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A Plague of Songwriters?

Snuffy 25 Dec 03 - 05:22 AM
The Fooles Troupe 24 Dec 03 - 08:03 PM
George Papavgeris 24 Dec 03 - 02:21 PM
GUEST,Rain Dog 24 Dec 03 - 01:05 PM
harvey andrews 24 Dec 03 - 01:03 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 24 Dec 03 - 12:55 PM
GUEST,Hugh Jampton 24 Dec 03 - 12:30 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Dec 03 - 12:25 PM
GUEST,Hugh Jampton 24 Dec 03 - 12:08 PM
The Shambles 24 Dec 03 - 12:01 PM
George Papavgeris 24 Dec 03 - 11:01 AM
harvey andrews 24 Dec 03 - 09:48 AM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 24 Dec 03 - 09:40 AM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 24 Dec 03 - 09:25 AM
GUEST,Jim Knowledge 24 Dec 03 - 08:09 AM
GUEST,Rain Dog 24 Dec 03 - 07:50 AM
George Papavgeris 24 Dec 03 - 07:43 AM
GUEST,Hugh Jampton 24 Dec 03 - 07:42 AM
GUEST,Hugh Jampton 24 Dec 03 - 07:40 AM
GUEST,Rain Dog 24 Dec 03 - 07:16 AM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Dec 03 - 07:13 AM
harvey andrews 24 Dec 03 - 06:33 AM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 23 Dec 03 - 10:12 PM
GUEST,perplexed 23 Dec 03 - 08:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 23 Dec 03 - 07:18 PM
harvey andrews 23 Dec 03 - 06:37 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 23 Dec 03 - 02:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 23 Dec 03 - 01:47 PM
GUEST,The Benn Agency 23 Dec 03 - 11:13 AM
GUEST,Santa 23 Dec 03 - 10:51 AM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 23 Dec 03 - 10:42 AM
Morris-ey 23 Dec 03 - 10:20 AM
GUEST,KB 23 Dec 03 - 10:03 AM
Morris-ey 23 Dec 03 - 09:54 AM
McGrath of Harlow 22 Dec 03 - 07:44 PM
The Shambles 22 Dec 03 - 07:39 PM
George Papavgeris 22 Dec 03 - 07:48 AM
GUEST,A Scribbler 22 Dec 03 - 07:30 AM
harvey andrews 22 Dec 03 - 03:07 AM
YorkshireYankee 21 Dec 03 - 09:05 PM
The Shambles 21 Dec 03 - 01:48 PM
McGrath of Harlow 20 Dec 03 - 08:22 PM
The Fooles Troupe 20 Dec 03 - 07:51 PM
McGrath of Harlow 20 Dec 03 - 07:36 PM
YorkshireYankee 20 Dec 03 - 06:19 PM
The Stage Manager 20 Dec 03 - 06:06 PM
The Fooles Troupe 20 Dec 03 - 05:45 PM
McGrath of Harlow 20 Dec 03 - 05:24 PM
The Stage Manager 20 Dec 03 - 05:13 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 20 Dec 03 - 09:42 AM
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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: Snuffy
Date: 25 Dec 03 - 05:22 AM

On BBC Radio 2 a few years ago:

Interviewer: What does American Pie mean, Don?

Don Maclean: It means I never have to work again.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 08:03 PM

Whiter Shade of Pale
American Pie
MacArthue Park
et. al.

are all in the Category of "Abstract Art"... :-)

Robin


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 02:21 PM

There are always the songs with double meanings to confuse the - inexperienced - listener. In my early folk days, still learning English language and culture, for some months I believed the Bonny Black Hare was about a long-eared creature...And the Game of Cards simply an innocuous story of a girl beating a young man at whist or something like that...
OK, I was also young and innocent those days. Still am, in certain ways...
Have a good Christmas everyone. Or Solstice. Or Hannukah. Or just a relaxing holiday.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Rain Dog
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 01:05 PM

Take an old song , well I hope it is an old song

A Buxom Lass as sung on the latest cd by Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman.

