The Ramblings of A Vagabond Poet
A good hook taps something human in us – something that resonates. If you went back 200 years the titles would still be familiar and relevant. Being lonely, scared, broke, hungry, sad, in love, spurned by another, betrayed, far from home, cold, weary, jubilant, full of praise, or just pensive, all of what it is to be a human being – is the grist of songwriting.
The Listener In Songwriting:
One thing every songwriter should remember and that is as active as the songwriting process is, there is just as active a process going on within the listener of the finished song. A good song lives in the minds of the listeners, the songwriter should try to create a viable dialogue with the listener. If a writer writes with that in mind the song is the better for it. Who doesn’t resonate with the hook on the most recognizable rock song ever written? – ‘I can’t get no satisfaction!’
I hold that a good songwriter must have a poetic heart, the words not only must ring beautifully on there own, but must fit seamlessly in the musical structure – words that soar on the notes, rough or sublime – and for all that must stick in the ear of the listener, be relevant, transcendent, transforming, or a revelation.
I have written that I believe serious poetry and serious songwriting to be sister arts. I say serious, because some attempts at poetry is, to me, unreadable, and I still can’t see a ‘Surfin’ Bird’ or ‘Tiptoeing Through The Tulips’ as serious attempts at songwriting, no matter the money that was made. Sorry guys! Poetry, at its best, is a pure form that allows words to float across the synapses of the mind, triggering sense memory, and dancing across meaning, and the landscape of the internal world. Poetry connects the internal realty with the external reality. Our minds often become fixed in meaning and conclusions, our opinions set, and the world seen as commonplace. Poetry can shake up internal reality and shift the external perceptions, connecting newly the internal with the outer world, and rewiring the mind in astounding ways, casting new light, color, texture and meaning on the world around us. Simply put, a well-written poem about a cloud filled sky, connected to a broken relationship, in a common place, could have the reader look at the sky differently, see anew a current or past relationship, or look at the city in which they live in a totally new way.
…Songwriting does all that as well, but adds in a realized beat, rhythm, and melody. And like poetry it has form and type. The reason a person might prefer sonnets, over haiku, or free form – is the same reason that a person might prefer blues, over R&B, or Rock music lyric. The word choices in both poetry and songwriting are specific to form and style. It is also why I believe that a Poet can write lyrics, just as a Lyricist can write poetry. In poetry finding a unique voice is an important element of being a poet and one found in the energy exertion expended in the act of writing – and writing – and writing. Certainly the intellectual context and content of a Haiku, a Sonnet, a Villanelle, or a Sestina, make for different word choices, but I suggest that the voice of the poet will still be evident whatever the form used. A craftsman songwriter should have multiple voices, dependent and framed within the specific genres. The word choices consistent with the blues is different in tone , meaning, and expression than in Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, or R&B, demanding an understanding of arrangement (Form), idioms, appropriate word choices, and melodic styles. In that sense it is perhaps a more demanding craft. Having said that, songwriting and poetry share this; anyone with a fair command of the language can write a good and satisfying poem, just as someone with a love for a particular musical genre can write a good and satisfying lyric – and should. Not many songwriters write in multiple genres, any more than most poets write in multiple poetic forms. We all find a niche in which we are comfortable and are content to find a voice in that form or genre. My suggestion, in both disciplines, is to stretch and explore.
I write a new article every month.
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