!

Oh, and links to the Folk Against Fascism MySpace!

Tom


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 07:34 AM

Love Little Piece Of Africa! Thanks for the link.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Anne Lister
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 11:55 AM

Forgot me, too ... *sniff* ... and we were together only a short time ago, Yorgos!

And I had the exact same idea about the radio progs, back about a year or so, but didn't get exercised enough to do anything about it! My idea came out of an extended talk with Harvey Andrews and discovering where we worked the same way and where we differed.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 12:13 PM

We could do a series, one of those hand-off interview things. I interview Anne the first week, Anne interviews Yorgos next week, Yorgos interviews Jez and so on until the last person interviews me.

Let's take over the MH show! (Ringing him now ;-)


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 12:20 PM

I write verses, usually, not tunes so much-- I extend songs for worship that aren't long enough.

Here's how I do it, and I usually get a pretty good word/syllable/pitch match.

Sitting at my computer I run the song I want to work on, over and over, while I open up other windows including a word-processor. I might look it up as-written on a lyrics site, incl Mudcat thread research. I just let the song run and run while I'm doing all this, soaking up the sound and feel of the tune and the feel of any existing lyric approaches others have taken.

When I am done doing this research, and getting my WP ready, I pray and/or ask myself for some more words. What needs to be said? It comes, and I grab it into the WP as the tune still continues to run.

I can do a similar process if I am driving, by singing the song as known and then letting the new verses come, but unless I record it or write it down the best of it is usually lost.

Later, I edit the text I have created to make the syllables match the pitches even better, and I might find new verses coming to me then, too. At this point it's all just "creation" mode..... catching and smoothing whatever comes.

Still later I decide which verses to use and how to order them. If it's for our band they become set in stone-- published to our songbooks.

===

Tunes, when they come, usually come when driving or riding shotgun. There is a balance of attention between the music mind and the seeing mind that seems to open up the creativity channel. The basic tune comes and I'm whistling it. I repeat it over and over and allow my mind to folk-process it into a "final" form." At that point, my mind also starts suggesting either a bridge, a chorus, or some variations. I add them, hoping not to lose the "verse" as I do them.... Sometimes the mind suggests harmonies and other instruments' parts. I might whistle these, too, accompanying in whistling the main tune my mind is hearing.

Again, unless I record all of it, I will probably lose the best of it.

Later I try to find time to either arrange it with chords or, better, catch the notation using software- in case I forget how it goes. But I have a pretty good tune-memory, once I have "performed" it, and from that point I can usually recall the whole tune just from hearing the chord pattern.

===

Sometimes it's words first, tune later. Sometimes it's tune first. Sometimes I can hear someone else's tune and get a whole lyric for it. Sometimes I can ghost-write a lyric from another writer I know well, from scratch, or add verses in their "voice." With the hymns it's very easy to ghost-write in the idiom of the original.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 12:52 PM

Thank you for all posts and comments so far. I am out this evening so will catch up again tomorrow

I wish I had the talent of some but then maybe I would not enjoy folk so much? I enjoy it now because I can look up to great songs and those who sing them. Maybe if I were among them I would not get that feeling of inspiration. I'll never be a good singer that much is for sure.

Until the morrow...

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,mauvepink
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 12:55 PM

Oops! sorry. Left my nick off the last

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 01:20 PM

Oops, sorry Anne! And Eliza. And Liz Simpkin. And Duncan McFarland, Alan Moorhouse, Big Al Whittle, Leon, Anthony-John, Vin, Jon Boden...

There are a few, aren't there?


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 01:22 PM

How could I forget Steve The Twice! Lizzie wouldn't forgive me.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 01:22 PM

MOST important-- do it YOUR way. Find your own process and then let it rip.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 03:12 PM

Susan: "MOST important-- do it YOUR way. Find your own process and then let it rip."