Now is that a song about cutting grass or is it not ? And did anyone ask the writer what it meant or did they not ? And do those city dwellers who do not even have a garden know what it is about or not.

And as I said earlier, if he had stayed in instead of going out it would have been one less song for us all.

Songs with footnotes. Songs with sung footnotes. That is what is required methinks

Happy christmas to you all


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 01:03 PM

I think the need to ask what the song was about coincided with the ingestion before writing of certain substances...a scenario very common from the late sixties on. personally I've never touched the stuff...(when it was sex and drugs and folk n roll I passed on the drugs and did double sex)...therefore I'm rarely asked what my songs are about.
......Man.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 12:55 PM

Hugh - you make a good point. I would still pose the question less directly and try to find out what the circumstances surrounding the creation for the song. That would probably open up the conversation more than a direct(and sometime rude) "what was that song about"?

I've had converstation I've told the songwriter what the song meant for me - images or feelings that it invoked.

On the other hand, if the songwriter was LOOKING for honest feedback, I would tell the truth - I had no clue as to what that song was about.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Hugh Jampton
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 12:30 PM

The Shambles,
             You can bet your life on it!


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 12:25 PM

"What's that song about?" normally means "What's the story behind that song?", which is always a good question to ask and answer.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Hugh Jampton
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 12:08 PM

WFDU-Ron
         If a listener to a song has taken the time to attend carefully to what has been written and sung and still has occasion to ask what the song was about, it seems to me that the writer should answer the question and provide the listener with an explanation. There are some writers who become so tangled in symbolism and metaphores that allsense is lost.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Shambles
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 12:01 PM

Do we just have to accept that - a possibly good song from a not well known-writer will be given a harder time than a possibly mediocre song from a well-known writer?


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 11:01 AM

I stand corrected - I drifted off my own thread! Of course, different things work for different genres, and the Procol Harum example was not appropriate.
And I was wrong too in using the word "rule" - I meant "guideline", or "useful advice".
I do stand by my summary further up, by the way - and certainly by the rule (sorry, good practice) of telling a story that others can relate to. I am just traditional in that way, I guess; I was simply playing devil's advocate with my unfortunate PH example.
I'll go and do one hundred "kyrie eleison" in the corner. Now where did I put the dunce's cap...


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 09:48 AM

El Greko, I made my contribution based upon the interests of this group. Of course there are as many types of song as their are types of plays, novels, movies etc. Stephen King and Charlotte Bronte both wrote books, but the object itself is about all they have in common.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 09:40 AM

Rain Dog - if someone asks a songwriter "what was that song about", the songwriter should not even answer the question. That is insulting to the write and just plain dumb. The song should speak for itself, and even if the meaning is clouded or could have several interpretations, then THAT is how the conversation should start.

I find it more interesting to learn HOW and WHEN the song was developed. Sometimes the answer is obvious, but often the story behind the writing of the song gives more insight.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 09:25 AM

El Greko - who said anything about "RULES"??   As many of us have TRIED to say, there are no hard and fast rules. There are also different standards for different genres. I THINK that the comments being made here are very generic OPINIONS. I do think that the comments taken on a whole give you an IDEA what SOME of the fans of this style of music appreciate.

Of course that song was popular, as are numerous other songs in various genres. It is not to say that we won't appreciate a Procol Harum, a rap song, or even a song in a foreign tongue.   Just don't make an assumption that just because someone writes a song that everyone must like it. If the majority of us seem to appreciate songs that "tell a story that others will relate to", just accept that a group of people have given an opinion.   I wouldn't wear my Red Sox cap in Yankee Stadium and expect that others would appreciate my choice.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Jim Knowledge
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 08:09 AM

I `ad that Richard `arris in my cab once. `e was singing a song,
somethink about leaving a cake out in the rain. I asked `im if he wanted to go to `is publisher. `e said nah, get me down to TESCO`S, mums coming round this afternoon and she `ates wet cake.
I still `aven`t worked ut what is was all about.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Rain Dog
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:50 AM

Exactly El Greko

Rules are made to be broken


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:43 AM

And how about Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" - now, what on earth was that one about? Though it became a hit anyway, so it flies in the face of the "tell a story that others will relate to" rule.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Hugh Jampton
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:42 AM

I thought the UK Christmas No1 was "Its a Mad World"!


