Lesson Plan

Some generous thoughts on songwriting, courtesy of Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly (find the complete Americana UK interview here):

“A song can start from really odd beginnings. Most songwriting is random. I think of it being closer to fishing: you go out fishing for three or four or five days and nothing much happens, then some days – something does. But it wouldn’t have happened if you’d not gone out those three-four-five days.”

“You sit down at the blank page and just get up or make a cup of tea or do the washing or something. You keep walking away from it.  So, I think the most important thing is to give myself ‘do nothing’ time and that’s a discipline in itself.”

“[Like all of the songwriters interviewed for this series, Kelly stresses the importance of capturing ideas], that when you have an idea to have the self-discipline to write it down as soon as possible. Otherwise, the chances of it disappearing back down into your subconscious, probably never to emerge again, Kelly warns, are very high.”

“Most of my songs are character-based. I find my way into a song, imagining a character in a particular situation or imagining a particular voice and taking it from there. But there are often little things from my own life which will come in.”

“[People] might not ‘get’ the song, which I think is a very reductive way of looking at it. The best songs you keep on finding new things over time each time. I just love them, I love their combination of sound and musical notes, what’s going on, the lyrics, strange associations.”

“Kelly says it almost always depends on the context. ‘David Byrne writes about this really interestingly,” he says, “music works very differently in different spaces. A song that might ‘land’ in a quiet concert audience listening and being there attentive, will not work when I play it at a noisy festival or a crowded bar or a beer bar or some backyard party.”

“I love it when the music is working against the lyrics, that contrast. Muddy Waters once said, ‘sing sad songs happy and sing happy songs sad’.”

(Josephmooon WIPs: “Water Floor,” “We Are All Strong”)

Published by billpaige

Interested parties are first directed to my memoir, “Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars” (Eckhartz Press). While I have taken music therapy classes and read extensively about music’s effect on the brain, I am NOT professionally trained -- just a music lover who recognizes that everyone benefits from music. Giving that gift to special needs youth is highly rewarding, but again, my process is intuitive, not academic. I draw largely on personal experience. I’ve spent most of my 67 years observing a wide world of music, from working as a music critic professionally for 20 years, and holding positions in music companies in the 1970s and 1990s. Since 1990, however, I have focused on learning more about music and improving as a singer, guitarist, and performer, both solo and in ensemble settings.

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