Sunday, March 31, 2013
How much is your songwriting linked to performance?
Here's a question that might change the way you think about songwriting: How much is your writing tied to your performance?
This question assumes that the writer and performer are one and the same. That the person writing the songs is doing so with the intention of performing them. And in most cases, that person will probably be the only person to ever perform his own songs.
But as a songwriter, have you ever thought about trying to write a song that somebody else might actually perform? Would you ever try writing a tune that you yourself might never consider playing, but some other artist would?
This is important to recognize, if it isn't already obvious, because the key to songwriting success is in publishing, not performance. Why, the world's richest musician, Andrew Lloyd Webber, has never topped the charts as a performer (No. 2 is Paul McCartney).
As apparent as this might seem to most songwriters, I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently come to this realization. I happily toiled away writing songs for nearly 30 years. I'd typically finish a song, record a demo of it, and that was it. When enough demos accumulated I'd assemble them into a collection, or "album," and even choose cover photography and titles and credits and make it look like the real thing. Then I'd make 20 or 30 copies and give them to friends. The sound quality was always far less than professional but the idea was to have my songs heard by someone other than me.
For me, a light bulb went on sometime in late 2010 or early 2011. I thought, what if I played my songs on guitar in front of other people? Now as a bassist for many years, I had tried to write songs specifically for certain bands, to varying success. Some bands I was in played my songs. Sometimes I didn't have to sing my own song, I never had to play drums on them, and as a bassist I didn't have to worry about playing guitar leads or solos, my weakness.
Then I discovered this entire world of acoustic performers, for the most part entirely separate from the electric realm. I started learning to actually PLAY the songs I'd written, well enough so that audiences wouldn't laugh. After a couple years now I think people actually like listening to some of my songs.
Now that I'm performing tunes solo I've discovered I'm writing differently. Until two years ago, I was a straight six-string standard tuning kind of guy. Now I'm writing and playing some stuff in open tunings, with a slide, with a capo, with a loop pedal to solo over and with a harmonica. Not to mention if anyone ever wants to sit in with me, I'm all for it!
I've found this has expanded my writing range and that I'm now writing certain songs a.) just to make use of different sounds and b.) to showcase my performance strengths (which aren't many!). I also find that I'll write a song because my live set needs a new uptempo number, or slow tune, or song in a different key to switch things up, that sort of thing.
How about you, songwriters? How much of your songs' writing is influenced by performance?