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Hugh Jampton
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:40 AM


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Rain Dog
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:16 AM

Regarding introductions / explanations

I have noticed in various interviews etc, that a lot of songwriters are not always that keen on giving an answer to the question ' Just what is that song about ?' One of the interesting things about songs is how they can take on a life of their own. Somebody sits down to write a song maybe based on some incident in their own life or from events in the real world.They write it and then they perform it and maybe record it. Then anytime after that we hear it, we like it , it strikes a chord etc. We do not have to know what it was originally about unless we would like an explantion for a particular line or phrase. Song lyrics can appear pretty vague on the printed page but combined with the music and singing they can take on a 'meaning' for the listener.

If I can give one example , the song Hurt by Trent Reznor. I think I read somewhere that this song was written about heroin addiction. But then when you hear Johnny Cash's version ( and more importantly see the video ) the meaning of the song changes, it becomes about someone looking back over their life and actions or inactions.

The beauty of song.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 07:13 AM

"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!"
(In the Neolithic Age - Kipling)

The UK Xmas Number One> Isn't that "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" (but not John Lennon's version)?

Here's the BBC World Service "World's Top Ten". Interesting - most are from the Indian sub-continent, but the first place is the Wolf Tones with "A Nation Once Again". Some strange voting there.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 24 Dec 03 - 06:33 AM

Perplexed, Ron's right. By wordy i think we mean the cramming of words in a line so they just run into each other and have not smoothness! I don't think we mean how many words or verses a song has. Harry Chapin wrote long songs with great word economy.As to repeating phrases over and over, it seems that's the way pop songs have gone recently. The lyrics were of primary importance in the 60's and 70's but seem to have been devalued as time has gone on and the choreography has became more important than the song which is now a mere prop for movement, fashion and looks. Maybe the Xmas number 1 here in the Uk heralds a bit of a sea change? Or is that too much to hope for.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 10:12 PM

Perplexed, I can see that you are.

"Saying that a good folk song should be something that folks would want sing along with is being rather one dimensional in your ideas about what is what isn't a good folk song."

No it isn't, but it is discussing what MOST people see in a folk song. I also think you misinterpret "sing along" with "others singing". A folk song is USUALLY something that is owned by everyone, not just the writer. The song becomes part of the audience, not just a personal song that is closely attached to the songweriter.

I am not suggesting that we don't need introspective songs, and there are plenty of great songs in other genres.   I think we are focusing this discussion on what MOST people define as folk music, although admittedly it is a very loose definition.

"If I had to level any kind of critique at some of the songs I've heard written by other singer/songwriters of late it would be unfortunate tendency of some to use too few words... "

You miss the point, or perhaps I wasn't descriptive enough. (That is why I'm not a songwriter!!!) The songs you mentioned are far from "wordy". I wasn't suggesting that songs be "dumbed down" or striped of artistic license.   I was trying to say that words should be used carefully and effectively. "Alice's Restaurant", the one on the LP, is perfect. Remember though that the song we are all familiar with was something that Arlo worked on and cut it down to approximately 20 minutes. It was actually much longer. I've heard a tape of a different version that Arlo did that is almost impossible to follow. He worked the song into the masterpiece it became. His father, and Bob Dylan, are perfect examples of musicians who are NOT wordy, but musicians who use the words effectively.

There are many songwriters that fail to convey their message because they get so wrapped up in cramming as much symbolism and imagery as possible into the song. You end up hearing the tune and wondering what the hell it was all about.   

