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Enrolling in Songwriting University
By Mary Dawson - 05/28/2007 - 11:23 PM EDT

Some time ago a gentleman contacted me and asked me to review several of his wife's original songs. He wanted some objective feedback as to whether or not the material was well-written and had potential for publication. When I received the cassettes and lyric sheets, I was amazed at the writer's natural talent. The songs were creative and had great potential both musically and lyrically. There were areas that I felt needed polishing, so I made some notes and arranged a phone call with the writer to share my suggestions.

We had not been on the phone for more than two minutes when the lady told me under no uncertain circumstances that whatever comments I might have, she would NEVER change the songs. She said that she could claim no credit at all for the writing of the songs - she had merely been the "scribe" through whom a Higher Power had channeled them. To make any changes would be sacrilegious! Needless to say, the phone call was extremely short. I hung up from that conversation quite saddened that so much natural talent would probably never receive the attention and effort it needed to make it great! Was it Thomas Edison who said that real success is about 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration? In my opinion, that statement was never truer than it is about songwriting.

In the first article of this series we examined the emotional aspect of songwriting and learned that great songs are first and foremost an emotional commodity. They are created from the emotional honesty of a skilled songwriter and they speak to the universal emotions of millions of listeners. But because songwriting is so connected to our emotions, it is easy to become overly subjective and sentimental about the whole subject. In fact, as songwriters who experience the incomparable exhilaration of creating a new song, we can literally become addicted to the process. We become almost mystical about these "visits from our Muse" and we can easily lose sight of the fact that there is also a very objective and intellectual aspect to the craft of songwriting. Songwriting is definitely a science as well as an art. After the Muse has dropped the inspiration upon you and flown out the window on his way to inspire someone else, you are left with the reality that you must know the principles of songcrafting in order to polish that lovely inspiration into a truly great song.

"OK," you might say, "So I buy your premise that great songs don't just happen! I need to learn the science of the craft as well. But where do you go to learn songwriting?" Good question!! While almost every university has a music department filled with volumes of material on composition, there are few institutions of learning that actually teach commercial or hit songwriting. Over the years commercial songwriting has been more a "seat of your pants" learning experience. Aspiring songwriters have usually been told that they should move to Nashville, LA or New York where they can sort of "apprentice themselves" to a publisher for little or no money in the hope that they will somehow get the hang of songwriting by osmosis.

But what happens if you can't do that? What if you live in someplace like Kansas City and have a good day gig and a family to raise? What if it just doesn't make sense to pull up stakes and move to Nashville? Then what? The good news is that it is completely possible to learn to write hit songs from wherever you may live, but it will require self-discipline and the stretching of your creative muscles. It will be up to you to educate yourself to think like a song craftsman rather than simply a music lover. In my next article, I will give you several practical ideas to help you design your own Songwriting University, but here is one idea to get you started: LOCATE YOUR LOCAL SONGWRITER'S ASSOCIATION!

Almost every large or mid-size city has a group of aspiring songwriters who meet once or twice a month to sharpen their songwriting skills. You will meet talented musicians and lyricists from whom you can learn volumes, and with whom you can collaborate and have lots of fun in the process. If you can't find a number for them in the phone book, ask around -- inquire at music stores, college music departments or any music-related organization in your community. If there is not a group in your immediate vicinity, chances are there will be one quite near by. Or -- if all else fails -- you can start one yourself!

That's your assignment for this time. Join me again next time for more ideas to help you enroll in Songwriting University.

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