Song Doctor Blog
Read how to write better songs
I went to a very enjoyable concert yesterday by Auckland band, the Bads, where one of the band members told the audience a great story against himself. Brett Adams is a formidable guitarist who, along with his co-conspirator vocalist/songwriter Dianne Swann plus assorted musical colleagues is currently touring their latest release nationally. Brett’s guitar skills are also much in demand as a skilled sideman to many other NZ performers, including the legendary Tim Finn.
( This is the Bads live in Napier - Brett on the left and Dianne, right.) Photo Andrew Caldwell
The story goes like this. Brett and Tim are touring just as a duo across the US and have to play a show in Colorado, where the snow piles high in winter - very high. Having chugged a good 9 hours or so to their destination, they arrived only to be told that, ‘due to the weather’, the show had been cancelled. Tim’s reaction was priceless. He said let’s go to the hotel and write a song. As you do. In Brett’s anecdote, he wryly remarked that wasn’t the reaction that he'd had. And that the song Brett had started writing then took a good ten years to be completed describing himself as ‘less disciplined than Tim’, whereupon the Bads played his tune.
As well as a great intro to a song’s genesis, this story highlights the difference between the musician who has songwriting front and centre in his life, and the musician who has a different focus. There’s no doubt the guitarist is extraordinarily disciplined to be able play as well as he does night after night, with such a variety of artists and repertoire. But having your songwriting process so close to your heart so that when you get a block of unexpected blank time, you can pick up where you left off is a state of being to aspire to. There’s never any time wasted because you always have something at your fingers tips to tap into. It’s what tunesmith Jimmy Webb calls continuity and rappers call flow. You ‘re able to switch between writing and ‘real life’ modes quickly and easily
The trick is that the relative effort of getting to that creative sweet spot is far less for those who write regularly, who practice their craft often, for those who, as the weightlifters say, do the reps. It’s keeping a mindset of ‘downtime = song time’ or ‘unexpected delay = songwriting hay’. It’s also being aware of the positive feedback loop that comes from finishing drafts. The more you do, the better you get. No different from running scales or shooting hoops. So, when you get ‘extra time’, that’s seen as an opportunity, rather than a drag and that you have to ‘pass the time’.
My guess is that Tim Finn, a skilled and very experienced songwriter, thought ‘yeeha - snowed in, with no expectations on me, no commitments I have to fulfil…. plus the added bonus of unimpeded access to a really good guitar player …I'm a kid in a candy store’. If indeed it was even that conscious, because I suspect that's just how he rolls but I would love to hear what his final output was from their canned Colorado gig.
Talk more soon.
PS if you'd like to pump up your songwriting muscle, check out our Songwriting Clinic this Labour Weekend in Wanaka