Here is a great example of putting together a great lyric - "Earth Angel".   It was a seemingly dumb little tune from the 1950's, but if you examine it, the song speaks volumes.   The simple title "Earth Angel" - what a great mix of heaven and earth. Great irony. Great message. Catchy tune. It is no wonder that it became popular.

Perplexed, you also took everything that was said in this forum too literally. You must be a songwriter, you seem very sensitive!!!!   :) I think we were all giving our OWN suggestions. Art is subjective. There are no hard and fast rules.   If there were such rules, we would have no problem with creating only good songs. You can talk to 10 different SUCCESSFUL songwriters and each will have a different approach.   

Don't give up... from what you say you are doing something very right. I would love to hear some of your music.

Okay, I've become too "wordy" for this forum. Sorry!

Ron


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,perplexed
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 08:50 PM

Geez, just when I was getting to feel kind of good about finally having written some songs of my own, I read this thread and wonder if I shouldn't just throw in the towel. It's not that I haven't received a great deal of praise and compliments from audience members/listeners and other players/performers alike. When other performers ask if I mind if they play one of the songs I've written and audience members start asking for the lyrics to my songs and inquire about buying a cd containing my material, it sort of makes me think I must be doing something right.

I think I've intuitively aspired to do much of what El Greko posted above in his lesson to songwriters though I've had no actual formal training in anything musical. I've tried to incorporate many of the points he listed except for the idea of being too wordy. Many of the songs written by others that I love performing have just that quality to them. I don't believe that the authors of those songs had any such restrictions to contend with when writing and therefore did not allow this particular criticism posted here by many to get in the way of their expression. Bert Williams' version of "Some Little Bug" comes to mind as an example of wordy humor at it's best. Arlo's "Alice's Restaurant" is certainly wordy and long but a wonderful story full of good humor. Willie McTell's "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues" is another great story. It's both wordy and long as is his song "Kill It Kid" but they work, at least, they sound fine to my ear.

If I had to level any kind of critique at some of the songs I've heard written by other singer/songwriters of late it would be the unfortunate tendency of some to use too few words and couple the sparse lyrics with repetitive lines or catch phrases at a pace that is far toooo sloooooow. Put it all together and you get the all too common folk/folk-rock/rock ballad. Add to the above a not very memorable melody or message, as many examples I've heard contain, and you get a recipe for yawns.

I think some of the points of view being posted here about writers are justified others seem to come from a particular type of listener that experiences music in only certain environments. Saying that a good folk song should be something that folks would want sing along with is being rather one dimensional in your ideas about what is what isn't a good folk song. Sing along ability can be an attribute to a good folksong but as someone already pointed out, there are no hard and fast rules to any of this.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 07:18 PM

Vin Garbutt has that incredible way of doing an introduction that takes you on a surreal trip that gets you choking with laughter - and then swinging into a song that is powerful and deadly serious.

Introductions are a whole different artform from singing, or songwriting, and I think there are fewer people who can do it right.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 06:37 PM

I think it's all about how the introduction is done. I too quail when a too earnest writer starts "This song is about my feelings about...." But when I have the pleasure of listening to a Garbutt or a Paxton the intros are an integral part of my evening's entertainment.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 02:11 PM

I agree with McGrath, minimal is best. Just as with a song, use only the necessary words to tell the story or pass on the intent of the piece. Too often songwriters become wordy and over complicated. Put down the thesaurus and just tell the story!

One of the reasons I enjoy folk music is because of the history involved. While a song may tell the tale, it is often necessary to set the song in context for a full appreciation. Sometimes the "trivia" behind the song can also add to the performance.

Since this is the Christmas season, I have always loved the song "O Little Town of Bethlehem".   To share the story of Phillip Brooks, the church in Philadelphia, and the fact that the song is "only" about 140 years old gives the audience a new presepective and a deeper appreciation of such a chestnut.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 01:47 PM

I think that's rather a good introduction Morris-ey gave there. Only thing, after an introduction like that you'd just have to sing a completely unrelated song.

