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Did anyone else learn to write songs this way?


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I served a very traditional apprenticeship, without really realizing it. I had about 50 half-songs, and no idea what to do with them, and joined a band with a really gifted writer. For two or three years, I more or less served his songs--I played bass, guitar, keys, and percussion, did background vocals, came up with arrangements, whatever it took to make his already-good songs sound even better. He'd give me cassettes of his voice-and-guitar demos, and I'd come to the next practice with 3 or 4 ideas for directions we could take the songs. Sometimes he'd have a different idea, sometimes he'd like one of mine, and he always had the final say.

 

I've just recently started thinking about my time with that group in this way. I posted my first song on this website about 3 months after leaving that band (I relocated). I've always thought of songwriting as a craft, and this fits right in with that--just as an apprentice spends his time sharpening chisels, carrying tools, or whatever, I did this guy's grunt work and picked up a lot along the way.

 

We've had a lot of aspiring songwriters pop up on this forum in the past few months, and I'd recommend this method to any of them. If you really want to do this, you should make the commitment to serving the craft for a few years before asking it to serve you.

 

Now I've got to find myself an apprentice. I'm sick of doing all this {censored} myself.

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Yep. Same here.

 

Along similar lines, I think we do something similar when we memorize tunes from songwriters we admire. Well ... memorization is part of it. Playing/performing the tune a billion times helps as well as also trying to figure out what makes it tick.

 

But I agree that playing/arranging with more accomplished songwriters is an invaluable experience for any songwriter.

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Truthfully, I wish that's what I'd done.

Instead I just sort of wrote and wrote and wrote and learned by mistakes and flaws. For me I recorded (at home as simply as possible) my songs, and then just figured out exactly what I didn't like about them, and tried to find songs I liked that were in a similar vein and then dissected what it was about those songs that I liked more.

In other words, I put my own ideas out and then watered them down with other people's stuff when I got scared and insecure ;)

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A lot of folks tried to help me with my playing and knowledge of music along the way but I never had the kind of relationship you had. But I think part of that was that I was writing better than I was playing... it was a triage situation.

 

Closest thing to what you describe was a (frustrated) drummer telling me and the guitar player (I was on bass) how to count like a drummer (1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, etc -- extraordinarily helpful). But that was pretty much it. ;)

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...joined a band with a really gifted writer. For two or three years, I more or less served his songs.

 

 

Yep. Quick rundown...

 

Late 70s - Wrote new wavish tunes, played punk clubs in LA and San Diego

 

Early 80s - Joined very popular cover band trying to make switch to originals. Honed writing then...

 

Top Dog San Diego writer gets deal. Needs bass and drums. Exit bass (me) and drums (my longtime rhythm section partner) to join up and record album for MCA. Switch to full support mode. (Wouldn't you?) Band dissolves 2 years later after lots of fun and glory.

 

Joined up with another very talented writer with said drummer/partner. Once again, continue in full support mode. Almost get signed again many times through the 80s.

 

Pack up the bass and go to school to study acoustics and sound from a more science based angle in Chicago.

 

Join the world of audio for $$$. Marry, procreate, become mortgage slave.

 

Return to music as local area producer, project studio owner. I now find myself in full support mode once again. I'm longing to write more music.

 

So... yeah. Been there.

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my experience was the opposite. from the get-go when I started writing songs (about 14) I didn't collaborate much and was always the songwriter/arranger in my band, basically the driving force. it was so exhausting that when I finally stopped leading a band and played bass for a friend's band (still arranging tho, cos I could 'speak drum'), it seemed like a free ride.

 

of course, I certainly did feel apprentice-like to the beatles, the pixies, james brown, joan armatrading, and all the songwriters I listened to. I imitated what I could, stole the rest. :thu:

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