What Role Does ‘Vision’ Play In Your Songwriting Process?

You encounter the word vision a lot in the creative arts. Actually, you encounter it in lots of other areas, too. Who can forget former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s cringy support of “developers”, who are the ones who flesh-out corporate or industry ideas, giving consumers a product that is the result of someone’s initial vision?

I can’t find the quote, but I read somewhere that it was Apple visionary Steve Jobs’ belief that it’s difficult or impossible for several people to have the same vision. He was explaining why he ran Apple as a kind of one-person show. He had a vision for what a computer can and should do. Others can sign onto that vision, but it requires one person to have the initial vision.

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Historically, a song was the product of one person’s vision. Where today you might see half a dozen or more people listed as collaborators in the writing of a song, back in the 60s it was far more normal to see only one, or possibly two, writers getting credit.

I might be wrong, but I think there was more respect for a song’s initial idea back in those days. Bob Dylan had lots of collaborators, if by that word we mean people who had a hand in coming up with musical ideas that got incorporated into the final recording. But those collaborators rarely got official credit.

There were official collaborations, like Lennon & McCartney, who made an agreement to share copyright for everything they wrote as Beatles, regardless of who actually wrote the song. But that circumstance aside, in most other cases there seemed to be an unwritten opinion that the one with the initial ideas for the song — the vision, you might say — should get credit, and you’d only share credit if you contributed something substantial to the final product.

I mention all of this because I find myself wondering what the state of songwriting is these days with regard to that word vision. When someone comes up with a chord progression, with others adding rhythms to it, then sends it off to someone else to add a melody and lyrics, I think it’s fair to ask what vision has to do with that song, its message, and its ultimate impact on the direction of music.

What role does vision play in your own songwriting process? When you write a song, are you trying to say anything profound? Are you trying to change people’s minds about something? Are you lending support to a philosophy, an idea, or perhaps trying to bring a lost piece of history to light?

Even the simple love song can be clever or poignant to the degree that you might talk about the writer’s original vision.

And if you are part of a songwriting collaboration, do you find yourself still thinking about vision? Is it actually possible to send a message with your song if you’re one of five or six that are working together to produce it?

This is not a backhanded way of speaking negatively about songwriting partnerships. I think it is possible to partner up with good songwriters, and to have that experience be a good one.

But if you’re the kind of writer who feels the need to take a song from an initial idea (the initial vision) through to the recording, you may find that collaborating with others will leave you feeling dissatisfied.

I think collaborations can be a great idea — a great way to take advantage of other writers’ strengths in the bid to take a song more easily from start to finish.

But if you think of your song idas as being a fulfilling of a kind of artistic vision, it may be worth the extra time, courage and determination it takes to follow that path from start to finish yourself.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. Thanks for this. I have thought a lot about that idea of vision, and how it gets lost once a few people are involved. I find that working with bands, my ideas get diluted and more generalised to please the other members, and it leaves me dispassionate about my own songs. This article was a good reminder of my inclination to try doing this alone. Thank you for all your articles, they’re one of the few things I don’t delete from my inbox…keep doing what you’re doing x

  2. Great article. All of my songs are about having a vision and I haven’t been able to wrap my head around having a songwriting partner and this explains why. Thanks for sharing.

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