How to write an award winning song
I used to be so cool.
Ok, maybe I wasn’t, but I used to think I was so cool. I’m not sure how or when it
happened, but it seems like one minute I had long hair and was doing most of my
clothes shopping in beer cases, and the next minute I’m scouring the leftover wrapping paper in the clearance bin of the grocery store on Boxing Day and saying things like “oooh…Reindeer!….”
What the hell happened? I either evolved or devolved while I was busy doing other things. I wasn’t trying to turn into my grandfather, it just happened while I was trying to stay employed and pay for my house. One day I looked down and “BOOM!” I was wearing socks and sandals.
The same “evolution” takes place as a guitarist / songwriter. When I was “young”, my songs were self-important drivel that tried ever so hard to be profound, but fell
impressively short. “My gratitude is the latitude that brings my truth to you” and so forth.
(Ok, even I want to punch myself in the face for that one).
Guitar-wise, there was NO WAY that I’d write a “simple’ 3 chord song, because I had to prove to anyone who would be cursed with working eardrums that I was a musician – not just a 3 chord wonder. (I learned a 4th chord just so that I could be a little uppity).
You see, all of my “creations’ had to be masterpieces. I set out trying to write an award winning song, and it showed. Not because I wrote award winning songs, but because I wrote shit songs that were trying really really hard to be award winners. And that’s the whole point. My focus was wrong. I was trying to write something that I thought other people would like. And that’s where I went off course. I forgot about keeping things simple.
A good friend of mine writes songs that get the point across. He doesn’t try to be too metaphoric, nor too poetic. One day, he had his pickup broken into. Whereas I would have tried to write a desperately sad song that talks about the “violation of desperation with the loneliness of annihilation” or some such allegory, his song was more pure.
It went like this:
Ain’t it just my luck.
Someone broke into my truck.
When I first started writing this column, I admitted that I had a man-crush on Jason Mraz. This is still the case. (Much to the chagrin of my wife, who has to listen to me prattle on about how wonderful a musician he is.) There is one main reason why I like his music, and his lyrics.
I know that musical purity is subjective, as something that resonates with one person may not do so for another, but for me, I feel that when I listen to his music, his personality comes through. It’s not him pretending to be profound, or pandering to what people want to hear…it’s just…him. You can really hear this when he plays solo, or when he performs a duet with Toca Rivera.
So what does my preteen-girl-like poster-gazing-Youtube-watching-tab-learning Jason Mraz admiration have to do with writing an award winning song? Well, it’s simple.
The songs that strike a chord (so to speak) with us are ones that we relate to because of their message, and the way that they’re delivered. And the best way to do that through song is to make sure that you have a message that you want to get across.
Then, make sure that it’s got YOU in it. Don’t try to dress it up the way other people may want to hear it. Just make sure that you write something that works for you. If that means that it’s 3 chords, then that’s what it is. Don’t let the purity get lost in the delivery.
Many a great song has been created out of 3 chords.
Don’t over-think. Don’t overproduce. And really, don’t try too hard to be profound.
I just wish someone had shared this advice with me before I released my “Journey Into the Depths of the Hereafter of my Existence” album…
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