Ben Walker, who I interviewed a while ago, has written a blog post asking the question ‘Does technical thinking ruin songwriting?’.
Here’s a quote:
There’s no such thing as a conceptual songwriter. As an artist you are free to choose from all sorts of funky media and part of the game is to work outside the box and provoke thought and criticism. Songwriting isn’t like that. Composition is like that, but songwriting isn’t. As a songwriter you’ve signed up to write songs, and the popular song isn’t a very flexible form. It’s not quite as restrictive as being a sonnetwriter, but it’s closer to that than, say, a novelwriter.
There’s nothing to stop you exploding the confines of the form and writing 15-minute one-chord freeform poetry, but that’s not a song. You could argue that it is, but you’d be wrong (the word song refers to a pretty specific musical form, and let’s assume we’re talking about popular song, even late 20th Century popular song to keep things simple).
I don’t want to get into the semantics of whether we use the word ‘song’ just for short vocal forms, or for any piece of music with vocals but I do want to both agree and disagree with Ben.
I agree that no songwriter can avoid the technical aspects. Any long time reader of Songwright will know that I’m all for educated songwriters who understand the craft and know how to create well formed, interesting songs.
Where I disagree is with the apparent implication that songwriters should stick to the limits, confines and conventions of popular song forms and not try to push the boundaries and ‘think outside the box’.
Sorry Ben, that’s wrong. If you’re a songwriter, you’re a composer and if you’re not trying to do things that push the envelope, that do something new and fresh (Not necessarily revolutionary, just new, interesting, exciting) then what’s the point of writing your songs at all?
We are composers, we have a duty not to bore our listeners with conventional derivative songs. The only way to do that is to understand all the conventions and possibilities of the craft and to then try and move beyond them in a way that works.
Songwriting is a craft and an art.