Arlen Roth on Lessons from Great Songwriters
We all know that song writing can be an elusive, even mystical thing. Something that might elude us for years but that may equally suddenly appear and have us in huge creative spurts that seem almost unexplainable. The problem is that if we really want to turn out great songs, and want to keep working at that craft, you need to truly apply yourself to it, and to work, work and work!
I know it’s easier said than done, and I myself suffer from this dilemma where I seem to write songs in sparse “bunches” that tend to come “out of nowhere.” Even given this, there are many great lessons that can be learned from the “masters” and sometimes all it can take is that one particular song that can turn your head around, and give you another “spark” that can lead to your own creative song-writing outcome!
I find that I truly get inspired by songs that always affected me in the past. This week, I was writing a piece about the great John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and his 1959 Les Paul, and I found myself just awash with his great songs. Many of these songs, in fact pretty much all of them, had a profound effect on me as I was growing up, and in each there is an amazing and unique lesson to be learned. For example, it’s great to kind of “trace” one songwriter’s ideas to another’s, such as how the great Roger Miller’s style of writing led to John’s creation of “Nashville Cats”, just one of his truly iconic classics. You can take that ball, as a writer and run with it, and create your own kind of song that utilizes such clever little twists within the lyrics. Basically, the main thing to feel inspiration-wise is that “if he can do it, I sure can, too!”
All great writers have a style, and that is always a great part of what “grabs” us when we hear their songs. In fact, that “style” is one of the great things we can hang our hats on when it comes to using them as an influence. The real test then becomes creating our own style, which really may come out of nowhere, and might occur without us even knowing it ourselves!
The great writers are also the ones who are constantly “reinventing” themselves, as witnessed by The Beatles, John Sebastian, Dylan, Leonard Cohen and many more. It’s as if they were always “setting a higher bar” for themselves within their own creative process, and never letting themselves fall into a “formula” as so many writers errantly do.
So, my advice is to listen to as many great songs as you can, and see what it is about them that really makes them “tick.” Also, write as much as you can possibly write all the time. It’ll flesh out new ideas, and you’ll find that your own creativity will start to flow far more easily, as long as you let it happen, and go with that song-writing flow!