Yes, indeed, but it helps, when you are a rank beginner, to crib off of other peoples' processes. After a few years of following my own chaotic and unprolific process, I began reading about other folks' ideas, and rather uncreatively tried them all until I arrived at what (mostly) works for me.
Briefly, I borrow an existing tune that has something about it I like (appropriate mood, usually) and use it as a "reference." Then I write my lyric to fit that tune.
Later I throw away the reference tune, let the words percolate for a while, and finally write my own tune to fit the words I have.
The hitch may come if you are the type that has trouble disassociating tunes from words.
-Glenn


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 03:24 PM

Glenn, yup, I borrowed it all too, until I found what fit for me. It comes eventually. But there are no cookie cutters in folk music, I suspect. :~)

~S~


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Anne Lister
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 04:11 PM

I never learnt from anyone else ... me, I just made up songs from as early as I can remember and have made them more structured as I've grown older (that's called "crafting", I believe).

My biggest tip to aspiring writers is to follow your own instinct. If you're finding it difficult, that's because when you break it all down into "how to" chunks, it IS difficult. I've been attempting to teach the basics to children at a local primary school - I have small groups of willing, fairly bright kids for an afternoon a week in half term blocks, and some of the time I find myself wanting to hit my head against something solid because it's so tricky explaining why some lines work and some lines just don't. And how to get your head into gear for fitting words to melody lines and then making them (a) make sense and (b) rhyme.

But my experience is that when a song is desperate to be written, it virtually writes itself. I tend to trust those songs more than the ones I struggle with (maybe wrongly).

I'm sure Tom and Yorgos have explained it all brilliantly in their tips ....I did write mine down once as an article for a magazine, so maybe I should upload that to my website (if I can find it again!).


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: john f weldon
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 04:33 PM

I won't make claims for my own abilities, but I do feel I'm a good observer. I also think what works in one field can be transferred to another.
Here's a few tricks i've noticed:

1) Delay of gratification. This works in many fields. If your song seems to be resolving on a note or a rhyme, in a predictable fashion, insert something that puts it off a bit. When the release comes, it will be heightened.

2) Avoid the obvious. Similar to the above. If the listener can guess what's coming next, change it.

3) Un-natural rhythm sounds lousy. Don't stretch a word to cover two beats. Find two words that sound natural.

4) Strange but true: A semi-rhyme is often better than a perfect rhyme. Unpredictability is great. On the other hand "Life is hard and I gets tard." only sounds right if it's your real dialect.

5) Rhyming dictionaries are worse than useless. A Thesaurus, however, will turn up more interesting alternatives.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: JedMarum
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 05:19 PM

I have an idea for a song; sometimes a phrase begs for a song to "explain it," sometimes a story needs telling, sometimes a few simple thoughts want expression.

I play with melodies constantly, in my head or when I sitting around playing at home, sometimes even on-stage between songs I am experimenting with melodic ideas. Sometimes those ideas marry themselves to one of the lyrical germs I carry in the back of my head. Or sometimes I sit down to write. In any case, I always consider "what sort of rhythm is appropriate for this lyric? And I'll tap out a rhythm that I think works - then begin matching or creating a melody. I normally develop two or three musical parts - and I purposely differ their rhythms (to change up the lyrical phrasing) and I find a phrase or two that is purposely repeated and sometime modified to enhance the story.

It's that simple. Sometime music comes first - sometime it develops as the lyric does.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 10:00 PM

"A Thesaurus, however, will turn up!"
Bloody hell I hope not
Great big lumbering things they are,look dangerous to me as well eating cavemen and fallin off cliffs.
I for one am glad they are extinct.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,Bert
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 10:18 PM

Here's a couple of hints


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Black belt caterpillar wrestler
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 07:54 AM

I was talking to Scowie the other week about composition (songs for me poems for him), and we agreed that if you don't feel that it's starting to hang together within about 15 to 20 minutes it's probably not worth bothering with. Better to work on another subject then come back and start again from scratch.

For me the start is usually a single phrase with tune attached that just comes into my head. Mostly the rest is in place within 10 minutes and then I try to forget it and leave it for a day so that I can come back and read it more objectively to edit it. This involves looking for more exact wording where meanings are unclear and trying it out to see if I unconciously change things by using my natural speech patterns. What you naturally say is not neccessarily the same phrase that you would write.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: john f weldon
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 08:35 AM

Tim, it's amazing what great ideas run through your head when running for your life.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: john f weldon
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 09:41 AM

Another tip that works in many art forms: The particular is usually better than the general.

I was driving down the road. I was talking to a friend.

Instead: I was driving down the 20, talking to Jim.

You don't need to explain who or where, they'll get it. It seems more personal & more real.

