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I had a good chuckle at myself last night, and thought I'd share it with you.
As many of you know, I used to be an engineer/producer. I was fortunate to have engineered for Neil Young for an extended period in the late seventies. I had already been a fan before I worked with Neil, but became an even bigger fan as I got to know him personally, and musically. I got his "vibe."
Neil is one of those rare people who can just do what he loves, and it almost always comes out right. He goes for "feel," not convention. I don't remember him ever being too concerned with things like song structure, or singing in tune, for that matter.
If you've been a TAXI member for any length of time, you know that I strongly endorse writing songs that use accepted structures. You might even say that I'm a bit of a zealot when it comes to writing "in form."
I recently heard a demo from a young man who had just moved to LA from Austin. His music wrapped itself around my heart in a way that was similar to the way Neil Young's music affected me. As a matter of fact, this guy's music feels like Neil's in some respects.
I called the young man to tell him how much I enjoyed his music. We've begun a relationship, and I've dusted off my producer's hat. I don't know where this will ultimately lead, but for the time being, I'm helping him in any way I can.
Here comes the funny part. Late last night, we were going through his songs in my office. One of the songs is incredible but it has a four line verse, followed by a four line pre-chorus, followed by the chorus. The pre chorus sounds like a really well-written bridge, but it appears after each verse.
I suggested that we try to use the pre chorus as a bridge, and have it only appear once in the song. He started to get squirmey on me. I used my producer skills to gently guide him in to the obvious conclusion that the song needed a bridge, and that he'd already written an excellent one.
But, no matter what we tried, the pieces didn't fit. No transition, passing chords, walk-ups, walk-downs, turn-arounds, or any other rocket science made it work.
I decided to call my old friend, and friend to all songwriters, John Braheny. He literally wrote the book (The Craft and Business of Songwriting.) I had John listen to the song, and his response was, "I think it's great the way it is."
I had to laugh, mostly because I knew that thousands of you out there would get a laugh at my expense. That's okay. I can take it! But just enjoy the moment gang, because I still stand staunchly behind the fact that far more hits have been written in form, than not. go to the TAXI website to see the results of a study conducted by ASCAP's Ralph Murphy (in conjunction with Belmont University) on that very subject.
Structure in the world of songwriting is not unlike structure in architecture. There are rules that you can follow that will give you a stronger result. Of course, you can break the rules. Nobody's ever been shot for writing a song that didn't follow standard song form (I can think of a few songs I've heard where somebody should have been shot, though).
In songwriting, as in architecture, people come along who shake things up, and break the rules. Sometimes they succeed in ways that are staggering. But, most of the time, it's best to be so proficient at working within the rules, that you eventually become masterful enough that you can bend or break the rules. Few people are born with that level of innate songwriting talent.
Nearly every great painter, songwriter, athlete (fill in the blank with almost any skill) had to learn the rules before they could break them, or improve upon them.
My advice -- laugh at me, but become a master, then write whatever you want, and laugh at me again whenever you have a hit. I'll be thrilled to share a good laugh with you then.
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