How to Do What We Do
By C. D. Johnson
People who can turn a pile of disconnected parts into something recognizable usually have a few things in common. Number one, they love what they do and they mostly all start the journey with a specific path and destination in mind. They will follow a known road until the trip is completed. Part "A" fits in slot "B", Tab "C" attaches to, well you all know the drill, one piece at a time in the correct order until there are no more pieces left on the table. Your bakers and cooks have their cookbooks. The builder has his set of house plans and the auto mechanic has his factory authorized repair manual. And, us as fledgling song writers, have access to every hit song that has ever been written. Plus there is no shortage of do-it-yourself books on how to write hit songs. (Arguably, usually written by someone that's been lucky enough to have had some radio play on one of their own songs, hit or otherwise.) Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not being cynical. We all know the importance of luck and connections. However, putting those two things aside we'll have to admit one very big thing, their song was/is on the radio and ours was/is not. It makes me stop and wonder if I'm using the same map to song writing success that they are.
I stop and ask myself, "Do I really know how to start a song? Am I telling a complete story and conveying a coherent thought thru out my song? Do I build to an awe inspiring climax ending up at the destination I originally intended? Or do I ramble on and on and end up turning a story worth singing into a totally boring song with no direction at all?" In all truth, I've written and recorded some demo songs I thought were my key to that elusive doorway to success. However, after awhile when no one expressed an interest in them I would put them away for a rest in the “wait for awhile drawer.” Then I would go back after a few weeks of not hearing those songs and listen to them as a listener and not the song writer. Low and behold, I almost always, without exception,
saw the reasons the A&R people weren't beating down my door for those songs. Truth be told, there have been a couple of those songs in the "wait awhile drawer" that upon hearing them again I quickly decided that no one could pay me enough to sing them for family and friends much less a poor unsuspecting stranger. These are still locked in that drawer serving a life sentence! Hopefully, they may eventually earn a reprieve by becoming fodder for a re-write.
Believe me when I say, it's a rude awakening to realize the road map to song writing success is out there and we sometime fail to take advantage of it. I can hear some of you now, "What road map? I ain't never seen no road map to song writing!" Well, at the risk of sounding preachy, it's called form and structure. Just like the "poor wayfaring stranger" we can all lose our way on occasion. Thank goodness, we have form and structure to turn back to. In the past I have found that form and structure, when coupled with a gallon or two of high octane creative juices, produce a journey and a destination that is a great deal more pleasant both for the driver and the passenger. After all, would you start a cross country car trip without a reliable ride and a navigational aid that clearly showed your route and destination? As simple as it sounds, after you decide on the correct form and structure for your creative masterpiece, the rest is just fill in the blanks.
Until next time, remember, form and structure together with heart and mind will always make your masterpiece shine! Please forgive me for that last line . . . I just couldn't help it.
Singer / Songwriter