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The Art of Songwriting

I spent most of my musically formative years in the 70’s. It gave me a great appreciation for the art of crafting a memorable pop song. Christopher Cross, Stephen Bishop, Paul Williams, Seals and Crofts, James Taylor… they all represent a rarified group of the songwriters that have left more than a few memorable compositions amid the pantheon of pop music.

Songwriting is a craft like few others. Yes… you can learn the nuts and bolts of music theory and cobble together any number of possible chord and melodic combinations. However… it’s the rare blend of innate musical ability and practical knowledge that can yield a truly memorable song that will stand the test of time.

In the beginning - Paul McCartney and John Lennon

McCartney and Lennon represent a rare breed of artist that had a unique ability to make their compositions completely accessible as pop music while at the same time writing with musical integrity, ingenuity, and sheer brilliance. Paul and John started out by studying the songwriting of their idol Chuck Berry. In the process, they found innovative ways to take all of the conventional wisdom of the era and turn it upside down. The Beatles truly set the stage for everything that came after them. Every serious songwriter alive today understands the importance of what Paul McCartney and John Lennon did for the art of modern songwriting.

Check out this excellent video for an in depth look inside the brilliant minds of John Lennon and Paul McCartney

The sheer difficulty of writing something amazing enough to still be around 50 years later is what draws me to the art of songwriting. I’ve written and recorded many songs over the years. A few of them have even landed on radio and television. But I’m still working toward that one amazing song that I KNOW is still somewhere inside of me. It’s what drives me to keep creating new music.

One of my favorite parts of working through a new song is that specific moment when you realize you’ve got something worth listening to. The chord structure, the melody, the lyrics… it all starts to come together into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a feeling that never gets old no matter how many times you’ve done it. There’s a bit of magic there, something that a relative few will ever get the opportunity to experience.

I’ve taught several songwriting classes in the last few years and one thing always comes to the top. You’ll never write a great song unless you start. Just do it. (No Nike reference intended) It really is as simple as that. Start by humming some melodies or singing some impromptu lyrics while you’re driving. The first songs you write don’t need to be good, they just have to exist. It’s also helpful to study songs that you like and look at how they’re put together. Your songs will get better as you keep writing, and who knows, maybe you’ve got that one GREAT song just waiting inside of you. Two chords, three chords, it doesn’t matter… just get started.

Then… go forth and put your music out into the world. Play your songs live, put them on YouTube, whatever. Share them with the rest of humanity. That’s what it’s all about.

Standard Songwriting Tip: Use your phone to record song ideas so you don’t forget them by the time you get home. I can’t tell you how many times I got lazy, didn’t record, and then couldn’t recall my brilliant masterpiece an hour later.

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