Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Band 101 Chapter 3-Songwriting

Read Chapter 1-Forming a band
Read Chapter 2-Practice, Practice, Practice

The obvious next step after an article about the importance of practice would be about getting shows, but you shouldn't get ahead of yourself. Rushing into shows is a bad idea, especially if you're a younger band and don't really know what it feels like when you "gel". For this reason, I want to cover songwriting first. You might argue that songwriting is a totally subjective field and no one can tell you how to write songs, and you'd be right. No one can teach you how to write, not like John Lennon wrote, that comes with talent, but there is a method to the madness. I'm going to cover this in two sections, music and lyrics. I could write an entire book on the subject, but if you really need an entire book about writing songs, you shouldn't even bother.

Your first few songs should be easy to force out. You just put a few chords together for a verse, and then some more for a chorus, maybe a bridge, and you've got it. However, this only gets you so far, and soon enough most of your songs will all blend together into some musical grey area and they'll just be generic. That's where paying attention to the character of the songs comes into play. Like I said before, I could write a book about this, and several people already have, but there's nothing any all of the pages in any of those books that falls outside the one simple rule about writing songs, and that is to make every song better than your last. That's it. Sure, your first few songs will probably suck, but you learn from them and write better songs. If you ever write something that's just not quite up-to-snuff with your other material, either re-write it or trash it completely.

On the same token, if you start to build up material that's substantially better than your early stuff, don't feel bad about dumping the old songs. If you have an emotional attachment to them, you can always record them for your own personal record, or re-work so they sound better. There's a major plus to dumping them, though, and that's recycling. If there was one really cool riff you came up with that ended up in a song that turned out lousy, just dump the old song and use the good riff in a new song.

Now, lyrics. A lot of bands get away with writing really awful lyrics, but that shouldn't be an excuse. Just because you listen to a lot of bands that sing about stupid things or can't write for shit doesn't mean that you should, too. I've found that the most effective method for writing lyrics is to always write the song twice (at least). You need one draft to get down the idea, which is really just the subject matter put into a basic candor with a little bit of an idea about the rhythm. After you get the words down onto the paper, you're able to really see what you're doing and fill things out with a rhyme scheme and allow it to flow. If you try to just write things in one take because you're "inspired", you'll usually end up with 4-6 lines of solid gold and the rest will be total shit. I also suggest that you read a lot. I know, it's not punk rock to read (or something), but if you don't know of anything and can't get any good suggestions, just go to the library and pick out books to read at random. It helps with your vocabulary, it helps your phrasing, and it can open your eyes up to a lot of subjects that you never would have thought about otherwise. I've known so many inarticulate guys singing for bands that sit and write horrible songs because they never read anything except what they were forced to in junior high, and they don't have anything to compare their stuff to, so they think it's amazing by the standards of all the other inarticulate assholes who were never able to see how their socio-political commentary pales in comparison to Orwell, or how their jaded but carefree attitude set to heavy rock sounded like pre-pubescent whine next to Bukowski's brilliant Factotum.

I read one of those songwriting books once. I didn't think it would do me any good, but I went into it with an open mind because I think anyone can stand to learn, no matter what it is they're learning or where they learn it. It was awful. It had page after page explaining song structures, which are useless and intended to stupefy your listener (I'm not arguing against organization, but you should write something in a way that flows, not a way that's formulated to the radio). It talked about establishing an "emotional connection with your audience" (telling them what you think they want to hear as opposed to what you really want to say), and it even advocated pulling song titles and "catch phrases" from already commercial items. The guy admitted that he would go into Hallmark and browse gift cards looking for song ideas. This is a guy who won Grammy's for writing pop-country songs. This is how much of a fucking joke the record industry is.

Sorry for the rant. Hopefully this helps. Next time I'll cover booking shows.

4 comments:

theneedledrop said...

"I've known so many inarticulate guys singing for bands that sit and write horrible songs because they never read anything except what they were forced to in junior high, and they don't have anything to compare their stuff to, so they think it's amazing by the standards of all the other inarticulate assholes who were never able to see how their socio-political commentary pales in comparison to Orwell, or how their jaded but carefree attitude set to heavy rock sounded like pre-pubescent whine next to Bukowski's brilliant Factotum."

Ain't it the plan and simple truth.

Anonymous said...

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