You may have to engage in some unpaid product placement. After all "Black Vincent" is so much better than "Old Motorcycle".


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: bankley
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 10:56 AM

you can also check out www.songU.com       an-online songwriting site... actually it's free now for the next 2 weeks... if you want to poke around and see if there are any courses that might help... nice people started it up 6 yrs. ago... Danny Arena and Sara Light... very good for beginners... and folks looking to hone their skills, pitch ideas etc... I'm a member but have been inactive for a few years now... did get to collaborate with a fine writer from Dublin, Enda Cullen....    oh yeah, the site is based in Nashville, but don't let that throw you... it's open to a lot of styles...


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 10:57 AM

Well first you just dun gotta want it that bad.
Second it helps to be immersed in music daily.
Third it helps to have time to yourself, divorce/separation works there but it may not work if you engineer the separation first - it is all about mindspace -- redundancy, divorce, bereavement they all leave a hole in your attention and then you can fill it with a song..
Fourth it helps to know the audience (not personally but by genre).
Fifth - there ain't no rule that says you have to go public on any song especially the first - imagine a guitarist going public after a week's learning (or a month) - no! Practice applied to any sport improves the breed.
Sixth - I would advise investing in a rhyming dictionary - a good one like the Penguin one, a thesaurus and a good dictionary because you never know when the word you "knew" turns out to have conotations or a different meaning! I use the SOED CD ROM because it has a rhyming function based purely on sound anywhere in the word - contained rhymes can be fun (see Cole Porter & also enjambed rhyme). Dictionaries are not the B all and End all - they are a resource, a prop, and sometimes you may need them. And PC based versions are quicker, if less portable.
7 the Golden Rule (as GBS said) is that there is no Golden Rule. However there are many things that sit very awkwardly in a given context. And some that work because they flaut the expected norm, especially humour.
8 Never rely on memory - if you see, hear think of something - record it there and then, come back to it when you have the mindspace.
9 And if you contact me via PM or via cresby.com I do have a CD of a book written by myself that is all about being creative - mostly allied to wordsmiths. I would recommend it highly if I wasn't so modest.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Mr Red
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 11:05 AM

That was me. But then mistakes & happenstance are a good resource for any creative endeavour - so
10 Keep your radar switched on. and record those signature "moments" on paper, pocket memo, camera, camcorder, e-mail yourself, phone yourself and leave messages etc etc. You will know when they happen.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Mr Red
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 11:21 AM

I would disagree with the length of time it takes comment. Some songs like "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" were written in 7 minutes. Cole Porter said "All the motivation I need, is the call from the producer". But people with day jobs have to make time. And some really good songs build over weeks, in my case a verse a week. Thoug I have written them in an hour. If the song is hard work and looks like it, it may be better to not sing it in public, but regard it as practice. Some people have half a song and come back to it when they have more info. A historical song needs careful checking unless you want a pedant in the audience to ruin it. That takes time. The only time I would advocate giving up after 30 minutes is if there is no good hook line or opening stanza, becaue it would signify the muse is not flowing. However if all you have after an hour is maybe two or three lines, put them in the archive (allocate a whole page for that proto-song) and revist maybe in a week, a month, a year etc. Then maybe there is a spark.

Remember the Golden Rule - and who would argue with George Bernard Shaw?


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: PoppaGator
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 01:49 PM

Not to be a wet blanket, but not every singer HAS to be a songwriter.

Many years ago, I had come to the conclusion that there was no higher calling than that of the songwriter, and set out to become one. I figured that if I immersed myself in singing and playing, sooner or later I would become so conversant in the language of song (so to speak) that I would become able to write songs as easily as I've always been able to write prose.

Never happened ~ despite a couple of insanely obsessed years of constant performance (50-60 hours per week singing on the street, open mike appearances a couple of nights per week, plus "practice time" on my own).

I suppose that I found performing, and the effort to adequately interpret songs that I loved, to be enough of a challenge to satisfy my creative "itch."

I very often observe performers who are very talented and enjoyable singers and/or players suddenly become embarrassingly mediocre (or even unbearbly BAD) as soon as they feel obliged to treat the audience to one of their "originals." If only such folks would just stick to what they do well, that is, to singing and playing proven material that they love.