Generally thinking I tend to be in favour of a minimal introduction. Then if somebody asks you "What the hell was that about?", you can tell them. And if it's a good song, they will.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,The Benn Agency
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 11:13 AM

Santa,
      In response to your question the answer from my point of view is definitely yes. There are a number of songs where a slight change to the melody, an introduced complete change of melody or the introduction of a part of the song in a minor key has the effect of bringing home the lyric and accentuating the point.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,Santa
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 10:51 AM

Context can be interesting in itself, whether the song can be sung without it or not. It all helps to space an evening out.

To pick up on one of the points above, John Kirkpatrick said recently about one of the songs he sings: if the words don't quite fit the music, change the music. I don't think he meant it as a general rule for songwriting though - ideally the two should flow as one. Perhaps the songwriters in the thread could comment on this: is it better to maintain a common musical accompaniment throughout a song (verse on verse) or does some variation actually help make a song stand out?


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 10:42 AM

I have to disagree with you Morris-ey. An introduction to a song is a welcome addition to most performances. If I want to hear a "damn song" I will listen to the "damn record". I enjoy hearing more in a concert.

I did not get to see live performances from the artists you mentioned other than Sinatra, and yes, I do remember him introducing the songs. I also remember seeing films of the Beatles and yes, they did introduce songs.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: Morris-ey
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 10:20 AM

Context. No, I don't think it does.. or rather a song should need no explanation. I don't recall Sinatra, or the Beatles, or Tom Jones, or Maria Callas, or Hildegard de Bingen doing other than singing the damn song.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,KB
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 10:03 AM

Morris-ey - surely it helps to have a bit of context in an introduction, whether its a new song or an old one? Its much easier to listen to & understand a song if you've had a few clues beforehand. Mind you, 10 minute intros are excepted from this comment....


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: Morris-ey
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 09:54 AM

What I don't want to hear by way of introduction is "this is a song I wrote to capture my feelings about... the war, losing my virginity, my cat being stuck up a tree, nuclear power, my divorce, the death of my cat who fell from the tree whist the fire brigade were trying to save it, the brave endeavours of the fire service who gallantly, but unsuccessfully tried to rescue my cat, my favourite colour...".

Just sing the damn song and the audience will probably give you a clue as to its merits.

What I also can't abide is singers who tell you the history of any song... "I collected this from a Copper Family album, Bill Caddick wrote Unicorns whilst hallucinating, from exhaustion, in the Magic Lantern Bus travelling to Newcastle - (No he did not!)


Just sing the damn song!


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 07:44 PM

How about: "Overall, it was felt that when criticism levelled at songwriters is fair, just and constructive it is useful."


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Shambles
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 07:39 PM

Overall, it was felt that the criticism levelled at songwriters is fair, just and constructive.

I wouldn't entirely agree with the above. I think we were trying very hard in the thread to understand the criticism and to find ways of deflecting it. Or of not doing anything to encourage and justify some of it. I certainly don't think that this criticism it is very often fair or constructive.

I do detect a certain prejudice from some people - for reasons that I still don't understand - mainly towards original material in the folk field and especially toward material from writers that may not be very well known.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters? The Summary
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 07:48 AM

Thanks to all who contributed to this thread, I think it has been a most useful discussion. I certainly gained quite a bit out of it. I promised to summarise the lessons at the end, so here goes:

A) Do we judge singer/songwriters more harshly?
Overall, it was felt that the criticism levelled at songwriters is fair, just and constructive. Though it may be a little coloured by the fact that as we become "old farts" ourselves, we tend to favour familiarity and depth in musical experience over breadth. One must also remember that for singer/songwriters there is a "double whammy" of being judged in both roles. And quite rightly too.
A very important point to be made is that in the folk club world particularly the audience is looking for participation - new original songs go against the grain therefore (until they are "sung-in").
But the most important reason why the "apparent" increased criticism of songwriters is in fact fair, is that original material is not yet sifted through the filters of audiences and time (while the other material sung by songers is in fact distilled over the years). So there is a higher degree of mediocrity in original material - and that mediocrity is reflected in the criticism.

