Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Artist and the Editor

Songwriters like to talk about the two elements of songwriting, sometimes called inspiration and craft, or the “creative” and the “editor”. This correlates to what we call the “left brain” and “right brain”; the creative side of the brain and the logical side. Call it what you want, but the reality is, both are needed to write a song.

In the last year, I’ve started several songs, but they remained unfinished. I had a musical idea, a few good lines, a rhythm and melody–all of which I liked– but couldn’t seem to get the song finished. Those last few lines just didn’t come.

I figured, OK, the creative part of the songwriter has come up with music and some lyrics, now it’s time to hand it off to the editor. The editor worked many hours trying to get the songs finished, but just couldn’t do it. The artist became impatient and frustrated with the editor: “Hey, I did my part. Why don’t you do your job? I need this song done. Now!”

But, in hindsight, I think that the artist turned the songs over to the editor prematurely. The artist had more work to do. The artist needed to experiment with different melodies, different chords, different lyrics, maybe even a different theme. The artist was trying to make the editor do things that the editor isn’t capable of. Only after the emotional core of the song is worked out, with the melody, music, rhythm, and at least half the lines, can it be handed to the editor to polish and finish. The artist was slacking. Typical artist.

Put another way, I was unconsciously trying to take shortcuts. But in trying to take a shortcut to get the song done, I was actually causing the process to take longer.

I want to thank fellow Denver songwriter John Common for helping me figure this out.


Things I wish someone had told me about songwriting

I wanted to write songs when I was 18. But I didn’t know how. And didn’t have anybody to go to for advice. I didn’t have any friends who were songwriters. No one in my family was a songwriter. There were no websites and blogs. No books on songwriting, no workshops, no songwriting schools.

I wish somebody back then would have told me these things:

1. Like any other art or craft, you have to learn it, and practice. Songwriters aren’t “born” (well, maybe some are). Most will tell you that it’s the result of hard work.

2. You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Don’t expect your first songs to be great. You learn by doing. Frustration and self-doubt come with the territory.

3. Schedule songwriting sessions. Be disciplined. Show up for work. Put the time in…

4. …but don’t pressure yourself to accomplish anything in those sessions. Have fun, enjoy it. If you put the time in, you *will* get results.

5. Seek out other songwriters. Make friends with them. Ask for advice. Ask for constructive criticism.

I wonder how different my life would have been if someone had told me those things when I was 18? Maybe if I write them here, someone else won’t have to figure them out on their own.