I wanted to start this series on songwriting by asking the question “what is songwriting?” I think it is an important place to our discussion on the subject. The dictionary defines songwriting as “the activity or process of writing popular songs or the music for them.” But I think for each of us, we know that we need a deeper definition.
At the most fundamental level, I believe songwriting is the sonic expression of the soul. It is an intentional arrangement of notes, chords, and lyrics that reflect the deepest realities of the heart. Songwriting is the craft that endears audiences to artists, presents a medium for philosophical, spiritual, and social conversations, and helps people contextualize their own stories either through the process of writing songs or by listening to them. In the end, we write our songs, but our songs also write us.
Songwriting looks different in every genre of music. Different songwriters have different creative processes. Songs have different purposes, even songs on the same record. In my next post, I will look at the significance of songs, and why writing great songs matter. For now, let me say that these components are framed from the perspective of a Country Music songwriter, so please keep that in mind.
First, the best songs will come from experience. There is a saying in Nashville that you write about what you know. Typically, the best works of art will come from a place of genuine inspiration. So songwriting is taking inspiration, and realizing it in a musical context.
Second, songs are stories that resonate with people. In music, the quality of an instrument is judged by how well it resonates, and the same is true of songs. The best songs resonate with people in a way that words alone never could. So songwriting is taking ideas presenting them in a way that resonates with others.
Finally, songs are how we interpret the world. This applies to both to those who write songs, and those who listen to them. For those of us who write about the experiences that shape us, songwriting provides a way for us to organize our life narratives in a meaningful way. For those of us who listen to songs, we are able to contextualize our experience through the thoughts, words, and sounds of another person. So songwriting is organizing life events in a meaningful way.
I know this has been a bit more academic, but I wanted us to have a clear understanding of what songwriting is. This is in no way an exhaustive definition, but I do think it provides a framework to start with. I can’t wait to continue this discussion in following posts. Until then, I would love to hear your thought on the subject. So, what is your definition songwriting? Why is it important to you? What would you add to this list?