How important is it for you as a songwriter to be able to speak a few different languages? I’m not talking about the need to speak French although it would have come in handy for me trying to ask directions in the Paris Metro a time or two. I’m talking about learning at least conversational “melody speak” if you’re a lyricist or enough color and detail terms to tell your co-writer what their story needs if you’re the one coming up with the killer chord changes.
Be in the conversation
In the age we live in it’s easy to Google anything we’re interested in to be able to get a few of the basics. Helps to know a few terms before taking your car in for repair, a bit about the stock market if you hope to hang onto those future royalties or even to know what your colon does before you go in for that… oscopy thing. Knowledge is power, even a little bit can help you be heard and be in the conversation .
For instance. If you’re a songwriter and you’re headed into the studio to work with a producer or engineer you stand a better chance of being happy with the outcome if you can talk at least a bit of tech talk. If you’re strictly a lyricist and you’re writing with a melody person it’s great if you can talk in their terms about what you like or don’t like. Maybe as simple as 7th chords, major vs minor changes, inversions, lifts. It may not be your thing but it’s theirs and helping them help you helps the song in the end.
I can't tell you why
If you write on guitar and don’t have a talent for writing lyrics you can still help steer the direction by being able to use some terminology familiar to the lyricist in the room. Sometimes just being able to point out what’s not working for you, rhyme scheme, not enough detail, anything is better than saying “I don’t like it but I can’t begin to tell you why”!
I’ve directed some of my songwriting clients to things like “piano for songwriters” or “guitar for songwriters” even vocal lessons for a lyric writer. The point is just to be able to contribute to the creation even if it’s not your main strength as a writer.
I’ve worked with a lot of artists over the years and many times they would start by telling you they weren’t really songwriters but…they could tell you about the songs that move them and why. Maybe not in the most technical terms but by talking about another artist's song and why the chorus was so great, or the groove worked for them . The more they could explain, the bigger their role would be in creating the song.
Last note on the subject. Years ago I was asked to be a part of the first Castle Songwriting retreat run by Miles Copeland in the south of France. I had the bright idea that I would at least learn a little French. On a break Miles drove me around after lunch pointing out the sights and we stopped at a small grocery. Here was my chance. I used what little bit of French I could summon to say something to the owner. No idea how I did because as soon as it was out of my mouth he answered me… in French. A bunch of French! A bunch of fast French. Not a word of which I understood. Miles witnessed this exchange and when I got back in the car he said “That’s the trouble with knowing just a bit of French, you use it and then they actually talk back”!
Quelle direction dois-je prendre pour aller à…?
Again, you don’t have to be fluent in these other songwriting languages, just be able to contribute. Or maybe just enough to keep from getting lost in the Metro.
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Check out this interview in the recent edition of M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!
About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.