Song Doctor Blog
Read about how to write better songs
Elliott Smith live @ the 70th Academy Awards
ne of the features of my lockdown was guiltfree Youtube roll -around -scroll- around for alternative viewing and listening pleasure. And I clicked on a poor quality snip of songwriting breakdown by the late great songwriter Elliott Smith, a softly spoken man with a signature style.
He released several fine albums and had significant success as a songwriter and performer before his untimely death at 34 in 2003. His song Miss Misery featured in the closing credits of the film, Good Will Hunting, was nominated for an Oscar, and it led to him playing live in a white suit at the 1998 Academy Awards.This was my belated introduction to his seemingly simple guitar playing, wistful lyricism and sometime surprising chord progressions.
For someone who said he'd never be a big rock star, this was pretty close to the fire. There were more records and touring, and a persona that seemed to confuse interviewers, with lots of footage to watch. Unfortunately, it didn't end well, but he left a very rich and thoughtful legacy well worth being submerged in.
If you can cope with the really grainy footage, you can see the underlying strengths that this artist brings to the show from playing every day to focusing on his own way of approaching chords and strumming, using implied melodies rather than riffs per se and a bunch of other tactics and building blocks that contributed to his songs and sound. And he pursued it diligently.
I found that his interview excerpt on songwriting, creativity and comparisons relevant.
'I think it's pretty easy if you just relax and quit thinking about what you think other people want to hear, you know. If you can keep finding new things that you personally like about music and put it into the blender and see what comes out. And if you like it, there must be something good about it...
I think ...you just gotta give yourself a little confidence to do what you personally like, not get all bogged down with what you think people wanna hear.....If you see someone playing music they really like, it's really compelling regardless of what style it is.'
And there's a fundamental - to 'not get all bogged down' . When there's so much information easily accessible about music in general, about recording and songwriting, about the nuts and bolts of the business in all its funked up portrayal, the extremely likely outcome of consuming all that is to most definitely get all bogged down, right up to the tip of the last hair on your head!
The consequence of being stuck in that bog is stasis. All that energising momentum lost.
Luckily in the same interview, Elliott hands you the secret sauce - the very thing he was great at, which was creating interesting, heartfelt and unique sounding songs. Not talking about it - strangely involving though he could be, but doing it and what he spent the most flying hours on was playing guitar and piano, singing, writing and recording music and schlepping it.
While I don't advocate his model of self care, his suggested ethos of unleashing your imagination, listening to what it has to say and turning that into your own big beautiful songs makes a great deal of sense to me.
For those of you all bogged down, come back to fundamentals - play a lot, write a lot and make the strongest set you can.
Or take one step towards that.
Talk more soon
ps application are now open for the Next Level Songwriting Retreat Jan 22-25 2001