Now, of course, there are many exceptions, and we all know quite a few "semi-pro" and/or "unknown" songwriters who do produce admirable and enjoyable work. Some, of course, even go on to become fully professional and well-known.

I'm just sayin'...each of us has to decide if what we have to offer is really all that worthwhile. Not every one of us NEEDS to write new songs; there are PLENTY of really excellent songs to be sung, many of them not at all well known. (I can't tell you how many times I've sung some obscure song, or some older song once popular but now largely forgotten, and someone has asked, "Did you write that? It's really great...")

Another important point, something with which I'm sure that the actual songwriters among us will agree: if you wait to be "inspired," it'll be a long wait and will probably never happen. What works is to have an assignment (even one which you assign to yourself), and work towards fulfilling it.

There's a very telling scene in the Hollywood biopic on the life of Hank Williams. While still an unknown, Hank has a chance to interview/audition with Roy Acuff, back when Roy was hugely influential in Nashville not only as a performer but also as partner in the Acuff-Rose publishing business.

Hank sings a couple of his songs, and Roy gives him an assignment to write something new, on the spot, within the next hour or so. Gives him a situation ~ heartbroken guy sees the girl who has rejected him while walking down the street ~ and says he'll be back in an hour or so to see what Hank could come up with. When he returns, Hank is ready for him, with "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You," and gets the contract.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: john f weldon
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 02:14 PM

The Popeye song was written in 5 minutes, possibly the most lucrative 5 minutes work in history.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Anne Lister
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 03:08 PM

I'd second Poppagator, except that I DO wait for inspiration. I find the songs I've written as an assignment tend to be "worthy" but not exciting. So I wait to be inspired, and it's not done me much harm.
There may be long gaps in my writing, but when I'm inspired a song takes me much less time to write. And I'm happier with it.

But no, not everyone needs to be a songwriter and not everyone should be. More than that, not every song you write has to be good, and not every song you write needs to be sung to an audience. Some songs are "practice" and some songs are "therapy" and there are a lot of writers who don't always know the difference between those songs and songs for public consumption! In addition to there being a lot of excellent songs out there, there's a huge amount of mediocre songs out there....it needs discernment and discrimination before deciding to put your songs in front of other people, and further discernment and discrimination to work out what they thought of them. In folk clubs, people always clap. Your family and friends will want to save your feelings. Keeps it all a question of your own judgment. Not easy.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 03:30 PM

I have to agree with PG--writing your own songs does not necessarily make you a better performer.

One of my old band mates liked to point out that an audience will like a bad band that plays material they know better than a great band playing material they don't know--


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: PoppaGator
Date: 12 Jun 09 - 03:35 PM

I'll stand corrected, to an extent, in that Anne is absolutely right in noting that some degree of inspiration is undoubtedly important. I think that perhaps the point I was trying to make was that reliance upon inspiration alone is likely to lead to disappointment.

Also, as Anne noted, it is almost universally agreeed that beginning songwriters cannot expect to produce excellent work right from the first. You have to write a number of not-so-good songs first before you develop the ability to write good ones. Perhaps my failure ever to "become" a songwriter might stem from my unwillingness to write even one of those inferior songs as a way to start down the road to competence.

One huge factor in this discussion is that the financial realities of the music business reward composition, and performance of one's own material, much more lavishly than performance of public-domain stuff. Worse yet, the use of other artists' songs in a commercial context can actually cost you money. This unfortunate "fact-of-life" is probably to blame for much of the inferior musical material with which we are faced on an everyday basis.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Anne Lister
Date: 13 Jun 09 - 04:35 AM

I hate to continue to quibble with Poppagator but it's not only beginning songwriters who will produce not-so-good songs. EVERY songwriter writes a certain amount of stuff which belongs in the wastepaper bin, and however good you may be, you will still be capable of writing tosh. Some beginning songwriters may write an excellent song straightaway and then be unable to write more of the same quality. It's not a question of experience leading to better results, sadly.
And my most important wish for a new writer is to ONLY write a song if it demands to be written - if you can't NOT write it.
You'll only get the commercial rewards if people like your material enough to book you, if performers want to take your songs on and if radio people play the recordings on air. Singing average or poor songs won't get you the gigs and won't earn you a penny.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: PoppaGator
Date: 13 Jun 09 - 07:17 AM

Quibble away, Anne. I'm just talking off the top of my head, and everything you're saying is obviously valid.

