James Taylor

Stealing (Not Stealing) Songs

A number of years ago I wrote a blog post called “Deliberately Sounding Like Your Songwriting Hero.” In it, I advocated pretending that you were your favourite songwriter, trying to write a song that would sound to everyone else that it was written by that person.

The reason was a simple one: It would focus your musical attention, and put you in the position of being a kind of apprentice.

Today I saw an interview with singer-songwriter James Taylor (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) from back in early 2020, and he advocated something similar, perhaps even taking it a step further as his advice to young songwriters:

You take a song that you like, and then you just rearrange it; give it a different melody, different lyrics. You can come close; you mustn’t actually steal it. Just use it as a sort of a template, as it were.

He says that he didn’t really take his own advice on this, but that his own song “Turn Away” was inspired by Lennon & McCartney’s “The Night Before” from their “Help!” album. There’s not a lot of resemblance between the two. The call-&-response format of the backing vocals is pretty clear, but if Taylor used “The Night Before” as a template, he was pretty clever hiding that fact.

In any case, I’ve always thought that purposely focusing your musical mind by imagining you’re some other songwriter that you admire is actually a pretty good idea.

I’d be interested in knowing if you’ve ever done that to get a song written. If so, please comment below, and post a link to your song, and the song you used (or the songwriter you emulated) to write the song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. I do this many times, just as a starting point for a new song. Then the ending result is nothing close to the original song I was inspired by.

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