by J.P. Kallio
Songwriting, like so many other art forms have this mysthical glow about them. I suppose the late sixties and early seventies drug fuelled hippie artists have a lot to answer for. Sure, it’s all about the flowers and meditating until the inspiration comes to you… ( just for the record, I’m actually a fan of meditation, although quite new to it. But I can assure you if you require a spliff, or any other drug for that matter to meditate, you are doing it wrong!)
Bullcrap the lot of it. There is nothing mythical about the songwriting. It is a craft. You need to work at it! You want to get good at it? Write a lot! Read a lot and listen to some great music and write a lot more. Before I started my 52 songs in 52 weeks challenge, people were asking me if I was going for quantity rather than quality. In fact I still get asked this by people who have not listen to my songs I let you on a secret that for some bizarre reason for most people seem so hard to accept. The more you do something, the better you get at it!
52 songs in 52 weeks? I never spend a week writing a song… Hell, if I did I would not consider my self a very good songwriter. Most songs I write from star to finish in one session. I might come back to it and change a line here and word there, but the basic song gets done fast.
You see, a lot of it is being able to unlock your unconscious mind and let it spill out the stuff it’s been collecting all along. And once the basics are down, then your critical side gets to work. In the first part often your mind has collected information both consciously and unconsciously (back to read and listen to good music) over the year. It knows what song should sound like. It knows if the rhyme works, if it sounds right, if the chord structure is appealing, if there is a hook. The second part is mostly consciously learned skills, some of them the same as in the first part, but especially the more critical parts happen here. This is where you ask does the story make sense? Not only to you, but to the listener as well. Does it sound too similar to something you have heard before? Is it descriptive enough? Is there enough detail in the lyrics? Is the melody catchy, or could it be improved on? Does the structure work, or does it need a bridge or a middle eight?
And here’s another small note. I was never in to drugs. I have nothing against the so-called mild and natural recreational drugs. The heavier drugs is a different story altogether and I would advice anybody to stay as far away from them as possible, nothing good comes out of them… I do like my beer and wine and that’s enough for me. But if you think you need any kind of drug or alcohol to write a song, you are fooling your self. I know some of you do not like hearing this, but this is my experience and I am sorry if the truth hurts… I tried writing songs under the influence of alcohol. They all got scrapped the next morning, due to the fact that they were crap! I have tried to write songs with people who told me they needed to smoke some weed “to get their creative juices flowing”… Let’s just say I finished the song before they were still pondering over the first line… You need clear and sharp mind to write a song, so my only drug for it is coffee.
I believe everyone can write a song if they are given the right tools and skills, but to get good at it, you need to learn the art of song crafting. This is a skill that takes years and hundreds of failed songs to get good at. So get writing regularly. And don’t forget to read and listen to a lot of good music.
J.P. Kallio is a singer-songwriter