B) OK, so what advice would we give to songwriters, to help them create material that would be more acceptable, and to reduce the "mediocrity factor" just referred to above?

For the Lyrics:
Consider FOR WHOM ARE YOU WRITING the song. TELL A STORY, and preferably one THAT YOUR AUDIENCE CAN RELATE TO. Avoid personal stories, LOOK OUTSIDE YOURSELF. BE "Anon" - BE A CHRONICLER. Remember that YOU CAN MAKE SERIOUS POINTS USING HUMOUR. And above all, DON'T WASTE WORDS, SAY THE MOST IN THE LEAST.

For the Music:
CATCHY TUNES WILL ALWAYS BE MORE ACCEPTABLE THAN TRICKY ONES. FIND A "HOOK", something that the audience will remember and could WHISTLE later. And remember - MUSIC SERVES THE LYRICS, not the other way round.

For the Performance:
KNOW THE SONG, and DON'T APOLOGISE FOR MISTAKES. SHOW ENTHUSIASM for the song. USE HUMOUR IN THE INTRO. DON'T OUTSTAY YOUR WELCOME. SANDWICH BRAND NEW SONGS BETWEEN FAMILIAR ONES, DON'T TIRE YOUR AUDIENCE. STRIVE TO IMPROVE AS A PERFORMER.

For the Attitude:
KNOW THYSELF, avoid self-delusion. BE PATIENT and LISTEN TO CRITICISM; use the comments to improve your material, DON'T BE PRECIOUS about your song, everybody has an interest in its being as good as possible. JUDGE AUDIENCE REACTION and abide by it. And above all DON'T WHINE!

Here endeth the lesson. Thanks again to everyone.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: GUEST,A Scribbler
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 07:30 AM

Coming at this from a rather different angle I find this thread fascinating. I write prose, occasionally get things published and belong to a Writers Circle. Much of what has been said here is reassuringly familiar, particularly the "Show not Tell" themes. As songwriters you may be interested to learn that we regularly hold evenings when everyone brings along a song in order to discuss why they consider a particular lyric to be effective.

A recurring comment is that good songwriters, like poets, have the knack of condensing action into short highly effective phrases, often containing striking images that the listener can associate with.   We generally feel that in any writing, the intended emotional impact should stem directly from the narrative or images presented to the reader.   Emotion explicitly stated by the writer should be avoided.

It also appears that prose writers have a distinct advantage over songwriters. We hold regular manuscript evenings where we read our work to the group. This gives us the opportunity of receiving constructive criticism from our peers. We can then re-write, ruthlessly edit, or 'tweek' our work in the light of this criticism, prior to submitting it for publication.

We are also encouraged to write for a specific market. As a group we tend to feel that 'writing for oneself' an indulgence that inevitably leads to bad practice through lack of discipline. We write to be read so we need to understand our target audience.   Does the same not apply to songwriters?

I find the phrase "Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration" a useful maxim. Another common experience amongst our group is to write something, edit it, re-edit it, polish it, then leave it in a draw for 6 months and forget it. If after this time you take it out and it still looks reasonable, you might, just possibly, have something worth working on.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 03:07 AM

Yes, I agree with that. I think the art of song lyric is learning to say the most in the least.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 21 Dec 03 - 09:05 PM

McG of H,

I take your point... I think it depends (at least partly) on how important the details are to the song.

If the important thing is that there was a man walking in the wood and what he looked like/what he was wearing doesn't really matter - great!

The thing about "Jean hitched north to Don's Bait and stole a Wall Street Journal" (although it's made up as an example, so we don't have it in the context of a song) is that it gives you the kind of context that might well be useful during the rest of the song. It's not just that those words tell us what happened - they do double-duty: giving us a certain amount of insight into the character and place in question while also telling us what happened; saves having to tell us separately that (for example) Jean didn't have a lot of money to spare, etc.

