Answer the Question

I'll never forget sitting in a songwriting circle a number of years ago. The idea was that we would each take a turn playing a song we were working on and get some feedback from our peers. In reality, critique was minimal for a variety of reasons, but that's for another blog, perhaps...

Someone in our group opted to play a song already released on an independent album. The lyric began with a question. What followed were more questions. I could see perplexed looks on people's faces as the song played on - we were all waiting for an answer to these questions…It never came.

To be honest, I have an unfortunate inability to contain my emotions, and my fascination for human behaviour found this circumstance kind of comical. I had to stifle a chuckle when the writer, being asked what the song was about (the point, the conclusion, the...ANSWER!) replied, "I don't know" and was completely fine with that. People are entertaining in the best ways.

Listen, we can write whatever we want to write, right? Well, yes…and no. Artistic license needs to be respected for sure, but if a songwriter wants a song to have a certain kind of impact, they need to write it with that in mind. The writer I mentioned wanted to sell music - to have other people relate to it. As a general rule, if you confuse someone, they aren't going to relate well. More importantly, the writer didn't know what the song was about and couldn't articulate it in any way, let alone concisely. The song was defended passionately and was already recorded too…so what could any of us say? While I admired the audacity of it all, and the unique personality present to confidently produce and perform such a work, I know that song has gone, and will go, nowhere.

If we can't answer questions about our song in a 'gettable' way, it probably not time to perform it. But, it happens. Just go to a local open mic night and watch all of the people fiddling with their cellphones while someone strums their guitar, stares at their shoes and sings obscure, un-gettable lyrics. I'm sure there is a niche for this out there somewhere, but it seems to me this isn't where success lies in songwriting.

All of my blog entries are just my opinion, of course. but I wouldn't write them unless I thought them to be true, and/or struggled with these things myself. Songwriting is the most fulfilling work I've ever done, but it is work. It requires objectivity and analysis as much as any creative inspiration. So:

Know what you're writing about and be able to articulate it in a concise way. If you know, it will be easier to edit your lyrics and determine if they all support the idea you're really trying to put across (note that this is singular…one idea per song)  And please, if the song presents a question, answer it. Once you've confused a listener, you've lost them (thanks for the tip, Jolene Reid and Sharlene Loveless) A great lyric generally shouldn't need to be explained.

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