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Making It Matter
By Paula Carpenter - 01/05/2003 - 09:27 AM EST

To everyone...I'm wishing a very Dreams-Fulfilled New Year! I also extend my apologies for a rather long absence. Without too many excuses, let me say my husband has been dealing with some health issues, making us ever appreciative of each other and of life and dreams and opportunities and friends. We also have two young friends, in their early thirties, who have been battling aggressive cancer, and we are amazed and inspired by the way they are handling these difficulties. The human spirit at its best is an amazingly powerful thing.

Which leads me to...

I wanted to start this year off with an article that has really been brewing around in my head for awhile now. It isn't so much about the "succeeding even though you don't live in a major music center" theme...but about writing itself, and the INNER writer, the REASON we write, the whole thing about writing not ONLY to make money, but because we want to make a difference.

I am reminded of the Eric Clapton song, written by Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tommy Sims, and Gordon Kennedy-- the 1997 mega-hit Grammy winner "CHANGE THE WORLD". I suppose, when I started writing, that is exactly what I wanted to do--change the world. Actually, I wanted to change PEOPLE, because, in truth, that is the only way to change the world. I wanted to inspire, encourage, touch, comfort people. I still do.

So I thought perhaps, you might enjoy hearing me ramble a bit about why I think this is important. Because it is SO EASY to get side-tracked into wanting, rather than to make a difference in the world, wanting to make money. Not that that is a bad thing...obviously, it is a very NECESSARY thing! I mean, don't we ALL need to pay rent or mortgages, eat, and have something to do with taking care of family? Sure we do. So...I am not a pollyana who thinks this doesn't matter, because believe me, I know it does.

It is simply that, over time, I have seen that when I concentrate on writing heart-felt songs that make a difference, I normally have been so driven to 'say it well', that more often than not, the song turns out to be one of those 'special' songs, and starts to finds it's way to the top of the pile.

I remember one seminar when I was a beginning professional songwriter -- one of the songwriters who was leading a session told us that if we wrote from our HEARTS, the rest would follow. I think she meant that if you try to contrive something simply because ARTIST X is looking for a song to fit in SLOT Y for their upcoming album with THEME Z, it may come out sounding contrived and not so believable (then on the other hand, it could sound GREAT and make you half a million dollars...)

...but if you genuinely sit down and write from a broken heart about something you KNOW about, something that life has already walked you through, some experience that you never wanted or asked for, but boy, it happened and you dealt with it...and you KNOW how to tell this story...you know the exact words to use to evoke emotion...THEN, chances are your lyric will 'hit a nerve' with the rest of the world.

Because that's what we're really trying to do...tell a story that EVERYONE can relate to, even though it's personal. Make the specific UNIVERSAL, and make the UNIVERSAL personal and interesting. Notice
I said, make the universal "personal". Sometimes new writers write songs that no one else can relate to, because they write about say "Grandma", and it's so specific in situational details that NO ONE ELSE in the world can relate -- only the people who have that particular grandma. So we have to be careful, and artful, in our songwriting -- the goal is to tell a touching story (I'm actually thinking Country Music here, and Contemporary Christian...but I guess it applies across the board, say in Pop ballads etc...) that evokes personal feelings--in the whole listening world out there!

It's tricky, making the personal UNIVERSAL, and making the universal PERSONAL. It's great to name names, just so they're names that don't exclude people from relating. The song that always comes to mind, is the song DON'T TAKE THE GIRL, where the songwriter names "Tommy Thompson" and so on...but it's done in such a way, that the names don't really sound like say, "Herbert Wurtzenheimer" ...(who might REALLY be the kid you wanted to take fishing...)...it's done in a 'play-like' way...a name that has alliteration, a name made up to rhyme with another line in the song. Yet...the naming of
the kids in this song makes it 'personal'...yet still universal.

But I digress. I am getting TOO specific, when really, I wanted to talk about the UNIVERSAL idea, of writing songs that make a difference. Write songs that mean something to you, about something you've been through, that you think will help someone else get through a similar situation. Or maybe you don't CARE if it helps anyone else, you just need to pour your heart out in a gut-wrenching way. You need to tell the truth, you need to do SOMETHING that might make that huge hole in your heart get better... maybe writing about it.

I used to work with a songwriter who suffered from a health condition that really bothered him at times. He would always say when he was in pain, it made the songs better. I could relate. Not from a health perspective, but from an emotional perspective. When I was hurting, heart-wise, I could write that type of Christian song that was a cry for help -- how can you write a cry for help if you've never needed help?

Anyway, one of my first cuts by the group 4-Him was written from my own heart & tough experiences -- called "WHEN I NEED YOU MOST". Another song, written for Susan Ashton when she was a Sparrow Records (part of EMI) artist, "BEYOND JUSTICE TO MERCY" was a song about forgiveness, stemming from my own need to forgive someone for a huge hurt. When I wrote "HEART OF INNOCENCE" with and for Jessica Simpson for her debut "Sweet Kisses" album, Jessica was writing about feelings SHE had at the time...and even though we were writing the same song, MY inspiration was my own daughters. I wanted to use the emotion that came from knowing and appreciating my own daughter's hearts...to touch other young people's hearts.

Then, on the OTHER end of it -- not from the heart that wrote it, but from the heart that HEARD it --
I just told, this past year, by a VERY TALENTED lady I met through StarBright Music consultations, about how a certain couple of songs I had written some years ago, pretty much gave her the strength to go on in a really rough situation. She told me about sitting in her office, with tears streaming down her face as she listened. Wow. I have thanked her privately for letting me know that, but here I am again--Thank you, Brenda. Songwriters don't often get to hear the 'stories from the front' --how their songs have touched people. I appreciate so much, being told. Because when the
'thrill of the cut' is long past, and whatever monies were generated are long spent...SONGS live on. They go on to touch people, to move them. I am always amazed, every single time, to hear about it.

Back to what I was saying. It isn't always PAIN that helps us along the writing road...but any deeply felt emotion. We all know that there are a hundred-jillion-gazillion LOVE SONGS out there, because it is a deeply felt emotion, shared by almost everyone.

Has this made any sense at all? I hope so. I simply wanted to go on record, here at the beginning of 2003, as saying -- please, PLEASE write something that matters to you! Do it artfully, do it well.

Do NOT use "THIS IS A HEARTFELT EXPERIENCE " as an excuse for poor writing! If it's important enough to write, it's important enough to write well, using the best in craft -- rhyme scheme, marriage of music to lyric, overall form, etc.

So....HAPPY 2003, everyone! May you find enough pain in life, enough joy in life, enough love in life, to have something to write about...which of course means you need to "live to tell about it"...now THERE's a phrase that has quite a bit of potential! (Do you "LIVE to tell about IT"...or do you "live to TELL about it"?)

Now get out there and CHANGE THE WORLD!


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