It's not like anything we say is etched in stone, right? It's just recorded on the internet for all eternity...


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Anne Lister
Date: 13 Jun 09 - 12:53 PM

For some reason I've now got this image of an Easter Island statue in my brain ....


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Peace
Date: 13 Jun 09 - 03:38 PM

I smoked some stuff like that once . . . .


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Jun 09 - 06:44 PM

I think it is hard to judge ones own songs,on the other hand if a song is popular,the songwriter is making a reasonable assumption,that it is good.
on the other hand, some terrible songs have reached number one or been thereabouts.
I think there has been some excellent advice on this thread,thanks.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: mauvepink
Date: 16 Jun 09 - 08:29 AM

Thank you ALL. Some wonderful tricks and tips have been given me and I have enjoyed the thread immensely.

For me I would go with saying I am talentless and can only aspire to what others achieve. The challenge is there and an enjoyable one nonetheless. I am just grateful to be able to enjoy the music made by others and my greatest respect always lands on those who manage to actually sing and songwrite at the same time.

Of such things are dreams made of when you have an underabundance of something as I do ;-)

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Mr Red
Date: 04 Jul 09 - 06:49 AM

but not every singer HAS to be a songwriter
But the question was about songwriting.

Now - on the question of how long it takes - Pete Seeger mentioned in a Radio4 programme recently about Woody Guthrie - and if it is good enough for them we are not worthy to question it.

Woody wrote "This Land is Your Land" with a last line "God Bless America". And Pete knew of it for 7 years and it was never sung in public to his knowledge and he would know best. Then after the 7 years it suddenly appeared with a last line "This land was made for you and me"

And if it took 7 years for that song to feel right, then you can give your song the all time it demands, and prove the naysayers wrong as well.

But remember the phrase about "polishing a turd" - you will know when you sing it publically which it has become.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: alanabit
Date: 04 Jul 09 - 07:46 AM

Opinions are like... Here's my tuppence worth!
I reckon that at the end of the day, a song has to sound natural. When you hear a really good one, you just know that the song needs to exist and you know that someone was going to nail it sooner or later. That is why if a song sounds as if it was hard to write, it probably sounds hard to listen to as well. That is why a lot words and melodies, which sound throwaway, often work better than really carefully worked and clever ideas. If a song sounds as if it was simply passed on rather than carefully crafted, it is occuppying a space in the timeless zone, which may well eventually make it a folk song.
When I listen to Dylan, I intensely admire the insight and cleverness of "It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding". Yet I bet that in a hundred years time, the Hank Williams like simplicity of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" is far more likely to be sung. There is a real craft to songwriting, I believe, but a part of it lies in hiding the joins and making it look as if it all just happened by accident.
Just my tuppence worth...


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,Pat Wictor
Date: 05 Jul 09 - 05:04 AM

Great discussion. Writing for most takes place in isolation, but ongoing dialogue with other songwriters is crucial to many skillful songwriters' progress.

I've run a songwriters circle in New York for 9+ years, and it's helped many improve as writers (myself included). It's a peer feedback group: everyone presents a song, and hears feedback from other writers. We keep it positive and practical. A critique can always be voiced as a suggestion, and praise for a song's strengths is valuable for a writer wondering what to keep and what to revise. For anyone who writes, I'd recommend joining (or starting) a group that meets regularly. It gives you a deadline, and good ideas on how to improve your songs.

My buddy Sharon Goldman writes a blog that discusses songwriting process, and there's tips on running a songwriters circle too (I did a short interview with her): www.songwritingscene.com/

Enjoy, and keep writing!
Pat Wictor


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: SharonA
Date: 05 Jul 09 - 06:59 AM

Hello, Mauvepink:

Lots of good tips here, and there are lots of books on songwriting out there that will help you.

Usually I am struck by my muse (ouch) with a hook or other phrase, lyrics and tune together... and usually at a time when it's inconvenient to write it down (taking a shower, driving the car, etc.) so I have to sing it over and over till I can jot it down. Then I usually fill out the lyrics, because I already have the subject of the song and an idea of how the tune and meter will go. I often hum a tune or pick it out on my el cheapo toy keyboard as I write the lyrics. (When all else fails, I sketch a keyboard on paper and "play" it with my pen). When the song has a bridge, that's usually the last part of the song to be written. All is written in longhand, complete with crossouts and arrows pointing to corrections in the margins! Then I copy the whole thing onto a fresh sheet of paper, making more corrections as I see that they're needed. Sometimes a third draft is necessary before I type the more-or-less finished product and print it out. Usually there are only minor corrections to the typed version. Then I rehearse it till I can sing it well enough to take it to a peer-critique session and see if it passes muster or if I need to revise it further.

