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There’s an article/interview in American Songwriter magazine with Rodney Crowell, country singer-songwriter, that was done back in 1989. It’s a reminder that not much changes in the world of hit songwriting, and you can still learn a lot from something that was said 25 years ago.
You can read the article here. Crowell touched on several issues that will be of interest to today’s writers, including:
- The importance of a good performer for your music: “The singer/songwriter is the bottom of the line,” he says. “You’ve got to have a song, but you’ve also got to have someone sing it. That’s probably the most important thing as far as people being entertained by music.”
- The importance of being a “self-editor”: “Guy (Clark) is the supreme self-editor. He’s just ruthless and brutal. He can write something that is absolutely brilliant and rhymes, and if it’s not in keeping with the overall thing that he’s going for in the song, he’ll throw it out. He’ll throw things out that other writers would die to come up with.”
- The importance of listening to lots of music by lots of different writers in many different genres: “There are other writers that I admire too. Roger Miller, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Chuck Berry, Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman – I could go on for a week. When you admire somebody, you can take on the best of what you admire and incorporate it somehow to a strong degree, sometimes to a lesser degree, into your writing.”
- The importance of good songwriting instincts: “Trusting instincts is a very basic thing. I’ve learned not to intellectualize what I do, but keep in on a very instinctive level. My best successes in that area have been where I was operating from some sort of unconscious plane where the songs are less manufactured and more creative.”
- The importance of a songwriting community: “The first thing you should do is go where there is a group of professional songwriters. Be honest with yourself and admit how inept your songwriting might be, and then rebuild it based in your understanding of the people who are successful at songwriting because they write good songs.”
To the fourth point above, I would add that having good songwriting instincts does not preclude the benefits of improving a song after it’s been written. And I often wonder how many songs have been tossed on the proverbial trash heap because they didn’t work, not knowing that with a few adjustments the song could be great.
But the best songwriters out there, the ones who are working in the upper levels of the industry, are ones that have an instinct for it.
A final bit of advice from Rodney Crowell: On the importance of not throwing music out: ”
I wrote the first couple of verses (of “After All This Time”, #1 song in 1989) but I lost the notebook they were in back in ’78 when Rosanne (Cash) and I moved in together. Then in 1984, we moved into an office and unpacked some stuff and I found the notebook. There were those two verses and I started adding on, even though the song hadn’t entered my mind for six or seven years.”
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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