Thursday, January 31, 2013

The songwriter's process of discovery

In my experience, songs are born, not made. I once wrote a song whose identity I did not discover until after I found myself in the recording studio making the music with my collaborative partner. We learned together that the song had a natural "country" feel, style, groove and affect. Being an experienced jazz singer (with a good deal of both classical and pop singing experience) I was a bit concerned about how my recording of this country song would sound! With a little help from my friends (my guitarist, John Chiodini, and recording engineer, Paul Tavenner) I found the right "voice" to pull it off, and my country single was born. This song has not yet been released, but I expect that it will be commercially available within a few months.

As I teach my songwriting class at USC Upstate, I encourage the students to understand that they cannot always superimpose a style upon a set of lyrics with the intention of forcing a song to become something it is not. A case in point, one of my students, aiming to compose a twelve-bar blues tune, wound up with a country-rock song instead. There was no way to push that song into the blues format he and I had intended, but that was ok! He had a new song from the experience, and learned that songs are sometimes just what they seem, regardless of the initial intention of the composer or lyricist. When we allow songs to unfold gently upon our pianos, guitars and pens, we can learn to accept the outcomes as gifts from the muse rather than beating them to a pulp to match our original plans. We might just love the results of simply letting it flow...