In your example above, I'd suggest that although we are indeed told the forester was angry, we are also shown how angry he is by his words/intention to hang this man. But you're right, we probably don't need to know what kind of coat he was wearing when he said it.

The other thing about "John was angry" vs "John slammed the door, etc" is that it takes less time to say, and time is certainly of the essence in a song. The important thing is not to waste words - whether it's describing things that don't really need describing, or using words so efficiently that one line will tell you as much as 2 (or 3 or 4) less well-written lines would.

A good song (like good poetry) is very dense/distilled - packs a great deal of meaning into not that many words. Brings to mind Hemingway's comment about a short story being like an iceberg...

Cheers,

YY


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Shambles
Date: 21 Dec 03 - 01:48 PM

It certainly works for Radio drama for example where there is no other information than what you hear. As songs are often only heard (on radio or CD for example) it may well be good idea to leave more than a few blanks in songs for the listener to fill in.

The BBC did a radio version of Lord of The Rings that worked because your mind filled in most of the details. Peter Jackson's recent film on the other hand filled in all of the visual blanks - but still managed to totally grip the audience.

So the opposite can be achieved but this example tends to suggest that you would need to be at the very highest level of your craft, in order to pull-off the latter.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 08:22 PM

To follow up what I said there, I remember storyteller Dan Keding saying that, when telling a story, the most effectve way is often to leave out the details. So instead of "A tall man in a brown coat and spectacles walked slowly through a pine forest ...", you say "There was a man, and he was walking in a wood..." The listener puts in the details you kleve out, they put in the man who is in their head.

That can work in songs too. Sometimes.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 07:51 PM

YorkshireYankee
"Write in the white hot heat of passion; edit in cold blood."

My tutor also said "Poetry is Emotion recollected in Tranquility"

Robin


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 07:36 PM

All depends on the kinds of song. In some types of song (A) can be much more powwerful than (B). For example:

And up and spoke the first forester,
And an angry man was he.
" If this be Johnny O'Braideslea,
He shall be hung by me."


There are no hard and fast rules.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 06:19 PM

"Don't tell me - SHOW ME!"

Absolutely. My writing teacher said,

"Which is more effective:

A) John was angry

B) John slammed the door, stormed across the room and kicked the dog."

Give people the "facts" and let them conclude for themselves that John was angry; that's much more powerful than telling your reader/listener John was angry - plus you are crediting them with the intelligence to think for themselves, rather than spoon-feeding them.

The other two bits of advice I remember from this teacher (I believe he was quoting other people, but don't know who):

"Write in the white hot heat of passion; edit in cold blood."

"Murder your darlings."

Here's a link to a column written by one of my fave songwriters - Peter Berryman: Songwriting suggestions, reprinted from an article in Sing Out! ( ©1993 )

It's got brilliant advice for songwriters; here's a brief excerpt:
Make every word count: "She went over to the store and got a newspaper" and "Jean hitched north to Don's Bait and stole a Wall Street Journal" both have thirteen syllables.

Cheers,

YY


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Stage Manager
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 06:06 PM

I certainly agree that the word tradition is vastly overworked and seems to mean different things to different people.

As an example of how I arrive at my understanding I offer the words of Mary Jane Lamond, A Cape Breton Singer spoken in an interview on a Carolina based radio station. The song she was referring to was sung in Scots Gaelic on the occassion of her visit to the Isle of Harris.

"These women were coming over to meet me and sing some songs. As they approached they started to sing a very common milling song in Cape Breton, When they sang it, the way that they sang it, they had the same verses and virtually the same words, I had this strange sensation came over me as I suddenly realised the tenacity of the tradition. Those people in Cape Breton and those women in Scotland with no contact, have kept that song the same for over two-hundred years."

