This past week someone said something that really got my gears turning. They said, “At some point you need to stop studying songwriting and just write.” Wow. Guilty as charged in a number of ways. This hit me and I had one of those A-HA moments that Oprah always talks about.
I fully believe that studying songwriting is not bad. There are a ton of techniques, theories and tendencies that can be studied and learned. I would associate it with an architect learning about building frames, plumbing and substructures. In songwriting it can help immensely to know the inner workings. Know the structure and why things work. There are many traits of songs that have been blasted into our minds since the day we were born. Not so much formulas, but trends and patterns that click with our brains. Patterns that we associate with great songs. Can you get this from just listening? Yes. But I think you need to dissect and study to really get a good grasp on the inner workings. Know the rules of the songwriting ‘nature’ and why they equate with emotions and communication.
Learning the theory is great….but it only gets you so far. If you do not practice the theories, you will never get better and really break through and write great songs. You have to apply the knowledge that you pick up from studying. You have to be a student, and then writer. Student, then writer. Writer, then student. You have to be willing to take a concept and apply it, experiment with it, flip it upside down, backwards, forwards and inside out. Make it your own, AND play it liek someone else. Think about the day at Reese’s when someone said, “What if we put peanut butter inside choclate?” I bet they started doing testing and seeing what worked, until they made one of my favorite candies….Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. YUM.
Think of your songwriting like a scientist thinks of his work. Many times a scientist will use another scientists theories, and try to duplicate them in the lab…..THEN they try to play with the theory to see if it stands up….and sometimes they discover something completely new. This can happen in your songwriting. I know some of you purists and artsy fartsy types try to never use formulas or things that have been done….but you should try. You can’t effectively break the rules, if you don’t know the rules. Note – There are NO RULES in songwriting, just tools.
So my challenge to you, is to study like a maniac every songwriting book, website, video, theory, or whatever….BUT after you study, make sure that you are using the theory to WRITE. It doesn’t matter if it sucks, it is just an experiment meant to help you expand your war chest. Try things you have not tried. I am sure that you will be pleasantly surprised to what may come out. And each new thing you try plants new seeds in your mind and makes neuro connections that can come in handy down the road.
So are you a song student, or song writer? I hope you are both….but you should probably do more writing. Right?