Can you learn/teach Songwriting…?

“When I write songs, I personally try to avoid forcing anything onto the page. If I get stuck and start over-thinking things too much, what comes out usually isn’t 100% genuine, and in the end, the song is forgotten and never played again. Most of the songs I keep and play over and over, are ones that come fairly easily, and just sort of flow out (definitely not an every day occurrence!).”

From Priscilla Ahn’s blog post successful shopping is like writing a good song“.

Photo: Private (Audrey)

As a part of the Bachelor Degree in Music at LIPA (and every other Music University, I can imagine), we do a class called Songwriting. The name of the class is pretty self explanatory – except in a way, “Hit-writing” would be a more accurate name for it. Because that’s what we do. Write songs with simple chords, a repetitive melody, and lyrics which require no sort of brain activity on the listeners part – we shall say it all straight forward, leaving nothing to imagination and interpretation. They are catchy, catchy songs that get stuck in people’s heads, and they are made for people to sing along with, dance to, and buy – this is the mold in which they are teaching us to write.

So how do I feel about this sort of “music mass production?”, you ask.

Well… To me, the whole concept of teaching and learning Songwriting is pretty absurd, and so is the concept of writing songs with the sole purpose of selling records and making money. During my time in Shine (the R&B group I was a part of in Norway), I never liked the suggestion (which was made more than once) of working with songwriters, singing songs that someone else had written. I know that people do it, and by all means, some artists are performers more than anything, and thank f**k we’re all different, right? But for me to want to do a song that someone else has written, there has to be something about that song that speaks to me emotionally. Like if someone has managed to write the song I couldn’t write, and say what I can’t say, like Unni Wilhelmsen has a habit of doing.

When it comes to writing songs, I always put a little bit of myself in every word, and a song is a feeling I’m trying to express way before it’s a catchy bunch of words that get stuck in your head (even though, as I have always said, if it does get stuck in your head, I know I’ve done my job as a songwriter). I haven’t written the largest catalogue of songs, but every single song I have ever written, is special to me. Most of them, at least up until I started doing Songwriting as a class in Pop Dip last year, have come to me all by themselves. Triggered, off course, by a person, an event, a feeling or a random sentence, but still, I have had no control over when and where the song decided to pop into my head. Inspiration strikes at the most random of times, and when it does, you just have to go with it and write it all down with whatever you have at hand at that exact moment… A notebook, a napkin, a phone even – I have been seen singing into my phone in a corner of a club, because a melody line decided to crash the party. There are not many things that are more annoying than loosing a good hook.

My point is, songs to me have always been something I couldn’t control, couldn’t rush, couldn’t force, they came when they came, and I just had to grab them and hold on for dear life. It was the best feeling in the world when that happened (which wasn’t too often). I never sat down with a notepad and a pen and said to myself, “Right, today I shall write a song about… Coffee.” It didn’t work like that. But now…? Now, I have been forced to think differently, and I gotta tell ya, it-is-weird. Sitting down with a task at hand to write a song about unrequited love for instance, which is the kind of tasks we are being given weekly in this class, feels unbelievably bizarre to me. But surprisingly, it is working. Even though I do feel that most of the things we are being “taught” in these classes are mainly just one man’s opinions (which of course is valuable – but not any more or less so than ANOTHER man’s opinions), I am actually getting something out of it, something way more important than pointers and feedback and suggestions on how to make the chorus more catchy: A kick in the butt to write songs. I am writing again – and I am in control of it. I’m still leaving bits of myself in every word, but unlike before I can now pretty much trigger my own creativity. I realized that even if you do initiate an idea yourself, even if you’re given a topic to write about, even if you are deciding to write the song rather than the song deciding to be written, which is how it has always seemed to me, it is possible to “stay real” and write from the heart.

I guess, to answer my own questions, that no, you can’t teach songwriting. What you can do, is inspire it, trigger it and give someone a kick in the butt.

Can you learn songwriting…? Nah. You can find it though. Your creativity I mean. And sometimes, you need that kick in the butt to get started. But in the end, songwriting should be a personal thing that you share because you want to, to make someone feel something, and because you are proud of what you have created. If you make some money doing that, that’s great. But writing for value often takes the values away. Don’t you think…?


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Melissa
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 21:46:58

    I always love your blog post, Audrey… You`re such a good writer !! And song writer… ❤ Interesting way of writing new hooks, hahah… "write a song about coffèe" 😛 When do I get to hear it ?? 😀

    Much looove :*


  2. Mile
    Mar 06, 2011 @ 10:26:33

    Yup, I agree with you! Good to hear that you are discovering new ways to write and find creativity.. True inspiration doesn’t come so easily by itself, I’m afraid..!
    HEhe, kanskje jeg skal starte med å gi meg selv et emne i uka for å så tvinge meg å skrive om det?? God ide. 🙂

    Anyway, love your writings, you just cant go wrong!


  3. audreywilsen
    Mar 06, 2011 @ 13:25:46

    Aww, thank you Mel! Haha, I guess I actually have to write that coffee song now… ;P

    Mile, JA, det er en super ide!! DOOO IIIIIIIIT…!!! 😉


  4. Trackback: Cut the strings 2 « Audrey Wilsen
  5. Trackback: Cut the strings 2 « Audrey Wilsen

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