Thursday, April 23, 2009
Songwriting: Exploring The Mystery
Song writing is an inherently mysterious process. There is an indefinable quality in the way in which inspiration for a song comes and is translated from ‘nothingness’ into substance. You soon learn that no matter how deep you hone your craft or sharpen your technical skills; you never outgrow your sense of awe that sometimes songs will just ‘come to you’ that you need simply to ‘let out’. The discovering of and chasing after this elusive mystery of creativity is the great quest of any artist.
Of course there are legitimate and pragmatic fundamentals in any art form. Held in tension against any ethereal mystery are the practical tools and realities we have great command of. It goes without saying that any art is communicated via certain fundamentals. Beautifully mathematical relationships between notes and harmony; wonderfully comprehensive interactions between words and melody; perfectly intelligent methods of combining the raw elements of song matter are all essential fundamentals. But to sum-up the art of song writing in terms of it’s irreducible minimums is a reductionist approach which may well describe the nuts and bolts of a song, but will never quite capture the soul of it. Anything that is truly creative, meaningful and transcendent cannot be reduced to the confines of our methods and formulas no matter how cleverly we put them. The intangible remains.
So how to navigate that tension? We have a healthy respect for the craft that prepares the way for the art. Lyrics harmony, structure, form, and melody; the combinations and interactions of these forms are a high craft. It is possible and often necessary to write by skill and craft alone when the elusive inspiration departs. This approach can still create good songs, even great songs, often mimicking the footsteps that inspiration left behind. As a songwriter I will not hold back from getting up close and personal with the rudimentary tools of my trade, but I will do so and not say that this ‘it’.
I have tasted and I am ruined and I am addicted to that mystery feeling. Therefore in all my craft endeavours I am alert and expectantly preparing for inspiration to make it’s way into my equation. And oh the excitement when the inspiration comes! To write this way is to be caught up into something more magnificent than yourself, and yet the joy of being so inextricably linked with Mystery is the songwriter’s dance of delight.
This, it seems to me, is how the songs that linger in your heart are written.