Building A Song by Amanda Williams
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Songwriting is like building a house. The first thing you do when you’re starting to build is clear off the land in order to make room for the new structure.
In learning a new subject like songwriting, you have to start by preparing yourself mentally & by clearing away any distractions or blocks that might be keeping you from your goal.
Maybe it’s clearing away a few hours of time you might have spent watching TV or hanging out with friends to practice songwriting. It could be a mental block - a nagging voice of “reason” telling you that you are crazy for trying to be a songwriter that needs to be cleared away from your thoughts.
Maybe it’s clearing away some things you think you know, to make room for a more complete view of a complex subject to unfold.
Blocks can come in many forms. It takes a lot of effort to even attempt to examine everything we know (or think we know) looking for inconsistencies. It is often the things we are sure of that we really need to examine, because we take these things most for granted.
A songwriter has to develop the ability to see things from many points of view in order to describe the world from a well rounded perspective. Otherwise, your songs will be flat & won’t move your audience like you want them to do.
So step one, we clear away all the old buildings & rubble to make room for the new structure to be built.
Didn’t realize songwriting was so complicated did you? That’s just step one.
Step two in building a house is laying a firm foundation upon which to begin construction. Certainly, you want to make sure you select the best quality materials so that your house will last the test of time.
In songwriting, step two is where you learn all the rules - rules of grammar, subject/verb agreement, rhyme scheme, form, composition & arranging. Rules are your foundation & your building blocks.
Learning all these rules can be boring & tedious at times, but it is a necessary step to becoming a great songwriter. Even though this may not be your favorite part of songwriting, you can console & motivate yourself by keeping in mind that learning the rules is one step in the long journey to becoming the best writer you can be.
The poet, E.E. Cummings, famous for his untraditional use of punctuation & capitalization, once said, “You have to know the rules in order to break them.” Judging from his writing, he must have known a lot of rules because he broke all of them.
After your foundation is set & your materials are selected, you begin step three: construction on your house in earnest. You know it will be solid, because you have ensured that in step two.
Step three is when you select which architectural details your house will feature. Will it be an A frame? Will it have bay windows? The style & details of your construction are what set your house apart from your neighbor’s houses.
In songwriting, step three is where you begin to develop your unique voice. You know that whatever song you write will be solid & basically “good” because you have learned all the rules necessary to write a “good solid” song in step two.
The key to great songwriting is to combine the technical aspects of solid writing with a creative style all your own.
We all have similar experiences in our lives that we choose to write about: lost love, changing seasons, babies being born, people dying, etc. What makes songwriting so amazing is the fact that even though there are a million songs about lost love, each one is a little bit different from all the rest because each one presents the subject in a slightly different light, from someone’s unique point of view.
We all process information differently, our brains all work in their own ways. That’s what makes us special. That’s what makes your songwriting interesting & enjoyable to others. Details from your daily life will work their way, magically, into your songwriting & add a flavor all your own to your work.
Step four happens after the house is already built. It’s the revision process of writing. Your finished house might look better with custom shutters, or maybe the wrap around deck needs a wheelchair access ramp in addition to the stairs. Your song might be better with a few added details, or maybe you can replace a few adjectives with more descriptive ones.
It has been said, “A great song is not written, it’s rewritten.” The importance of the revision process is often overlooked, but it is one of the most important steps in songwriting.
Unlike building a house, in songwriting, all the steps happen simultaneously. You will be developing your style (step three) as you are learning the rules (step 2) while you are still trying to clear out more time to focus on your writing (step 1). This is part of the beauty and complexity of learning to write.
As you begin your songwriting education, you may feel at first like you are not really working on songwriting at all. In some ways, this is true. Songwriting is a living art form & must be approached as more than a process. As you continue writing, you will find that songwriting is more of a way of life than an activity. In fact, if songwriting is just something you do, then you are not really a songwriter.
Songwriting is not something you simply do, songwriting is an expression of what you are.
Let us focus now on being songwriters.
To read more articles by Amanda Williams, please visit Hillbilly Culture.com.