In practically anything we make or do there are the standard tools to help us. Want to build a bookshelf? You probably need a saw, a measuring tape, a hammer, sandpaper and so on. Want to make a cake? You’ll need bowls, spoons, measuring cups and perhaps a mixer.
Songwriting at the beginning of pop music, back in the 50s, had little requirement for tools: a pencil, and an instrument to work out your song. Writing a song required not much more than the imagination of the songwriter, and a way of writing the results down.
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By the late 60s and early 70s the standard tools of songwriting started to include a recording machine — a cassette tape deck — and now songwriters could sing their ideas into a machine as an alternative to writing the ideas down.
With every generation new tools were added, and especially once computers and the internet became standard, songwriters had easy access to rhyming dictionaries, drum machines, synthesizers, computer-based mixers and more.
If there’s one downside I’ve seen with the use of computers in the act of songwriting, it’s this: Computers can only ever be a tool. It’s so easy to program a computerized device to play a drum rhythm, generate a chord progression, create a synthesized instrument, and it can all sound amazing. You can get something that sounds professional and polished in literally seconds.
And it might be great. As long as you remind yourself from time to time: a computer is a tool, and only a tool. If you want to write a great song, the best parts of that song are going to come from your musical imagination, just as it’s always been for songwriters.
Whether you’re making a bookshelf, baking a cake, or writing a song, tools will only help you so much. No tool can take the place of some inherent abilities on the part of the user. Tools can and should make the job easier, but can’t replace the need for your own set of skills.
In songwriting, no matter how impressive the tools are (like the ones you can see listed here), it’s still the same as it’s always been: you’re going to write your best songs when you use your musical imagination and apply the principles and guidelines of good songwriting.
In that regard, technology and tools can make the job easier, but won’t ever replace the need for your own personal understanding of how good music works.
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