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PostPosted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 11:43 am 
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I confess; I don't write songs to sell, per se, though it would be nice if someone famous would record one or two of my songs so I could live well enough off the royalties to spend the rest of my life singing the rest of them to anyone who will listen.

That said, I write some pretty good songs, and - as a former English teacher - I often have pretty good ideas about what makes songs "work" and what doesn't.

I don't teach songwriting, though. As far as I can tell, the way I go about writing songs is about the opposite of the way most successful songwriters do, so I'd probably just cause more problems than I solved.

Some years back, when I was still trying to "break into" the CCM music scene, I took a songwriting seminar led by a successful songwriter. During the course of the seminar, students would present part of a song they were working on and the leader would ask for suggestions from the other attendees, then add his own. By the end of the seminar, he had figured out that I had pretty good suggestions. In fact, when he would make his own suggestions, he would look to see if I concurred. It was a "heady" feeling, knowing that, for an hour out of my lifetime, a successful songwriter I respected seemed to care what I thought.

On the other hand, when other folks tried to make suggestions to improve my songs, giving all the "textbook" advice, I just tensed up. Not because I can't take criticism - I'm a professional writer! But because I'd already considered most of those things before I wrote my first line, and making those changes now would keep the song from saying what I needed it to say. That may or may not make sense.

I hit an additional hurdle with one of the songs I was working on. The song expresses the narrator's sense of discouragement attaining his life goals. The "resolution" in the third verse is that the narrator admits that giving up altogether would be worse than continuing to "bang his head against the wall" and determines to carry on. So a song that, frankly, reflects a lot of folks' frustrations ends on a relatively upbeat note that fits the song's context.

During a period where we were supposed to break into small groups and coach each other, the other seminar attendees said all the things you're supposed to try when you've hit a brick wall with the song and need a fresh approach. "Try a different time signature." "Try putting it in a minor key" (as though the song didn't border on dreary anyway). "Try putting it in second or third person." But I didn't feel like I needed a fresh approach - I just needed a good last verse.

Because this seminar was sponsored by the Gospel Music Association, the leader felt he had to express that he thought my ending was weak. In order to make the song "work," the narrator should have a religious conversion or something. Or if he's already saved, somehow Jesus should come in and "make it all better" somehow. Even then, I knew that life, even the Christian life, doesn't always work exactly that way. I nodded and acted like I would think about it. But the truth was, and is, that I just needed to carry my vision through to the end of the song. If I ever get a chance to record the song, I'll link to it here and let you make up your own mind about it.

The point is, that, although broad principles apply ("more vivid imagery," "more specific verbs," etc.), for many people songwriting is intensely personal and, frankly, idiosyncratic. As often as not, I "wrestle" with my songs as fervently as Jacob wrestled the angel. And once a song is singable, even recordable, there are still decisions and hard work: How to arrange, how to demo, whether to include in live performances and where to include it, who to submit to, etc. So a song's effect on the life of a songwriter doesn't just end once the last round of revisions is over.

In the western United States, a cattle "wrangler" is someone who herds cattle. That isn't as easy as it sounds. It includes tracking down wayward animals, pulling them out of ditches, leading them out of blind canyons, and occasionally "putting down" one that is too injured to survive. Even when the herd is together, wrangling involves getting them all moving in the same direction, stopping them when they need to stop, and avoiding stampedes.

To me, the term songwiter doesn't give the whole picture of what it takes to get a song to market so to speak. That's where the term "songwrangler" comes in. If you find you "wrestle" with your songs while you're developing them, and then you "wrestle" through your efforts to help the song achieve its potential, you may be a "songwrangler," too.

If so, please consider signing up for the discussion forums so you can add your input, using the Forum Signup page (there are links at the top and bottom of this page). Even if you haven't signed up, I hope you enjoy the commentaries, tips, and other content we plan to post here.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2015 6:33 am 
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Reading "tip" articles from the pro songwriters I see on the web (and link to in this forum), I realize that I am not really a songwriter per se - I'm an old folksinger who occasionally writes songs. What's the difference? I don't work on songs just to have more and better songs. I tend to write songs only to express things I feel strongly about. And that's not the same thing. Also it doesn't really improve my craft the way working diligently to churn out radio-ready song after song would. Where at least one songwriter I know has pitched something like 6000 songs, I've only written about 300, of which, maybe 80 are worth pitching or performing in the right circumstances.

That said, I can still tell when someone else's song is good. I've helped other folk improve individual songs. Part of that may be my background as an English teacher, used to thinking about things like imagery and metaphor. So in songwriting discussions, I can usually hold my own. It's just not the same as having learned to turn out compelling, radio-ready songs on a daily basis.

Maybe that's one reason I made up the word "Songwrangling." The best songs I've written (IMHO) are the ones I've wrestled with. I come up with the tune and a verse or chorus one place, say driving to work, then I come up with another bit when I'm in the shower or mowing the grass, or . . . After a week or three, I have three great verses, a great chorus, and a functional bridge. It may be a song that no one else would ever want to sing, but at least it's a song.

Here's the flip side: I know guys who can get three great verses, a great chorus, and a functional bridge once an hour five hours a day. Maybe they're not songs I would sing, but they're songs that have a chance of getting on the radio, which most of mine do not.

When I "need" a song for some specific occasion, and I sit down to do nothing BUT write the next song, I almost always write stuff that doesn't have the "sticking power" of the songs I've wrestled with as Jacob wrestled with the angel.

So whether you're a songwriter or a songwrangler, your notes are welcome here. I don't have enough of my own recent songs online yet to start a discussion about them, but I hope to bring a few up at a time, just go give us something to discuss.

BTW, pitching songs is something else altogether, and something I've aways sucked at, so I won't be putting a lot about that here. There are forums for that.

Best of luck, all,

Paul


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2015 7:56 am 
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New blog:
Songwriters: Don’t Be Stupid; Use the Right Words

It’s one thing if the lyric is a deliberate pun or inversion of a cliche phrase (like “Head over Feet” or “Hard Day’s Night). It’s something else if it’s actually a dumb mistake that you don’t catch before you go into the studio and “cast it in concrete.”

http://www.paulracemusic.com/songwritin ... ght-words/


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Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you enjoy your music and figure out how to make enjoyable music for those around you as well.

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