Practice is important in songwriting, just as it is in rehearsing a finished song. As you write more and more songs, you will find yourself getting inspired more often and having more phrases (of a lyric and of a tune) come to mind.

One really important thing to bear in mind -- and it's a hard thing -- is that one should not become so enamored of a particular part of the song that one is unwilling to revise it or even remove it from the song if it's not working properly there. (You can always save it and build another song around it!) I love my cute, cuddly kitten but he doesn't belong in my car engine, and neither the engine nor the kitten is going to run properly if I force one of them into the other. :-)

As Pat Wictor says, discussion and feedback are very important. More experienced songwriters can offer suggestions and guidelines, and anyone in a discussion group can tell you how your song impacts him/her and how your message is being interpreted by that listener. I'm co-chair of a songwriters' group myself, in the Philadelphia PA area, and we hold a monthly peer feedback meeting.

We also hold regularly-scheduled events such as original-song circles and round-robin showcase concerts (great for testing out one's songs), plus songwriting workshops with hands-on writing exercises. These workshops are great tools if you can find some near you -- or try some exercises on your own or with friends on-line. Our exercises are about an hour long and include the following:

-- Pull a word or phrase out of a hat and write a verse that includes that word or phrase. (Or pull a newspaper clipping and write a song about the story in the article.)
-- Pull a photo out of a pile, and let the visual image inspire what you write. (Or pull an object out of a bag and let its smell or texture inspire you, etc.)
-- Write in the style of a famous songwriter, or in a genre you don't usually write in... or trade styles with a friend (you rewrite your own song in his style and he rewrites his song in your style).
-- Take a few notes of a well-known tune, change the meter (or put the downbeat on a different note of the phrase, or put the phrase into a different mode), and write a new tune based on that reworked musical lick.
-- Write a song using only two chords or only five notes of the scale or some other "restriction" that makes you think about how you can make a song work within that perameter.
-- Get in a circle with friends and play "songwriting down the lane": Each person has a piece of paper and writes a line (such as "I woke up this morning but I didn't have the blues") on it, then each person passes the paper to his/her left, then each person writes the next line of the song based on what his neighbor has written; then the papers are passed to the left again, and so forth. The process goes on as long as you want (we usually stop at 8 lines), and then each person writes the rest of his song based on what's on the paper he ended up with.
-- Learn a new guitar tuning and play around with it, or learn some new chords or a new chord sequence; sometimes a new sound from your instrument can give you fresh perspective and inspiration.

Finally (for this post, at least), remember that a good song has more than just a melody and an accompaniment; among other things it has verse structure, meter, rhythm, mood and, above all else, PROSODY Prosody refers basically to the way that the prose flows around and within all those other elements; it all should work together in a natural-sounding, unforced, uncontrived way. This is the ideal to work toward, even when your song-style is purposely jagged-edged and screamingly unconventional; the song should stand well upon the framework you have built for it, whatever the shape of that framework may be.

Have fun!

SharonA

P.S. -- Here's the songwriters' organization I'm involved with: www.pasamusic.org


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: SharonA
Date: 05 Jul 09 - 07:45 AM

Here's another bit of advice: A good song should have some kind of a story arc. Whether it's a ballad or a description of how one is feeling, the end of the song should leave the listener in a different "place" than he was at the beginning of the song. That "place" could be the end of the story that's in the ballad, or it could be a change of feeling (happier or sadder or angrier or more hopeful than he felt before), or a deeper understanding of what the songwriter is describing. This is what another poster meant about how a song should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

If a song is simply something along the lines of: "I hurt. Boy, I hurt. I'm in pain all right. Yup, I hurt." ...it won't convey much (the depth of the pain, the reason for it, what if anything I might do to ease the pain) and it probably won't engender much sympathy or empathy UNLESS you use the tune, the accompaniment, changes in volume, vocal emphasis (improvisation or yodels or howls), etc., to invent a musical story arc rather than a lyrical story arc.

