We are pleased to offer you 10 thoughts on songwriting from someone worthy of learning from. Ian Tamblyn won 2010 English Songwriter of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. He has been songwriting for 40 years which have resulted in 32 albums. If you’d like to be as successful and prolific, read on (in his own words)…
1. Songs are kind of out there in the ether; dial into the signal reception.
2. Songs are also gifts that can simply arrive, however it is best to attenuate yourself for the reception of those gifts. Be ready. Be prepared. As part of being prepared I think the songwriter must become a very astute observer. This may be part of why or how a person takes on the conceit of becoming a songwriter in the first place. If the gift should arrive, honour it, don’t ignore it, fall back to sleep, or say I’ll get back to it later. The bearer of the gift, perhaps called the Muse, is moody, and if you slough off the gift, the Muse will be less likely to offer the gift as readily the next time.
3. Craft the gift. It seems to me the bearer of the gift also appreciates hard work and a dedication to craft. Part of the attenuation to receive the gift the song, is to spend time on the craft of songwriting even when the Muse is elsewhere. At some point the craft driven song and the Muse gift song will dovetail with each contributing to the detail of the song.
4. Set your song free by freewheeling. Once you have the nub of the song , set it free in your freewheeling mind , let it tumble around , let it find the best expression , the simplest , clearest way to express itself. In this freewheeling state you may find the best perspective, point of view and the balance between vagueness and specificity, the right words.
5. Keep it simple stupid. When you come to actually write the song, you will have done the distillation of words in the freewheeling state, now write simply and clearly to the subject and emotional centre of the song. Don’t try to be smart- serve the song, and serve the story. In some cases, keep yourself out of the way.
6. Complete the song. The creative act is like some other acts, once some part of it satisfied, it can often be abandoned. But getting off on a good first verse is not a complete song. When you have the musical form down, finish the song if you can because the state of mind you are in at the time will affect the story you are telling and the way you are telling it. I think of a song as an illusion, the combination of words and music should intertwine and in some ways become invisible to each other and doing so take the listener and the singer of song to another level. How this happens remains a wonderful mystery, very much like the gift itself. However, it is the songwriter’s responsibility to perfect this illusion.
7. To that end, balance vagueness and specificity. Don’t overwrite. Don’t use words that can break the illusion, words that are not musical, sonically dodgy, or not within the rubric of the song. If you use the wrong word you are in danger of breaking the illusion of the song. I think the same applies musically. Of course there are exceptions but I think it is important to know the rules before you break them.
8. Sing it in. When you have finished the song, sing it in. The process of singing in a song may bring out a smoother way of expressing a line, the simpler expression might come from the lizard brain, or it might come from the catalogue of songs that is already in your head. Let that happen and adjust.
9. Take another look at the song. When you have served the song as you can ask yourself in all honesty, does this song give me energy or does leave wanting to find the nearest bridge? If the song lacks energy it is best to reassess. If you think the idea is good, regroup and come back to the song with a different take on it. Courage.
10. Don’t worry if you find yourself writing the same song, work on the craft and the Muse will take notice.