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“People treat writer’s block like it’s some illness [but] it’s completely part of the process”
Skilled & experienced writers can write several a day – they have a formula & they know how to use it. This however, usually takes years of experience & dedication to the craft. What works for one writer will not work for another, so as a songwriter you have to develop & learn what works for you. Some start with a chorus, a melody or maybe some lyrics. Others are more production orientated & will maybe start with a beat or groove which they will add instrumentation until they hear the melody or hook that will drive the song – the lyrics often being added or finalised at a much later date.
Songwriting put simply is the art of writing a song & yet it is nowhere near as straightforward as it sounds; but then in rare cases it can be. A song can take seconds to form in your head & just minutes to write down. Then there are the moments when the ideas aren’t forthcoming & the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ kicks in. In a recent conversation to our friends at Sodajerker, a podcast dedicated to songwriting – Travis’s Fran Healy gave his own insight into how he not only accepts, but embraces the block in creativity:
“People treat writer’s block like it’s some illness [but] it’s completely part of the process – you just have to trust in it. It’s like an empty field and if you go around experiencing life, and learning things and looking at things and listening to things, then each one of those things that you do is like a seed in the field; once you’ve planted all the seeds, you start to see all these wee things kind of sprouting up, then you harvest.’ Fran Healy speaking to www.sodajerker.com
One solution to overcoming writers block is having a co-writer. Songwriting partnerships have proved some of the best & most productive ways to write songs. Throughout history there has been a long line of them, each with a very different approach to how they collaborated:
John Lennon & Paul McCartney were of course half of The Beatles & with the exception of a few George Harrison or Ringo Starr efforts they wrote all of the Beatles original songs. From the beginning of their songwriting partnership they decided that whatever they wrote between them would be split 50/50 – even if it was only one of them that wrote the entire song.
Benny Anderson & Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote may be less household names than Lennon/McCartney but everyone knows their band, ABBA. The Swedish writing duo had 18 global number ones & a couple of hit musicals including Mamma Mia!
Elton John & Bernie Taupin are of course the songwriters behind Elton John’s music. A partnership very different to others in the fact that Bernie Taupin writes the lyrics & Elton writes the melody. The lyrics are passed to Elton, who (while usually while sat at a piano) starts to sing & form a song from the lyrics.
One of the thing all the afore mentioned writer have in common is the ability to write incredible hooks. The hook comes in many forms – for example a vocal melody or a guitar riff – which is specifically there to catch the listeners ear & make the song feel familiar. By the time you hear the hook for the 2nd or 3rd time it’s stuck in your head & you’re humming it for days.
“I nearly always start off with a chorus or hook. As soon as it clicks I then start building the track around that. The hook pulls you in straight away – with people now having access to an unlimited catalogue of music, today’s listener has a far shorter attention span for listening to music, meaning the hook is essential to writing a hit” – Gary Mahoney Songwriter at Slide Away