A Song Is Just A Shirt

I started on the web in 1996, when websites consisted pretty much of only words on a grey background and there was no such thing as high speed internet, just dial-up connections that loaded pages literally at a snail’s pace.

There were very few, if any, message boards back then. Instead, we had newsgroups that you subscribed to through your email software. I joined a group called rec.music.makers.songwriting in the hopes of connecting with other songwriters and maybe even exposing some of my own material. People would post things, just like on message boards, and others would respond. It wasn’t as nasty as it is now on places like Twitter, most responses were cordial.

One day, however, someone was asking about song form; should all songs have choruses, verses, bridges? Something to that effect. There were a bunch of opinions. I posted mine. I’m going from memory here, but essentially what I said is that a song can be anything you like, but it still has to have some kind of understandable form if you want someone else to listen to it or buy it. I said that a shirt still has to have a place to put your arms and your head and the rest of you, otherwise, it isn’t really a shirt. Someone responded pretty harshly, something I won’t repeat here. I’d never experienced anything like it before. It is still nothing like the abuse you often see on social media these days, but it stung.

But the reason I brought this up is because I know there are songwriters out there who push the boundaries and try to do something different, and I admire that. However, I still believe most of us have to make sure our songs like shirts; there has to be some kind of identifiable form. Otherwise, nobody is going to buy, or even like, the shirt. You can try to find a way to make a really unique shirt. There are many, many styles and colours, sizes and shapes of shirts to experiment with. But it still has to work as a shirt.

What do you think?


Production Over Songwriting?

The question today is:  Has production become more important than songwriting in today’s music?  It’s not a new question, but it’s important to revisit from time to time. I actually saw a discussion of this on Reddit and it got me to thinking about it again.

Let’s first separate production from arrangement.  Arrangement involves the musical part of the song;  who plays what where and for how long, whereas the production is the more technical aspect;  volume, effects, mastering and everything in between.

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Five Reasons Why You Can’t Finish That Song

The hardest part about writing a song is finishing it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just flowed out of us in one, sweet sitting with no editing necessary?  More likely is the fact that we’ll have to work at it to get it done.  When you find yourself struggling to finish a song, consider these five points:

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Ringo’s Stars


I had the privilege of seeing Ringo Starr and his All Star Band this past Tuesday at the Hard Rock Theatre in Coquitlam BC. Some of you may have already seen one version or another of this tour over the past 20 years or so since Ringo has been doing this.

The idea behind the All Star Band is that Ringo invites other artists/musicians/songwriters to join him and it literally becomes a kind of songwriter/performer-in-the-round event, with each taking turns to do a song they’re famous for and the rest of the group being “the band”.  Ringo himself didn’t have a lot of solo hits compared to his band mates John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, so what he has done instead is brilliant.

The All Star incarnation that I saw the other night consisted of Steve Lukather from Toto on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey on vocals, organ, keyboards, Todd Rundgren who was a successful solo artist along with being in other bands, on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar,  and Richard Page  from the 80’s band Mr. Mister on vocals and bass guitar.  Warren Ham provided vocals, saxophone, percussion and keyboards, and Gregg Bissonette was on drums, percussion, and added some backing vocals.

Aside from Ringo’s hits like Yellow Submarine, Photograph and It Don’t Come Easy, there were great songs like Africa, I Saw The Light, Bang The Drum All Day, Rosanna, Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Broken Wings and Kyrie, among others.

It was such a great throwback to the 70’s!  What it reminded me of was just how much I was influenced by songs, not only artists.  I’ve mentioned many times the artists that have impacted my own songwriting like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.  But the fact is that individual songs can do that too.  What I appreciated most about my teenage years was the fact that you could hear all kinds of music on the same radio station, not just one genre. You were just as likely to hear, for instance, a gospel song from “Hair” as you were rock or country or pop ballads.  So it seems to me the emphasis in those days was on the songs first, artists second.

In the late 70’s (and according to one article I read, because of Peter Frampton’s enormously successful album ‘Frampton Comes Alive’) the focus of record labels started to shift from singles to albums.  At the same time radio began narrowing its playlists to one or two genres and because of this paradigm shift, a lot of songs that would have deserved the radio exposure, didn’t get any.  No longer could you buy singles, you had to buy whole albums.  Today because of YouTube and mp3 players, we’ve come back to that notion of single songs which is really how it should be.  As I’ve always believed, the song is the thing.

And listening to all of those songs played the other night because of Ringo’s clever notion of an All Starr Band, I realized the impact of single songs on my own songwriting.  For instance, Todd Rundgren’s song I Saw The Light had that mixture of major 7th and minor 7th chords that I loved to use, and so I did, ad nauseum!  He also wrote simple but powerful melodies, exemplified in his song Love Is The Answer, which I recall the England Dan and John Ford Coley version of more than Rundgren’s.

So from now on I’m going to focus on remembering the SONGS that influenced me, not just the artists.  Which songs influenced your songwriting?  Post yours below!



Writer’s Block – No Such Thing?

writersblockI came across an article the other day where the author insisted that writer’s block really didn’t exist. My guess is that he was trying to draw attention to his blog by coming up with something that might be, in the songwriter’s world, considered “controversial”. Like a sucker, I was drawn in and I protested his claims, and therefore I guess I did exactly what he wanted. I engaged.

There’s more advice on songwriting on the web these days than there ever has been. If nothing else, MY only piece of advice to you is to consider who is writing this stuff before using it. Or believing it.

Writer’s block exists. I know, because I have it. In a bad way.

I have been writing songs since I was 12 years old. I’m not saying I wrote every day, or that I have a thousand songs to my credit. But I was consistently inspired and if not coming up with something new, always working on something unfinished. A couple of years ago, I finished my last song, and that was a laborious task because I had been working on it for some time. My excuse might be that I have had a lot of personal things to overcome, one being the death of my father last December after a long battle with Alzheimers. It wasn’t fun and it shook me to the core. I kept telling myself that eventually this would give me fodder for more songs, but so far it really hasn’t.

I was, however, inspired recently when I read an excerpt from an interview with Sting, who had a very long dry period until he went back to the town he grew up in, and found that writing in someone else’s voice was his cure. He wrote from the perspective of the people who lived in his home town, past and present. I think that’s a good idea. Not just the idea of going back to your home town, but trying to write in someone else’s voice. I’ve rarely, if ever, done that. So I’m going to try.

I have written several articles on finding inspiration but when I wrote them I was having no trouble myself. I had a muse or two back then, but they have long gone. For awhile I told myself that maybe I just wasn’t going to write any more, and I haven’t pushed it. But since reading that little snippet by Sting, I have found the odd line or phrase or verse coming out. My intention is to continue to explore that.

I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.

No such thing as writer’s block? Yeah, sure.