Even so, it's helpful to have the lyrics tell some sort of a story -- it can make the musical story arc even more powerful! The end can come back to the beginning (as in The House of the Rising Sun) or it can allude to the beginning (as in Saint James' Infirmary) for a sense of closure. Or it can take you on a journey (as in 59th Street Bridge Song, where the singer physically moves on down the street AND emotioally advances from where he's feelin' groovy to where ALL is groovy -- and note that the melody also advances as it modulates up a half-step!).

Don't underestimate the importance of a CHORUS or a REFRAIN. Repetition, repetition, repetition is good, good, good. :-)

Repetition is important in the structure of your verses, too: keep 'em consistent. If the rhyming scheme in your first verse is AABB, then the rhyming scheme in all your other verses ought to be AABB. The listener's brain hangs its hat on that kind of stuff, and expects it. Knocking its hat off in mid-song is generally not appreciated, and is as impolite as knocking someone's real hat off his head.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Ian Fyvie
Date: 05 Jul 09 - 10:57 AM

Always a fascinating topic!

I taught one Songwriting lesson a 'term' during guitar classes in the late 1990s.

There are lots of methods and many songwriters will be producing by a mix of ways.

The best must always be the complete 'line and tune' jumping into existance as one. If you've got something to say then a theme line will come 'unanounced' out of your mind (creative dept.). All you have to do is to remember it. Lots of inspired potential songs have been lost by not writing the spark down or recording something as soon as you can get to a suitable device.

The other methods have probablty all been touched on (havn't read every posting yet) but if you end up with something that sounds natural then you've probably got a good song - unless you ruin it by rubbish words or weak music in the later bits.

The top quality folkie songwriters I can think of here in Brighton are all remarkably different in styles (Indrani Ananda, Patricia Horton and A.N.O who amazingly won't generally play his own superb songs at in public).

A story to finish - I had the basic chorus line for a railway song for ages - couldn't resolve it but was determined to complete it for a particular steam railway to use a publicity. I'd tried all sorts of chord combinations and convoluted runs to fit the verse lyric structure.

One day sitting in the park cafe area with my guitar resolution struck - just use two chords for the whole song! I cut the third chord on the chorus, rejigged a bit of structure and the whole thing gelled.

If the super finger picking guitar chord wizards are thinking "it must be a crap song then", let me just add: this song made several plays on BBC national radio - the only song of mine ever to do so!

Ian Fyvie


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Art Thieme
Date: 05 Jul 09 - 11:55 AM

I've beehn told, by one who actually does it on a regular basis (and he/she does it without the aid of a supository,) that it is done with mirrors---and while wearing strong magnifying glasses.

That way it's easier to see into your navel.

(just a little humor. ;-)

Art


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Mr Red
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 06:33 AM

Writing for most takes place in isolation,

There is a good reason for that. Criticism kills creativity, anger stamps on lateral thinking, and the "n" word constrains. Even if the harsh words are being spoken to someone else. And we all want to champion "our" efforts.

I have written in isolation, but two of "my" best songs prove GBS's Golden Rule. One was a song that fooled more than a few into thinking it was traditional, written with three scrapping kids and a nanny at the same table. The mother (girlfriend at the time) saw what I was doing and made sure I was not interrupted. When you dun gotta get the words out - they just dun gotta flow. (Thanks Angela)
The Kinttershanty was written as a collaboration, Lucie was trhe technical expert and mostly watched in amazement. Peter, who I had written with in the past, was doing the one thing that could have killed it - using the "N" word, "no". My reaction was to counter with a, "Just write it down, now what was your idea?". By the time I had knocked the conceptual ideas and tunes into a "Whole" he had great difficulty remembering who suggested what - until I pointed-out a line with four joke ideas in it - he thought it was 2!

So the trick is to not let the negatives interfere - how you do that is not so easy to predict. But recording and moving on is my suggestion. Telling the collaborator "not to" just gets you stuck on one idea. Arguement.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Mr Red
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 06:42 AM

EVERY songwriter writes a certain amount of stuff which belongs in the wastepaper bin,

As Theodore Sturgeon said "nine tenths of everything is crud"
so nine tenths of the residue is not as good as that really spiffing 1%. But ask ten people which song fits which category and you certainly won't get anywhere near 90% agreement.

