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November, 2011


by Webmaster

Last month I wrote about Writers' Block. When I archived it, I realized that I'd written about Writer's Block in October, 2010. Now I find myself faced with writers block.

I'm in the final stages of finishing a book. I wrote some of the introduction and explanations, but I mostly transcribed, organized, researched, footnoted, and found illustrations for letters my father wrote home from Europe when he was in the Army during World War II. It still took most of a year to get this very large project close to completion. The next step is to market it to publishers. Even if it doesn't get published, my family will appreciate it (I hope).

I managed to find other things to do during the last year: work on the house and yard, visit family in Phoenix, work at the Renaissance Festival, entertain guests, rehearse with a new band, write songs, rewrite songs, attend songwriting workshops, songwriters circles, the Durango Song expo, songwriting groups, work with new co-writers, spend time with my dogs, practice the bass, cook, shop, get the car fixed, do the accounting, spend time with friends, read, listen to music, watch a few movies and TV shows, etc. — the basic stuff of life.

At the Durango Song Expo, Chuck Cannon said that he spends 17-18 hours / day working as a songwriter. He writes thousands of songs each year. He gave some advice to songwriters, including some technical advice. I'll be adding that, one quote per week, to Colorado Sandstorm Music Publishing Colorado Sandstorm Music: : Places to Hear Acoustic Music, Locations, Venues, Clubs, Festivals, Music Promoters. Two of his ideas stick in my mind:

  • If you want to get better, write. Read and write. Write more.
  • If you can picture yourself doing anything else, go do it.

I read a lot. I write a lot. And, I can picture myself doing other things, some of the time. Some are necessities. Other satify other creative urges.

But I can't picture myself NOT being a songwriter. I don't write songs because I want to, although I DO want to. I write songs because I have to. They come to me and and I have to write them. If I don't, I'm not honoring my muse. I don't finish every song I write. Sometimes I let them go then come back to them later and rewrite them. Sometimes I just forget them — put them in the "in progress" folder. The good ones, the ones with "legs," come back to me and ask to be written.

I'm very fortunate that people like my songs. Some of my songs have been finalists for awards, gotten great feedback, been played on a number of radio stations, been performed and recorded by other people and been put up on YouTube. I'm not getting rich as a songwriter. Well, I am, but not rich as in lots of money. I'm rich in the way people respond to my songs.

Four of my songs were critiqued at the Durango Song Expo. Two of the songs got great feedback with the suggestions for change being more in the arrangement than in the construction of the song. One song, that has been played on the radio was not as well received. It's suitable for bluegrass but I can see the validity in their comments: It could use a bridge that takes it out of the straight true-story ballad format and elevates it with some generalizations phrased in a creative way. I have a co-writer on that song. We probably won't change it. We're currently performing it in our band and it's okay.

One song was critiqued twice (once in my group, once in my co-writer's group) to a wide variety of responses. In my group, they coud find nothing positive to say about it except that my co-writer has a beautiful voice. In my co-writer's group, apparently they loved the song and wanted to see a YouTube video of it because they loved the imagery. But, even in the group with the worst feedback, they finally, grudgingly admitted that the song "had a vibe" in a way that seemed like it might be inching up on a complement. It's definitely a song that sticks in your mind and grows on you.

I found that some people bring the same song to all of their critique sessions just to see what different people have to say. One person there told me that if you played your song for 7 industry professionals, you'd get 14 different opinions. And the same person might have a different response to the same song a year later. People grow and change.

There are some guidelines to writing good songs, regardless of genre. There are also some specific guidelines (read: rules) for writing songs in specific genres. Right now, sad country songs are not commercial. I bless and thank the people doing song critiques that could look past the non-commercial nature of a song and still suggest ways to make it be a better song.

Not all people will like all your songs. Different people will like different songs. It's not just the song — it's what people bring to the song. I think the best songs are very specific in their detail and yet still open to what people bring to them.

In the same way, songwriting contests are just as subjective. I've listened to winners of contests and had no clue how or why that song won. It doesn't touch me in any way. I've had the same reaction to some hit songs I hear on the radio.

There are songs I heard as a teenager that weren't popular but have stayed with me for decades. A lot of popular songs, getting airplay on commercial stations, will be gone in a matter of weeks. Some non-commercial songs will be absorbed into the legacy of songs that endure for decades. One song on YouTube went viral and was nominated for a Grammy without getting any airplay on any commercial station.

So, I've managed to ramble on about songwriting, and string a lot of different ideas together, without really having much of a point. This column is more stream of consciousness. But, it got me past this month's writers block.

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