“The most important thing is to write in your own blood. I bare intimate feelings because people should know how other people feel.” Joni Mitchell, Time Magazine, December 1974.
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, even before I wrote songs. I wrote stories in school, have journaled endlessly and am hopelessly in love with the use of language to convey ideas, dreams, hopes, desires, loss, mourning, fear, anger and every other facet of human existence.
It was at uni that I started dabbling in songwriting and soon after I discovered Pat Pattison; songwriting genius extraordinaire, Berkley School of Music’s Professor of Lyric Writing and Poetry, the guy who taught John Mayer, Gillian Welch and many others to write songs – jackpot! And thus starting the snowballing desire to harness and sharpen my songwriting skills, ever striving to write songs that not only convey a message but really connect and even pull at the heart strings of my listeners.
It was a joy to be able to spend the last weekend in the presence of Pat (and many other budding songwriters), picking his brain and having him share his knowledge and experience in a workshop titled “How do I know when I’m done with a song?” … and Pat’s answer to the title? “When I’ve done and checked everything I know … so how much do I (we) know?”
Often what drives one to write is a feeling but as Pat pointed out, writing a song from what we feel never makes a song ‘better’ rather just makes a song ‘different’, due to the fact that our feelings change so regularly. So in light of this, Pat insisted to start with the BIG 3 QUESTIONS: 1. Who’s talking? 2. To Whom? 3. Why?
1/2. Who’s Talking? To Whom?
This describes the relationship between the singer and the world of the song, more specifically the point of view that is being used in the song. Am I (the singer) speaking to you (the person who broke my heart) or am I (the singer) speaking to you (the listener or the world) about a 3rd party he or she? Or am I (the singer) just telling you a story where the characters are seen through a looking glass or periscope? The closer the address (you and I) the more intimate the singer is with the listener.
What’s the moral of the story? Why am I (the singer) singing?
Pat challenged us to realise the answers to these questions were not discovered accidentally, rather they were very specific conscious decisions that each writer must ask themselves during the process of writing, as well as when they were checking to see whether they were ‘done’ with the song.
… and this was all just skimming the surface =p So back I go to the writing desk …
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