The Art of Songwriting and the Lack of a “Right” Method
One thing that has always fascinated me about songwriting is that you can ask as many musicians as you want about how they go about the process, but you will almost never hear exactly the same answer twice. This is likely a result of the fact that there is no absolutely “right” way to write a song, which allows artists to contribute to the incredibly diverse world of music in any way they can imagine. This can be intimidating for aspiring songwriters who have no idea how to get started, but it can also be very exciting—if one method does not work for you, you can just choose another.
Evan Weiss (source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evan_Weiss,_live_in_January_2013_(Ottobar).jpg)
Evan Weiss, frontman of the indie rock band Into It. Over It., worked on a particularly interesting project called 52 Weeks in 2009 in which he wrote a song each week for an entire year. Weiss claimed that the experience helped shape his songwriting style in general, and with such a time crunch for each song, he learned that there really are no rules to writing songs. Weiss claimed in an interview on blog.ourstage.com, “Before 52 Weeks, I used to sit and slave over songs for months. It helped me form a songwriting style and helped me realize that sometimes, less is more.” Weiss argued that songs do not need to be deep and metaphorical to be considered “good”, but instead, sometimes simple is better at driving the point home.
DAN “SOUPY” CAMPBELL
Dan Campbell (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonder_Years_(band)#/media/File:The_Wonder_Years_Warped_Tour_2013_1.jpg)
This past July, Dan Campbell—vocalist of The Wonder Years—released a heart-wrenching album called We Don’t Have Each Other under the name Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The album originally began as simply a way for Campbell to improve his songwriting and practice playing acoustic guitar; at first, he never planned on releasing the songs. One topic he thought would be interesting to write about was a story of man in his 20s living in Brooklyn and going through a divorce. Instead of just sitting down and writing a song, he decided he needed to get into the mind of his character first. To do this, Campbell wrote fake journal entries of the man soon to be known as Aaron West. His process really emphasizes the process of being in the mindset of the mood you want your music to portray. It’s not easy to force emotions in music, and when you do, it’s easy for it to come off as fake or insincere. Campbell really entered the mind of Aaron West, and as a result, the album really came to life.
Bob Dylan (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dylan#/media/File:Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylan.jpg)
“If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”
Bob Dylan’s advice clearly demonstrates that he understands the importance of older works when it comes to writing music. Most artists look up to some other band or bands that interest them as their fundamental influence for their music. This allows songwriters to take a style they know they already like and tweak it enough to put their own spin on it. This does not mean their style will turn out overdone or stale—there’s a reason genres exist, right? I once read that anything ever written contributes to one big, never-ending human story and, therefore, makes connections with everything else ever written. The author was speaking in terms of classical literature, but I’d say this same concept just as accurately applies to music and songwriting. When a songwriter writes a song reminiscent of another writer’s song, the style is readdressed, but this time with a new perspective. The connections between songs of different writers is what ultimately creates an elaborate culture within music, and I find that fascinating—so even if songs are not 100% original, they can still be fresh and interesting.
Differences aside, all songwriters can agree on one thing: songwriting takes a lot of work. Some writers spend months—years, even—working on a single song, and even after that, they might still not be satisfied. That’s important, though—as a songwriter, success doesn’t come from writing a perfect song, but instead from learning from writing one song and then aspiring to write an even better one. As a songwriter myself, I have notes filling up my phone’s notepad and saved all over my laptop, and I’m almost positive 90% of these ideas will never make it into a song. The songwriting process is by far one of the most frustrating things you could undergo, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. So if you are ever planning on trying your hand at songwriting, find a method that works for you—create what you want to hear, feel the music, and always remember there are no rules.