Songs need the right environment to succeed, but that would be a discussion for "performance". Still when you are first launching your magnum opus it is all too easy to forget that. First performance is taking priority. Newness and all that.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,mauvepink
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 07:26 AM

And the thread still grows with wonderful ideas and very little overlapping.

I commented to a friend last week that it fascinated me how so many different songs get written with the same chord structure, and so few chords, but entirely different tunes. It seems that writing songs is even more diverse and that with such a propensity of styles and ways the art is far from threatened.

Thank you everyone for the continued contributions. I think the thread will be of use to all who aspire to write songs but also those who are already good at it.

:-)

mp


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 09:05 AM

I haven't written a song for months.
I put this down to being musically isolated at present and not picking me pen up and making those scribbley shapes that pas for my hand writing.
If you don't do it they don't come.
:-)


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Jeri
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 09:32 AM

Tim, I know what it's like. Without other songwriters around to talk to, it feels like I'm trying to run through molasses. Not much inspiration, no feedback, friends who aren't interested, etc. Isolation.

Somehow, I wound up writing about how that feels. The last one I wrote (which isn't exactly finished yet) is just sad. I was sad when I started writing it, had to get sadder to get through it and then found myself seeing a positive way to end it. A clear way out. Songwriting as therapy.

My question is: do I fix everything in the end, or, since a listener will hear the same possibilities I did when I wrote it, do I leave the 'what happens next?' uncertainty in there?


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: GUEST,billhudson
Date: 06 Jul 09 - 01:23 PM

Good subject.....
I do not know if there is anyway for a songwriter to do it right. At the end of the day you are trying to to tell a story. If people get what you are trying to say, well, job done. And after some time the song stands on its own.
When I am in NYC I sometimes go to Jack Hardy s place in the village. You have to bring in song you wrote that week. So it keeps you on your toes.
And yes it sometimes takes years to write one. one of my tunes, Gauguin' Dream took years. I carry that 1st line with me, "Gauguin drinking colors first thing in the morning".
Sill Pickin'
B.H.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Ian Fyvie
Date: 07 Jul 09 - 10:22 AM

Songs that leave the story in suspension can be brilliant. Can't think of any of mine that do offhend, but I sing one written by Alex Lewis (Nuclear Holy Cow) which powerfully leaves people thinking.   

Other songs can have an ongoing, updateable element in the basic idea which can be supplemented by the writer, or actually challenge the listener to add to. Just top of the head thoughts at the moment - will follow this interesting thread......

Ian Fyvie


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Jeri
Date: 07 Jul 09 - 01:53 PM

Thanks Ian. I think if the song were someone else's and I heard it, I'd be tempted to want to yell, "Don't you SEE? You KNOW how to make it better!"

Recently had a conversation with a friend about this. I know some people have to know everything to enjoy a song, and eliminate all their questions. I love the songs written for people who like to fill in the blanks. They have enough room to allow people to find their own meanings.

The imagination-room isn't just a factor in modern type of folkish songs either. I don't know anyone who can say for sure what the guy did to piss Barbara Ellen off in the first place. There's lots of speculation, but no certainty.


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Amos
Date: 07 Jul 09 - 02:18 PM

The art of the unsaid is powerful, when it is used well, because it excites the creativity of the listener,like a good book.


A


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Subject: RE: Singer/songwriters: How do you go about
From: Artful Codger
Date: 07 Jul 09 - 03:29 PM

There may have been certainty, and it simply ended up being omitted. When you take a 23 verse ballad and condense it to 4 or 5 verses... That's the way a lot of indeterminism got injected into folk songs. True folk songs nearly always fulfill one's expectation of learning how the situation resolves, even if pertinent details are skipped over in the setup or development.

Not that this should constrain modern songs. On the other hand, if you're writing for non-arty plebeians like most folks, well, we like to know. We hate it when TV series or seasons end with cliff-hangers. "F***ing wankers!" we think. If a song is mostly about a mood or idea, that's okay--we don't necessarily expect to be told how things turn out. But if you're telling a story and you don't resolve it, most of us will just feel cheated, not thankful for the "imagination room". It's like telling a joke with no punchline. Commit and see it through.


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