Also to understand this aspect of "tradition" it is necessary to ask why this interview was taking place in the Carolinas. Willy Ruff investigating the origins of gospel music in the black churches of the Carolinas ended up in the Western Isles

"Ruff began researching at the Sterling Library at Yale, one of the world's greatest collections of books and papers. He found records detailing how Highlanders had settled in North Carolina in the 1700s. He found evidence of slaves in North Carolina who could speak only Gaelic, and discovered the story of how a group of Hebrideans, on landing at Cape Fear, heard a Gaelic voice in the dialect of their village. When they rounded the corner they saw a black man speaking the language and assumed they too would turn that colour because of the sun."

To cut a long story short

"A chance meeting with James Craig, a piper with the Royal Scots, put Ruff in touch with congregations in Lewis and Donald Morrison, a leader of singing.

" When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: 'That's us!'
When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."

Warwick Edwards, a reader in the music department of Glasgow University, added: "Psalm singing from the Western Isles is certainly known in America. Whether you can link that up with gospel music is another matter. However one should never underestimate the longevity of these deep-down traditions. They cross oceans and people should be encouraged to investigate this further." His conclusion was the slaves had learnt it from their Scottish slave masters.

Opinion on this differs. Some think the African slaves learnt it from their white counterparts also sent from various parts of the Highlands. But that's another issue.

I see "tradition" as a sort of cultural store house, as I suggest a form of Ancestral Memory. New songs "in the tradition" would be built on this knowledge, poosibly with the assumption that most of the audience would be a party to this 'knowledge' or common history.

OK so I'm a hopless romantic, but I find it almost uncanny on occasions.

SM


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 05:45 PM

One of my English Tutors, when desperately trying to explain Poetry to us thick headed First years, said the key to good poetry was:

"Don't tell me - SHOW ME!"

in other words - Poetry (and songs for the purpose of this discussion) shouldn't just waffle on - it should catch you up.

Robin


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 05:24 PM

"Tradition" is about a process. Songs grow out of "the tradition", and they pass into it as well. Or rather into them, because there a whole lot of traditions, and new ones coming up as well.


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: The Stage Manager
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 05:13 PM

That's pretty definitive. At this stage I just feel like stating the bleeding obvious. Without songwriters there would be no songs; traditional, contemporary, pop, classical, anything. If there were no songwriters (past or present) there would be no folk clubs.   

Similarly I find this apparent division between "traditional" and "contemporary" songs completely illogical. I've always understood a tradition as being something that doesn't stand still. It evolves as 'ancestral memory' handed down from generation to generation. OK some songs may stand as reference points, but I've always considered there is an absolute need for new songwriters to nourish and carry the tradition forward, otherwise it atrophies and dies. If I may quote Harvey: "I see the job of the songwriter in the modern folk world to be that of Anon..a chronicler of the times and passions, anxieties, hopes and fears of the generation they represent, so a body of work can be seen to belong to a time and a place that the "pop" songs of the time cannot replicate."         

Over my lifetime I have heard superb contemporary songs performed with passion by, amongst others, contributors to this discussion, and I am very aware the effect they have had on the audiences they sing to. I've been in them.

Maybe aspiring singer songwriters should look more closely at those who set the standards for their generation. These are the standards against which they are judged. The same can be said for aspiring writers, actors, dancers, musicians, opera singers. I can't see that folk singer/songwriters are any different. They have to relate to and perform for their respective audiences, not for themselves.   

Over thirty odd years, I've worked with all sorts of performing artists from all over the world in Opera Houses and at folk festivals. For what it's worth those at the top of their particular metier seem to me to have similar things in common. They are continually watching and absorbing, they are completely dedicated to every aspect of their craft, and are never ever satisfied with the standard of their own work. If the audience doesn't respond the way they'd hoped, they blame nobody else but themselves.

Whingers? they appeared occasionally. By and large whinge once and you might be lucky enough to get laughed at. Whinge twice and you don't get asked again. There's always someone else around who is a bit better than you are, probably because they've worked that bit harder at what you both do.   


SM


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Subject: RE: A Plague of Songwriters?
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 09:42 AM

So, does anyone have more advice? We probably could do with more of that.


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