A Songwriters Workshop
by G. F. Mlely
A typical Pacific Songwriters Workshop can consist of
a group of writers and aspiring writers assessing one another's songs,
often in a group dynamic. A song is not assessed merely on its
marketability according to contemporary industry standards. Of
course, the commercial song industry is discussed, and matters gone
into relevant to shaping a song into a commercial product, assessing a
song for niche marketing, licensing, contests, as well as
information exchanged about various channels in the commercial industry
for submitting original material - shopping a song - the difficulties
as well as dangers.
The song may be simple as a chant, complex as an operatic oratorio, or
spoken-word to music - dramatic, comedic, romantic, acerbic, satiric,
etc. It can be poetic or jingle-istic, rhymed and unrhymed.
It can be written from the heart or merely
to earn money. Ideally, it can be both.
There is writing for the theater, for secular and church choirs and
congregations, for audio and video and film
tracks, for loved ones on occasions, for social gatherings, as
well as writing to the latest pop industry standards. The list is
endless. What one writes can be as varied as there are writers.
The language of a lyric, for instance, submitted to members of the
workshop by a participant, is carefully considered in several aspects:
• its sense
• its compatibility within itself
• its freshness
• if it needs to rhyme or not
• suitability of metaphor, imagery, symbol
• clarity ofÂ thought
• does it work as a lyric?
• can it work in other ways with music, such as spoken
• does it work with the music set to it?
• can it be sung?
In other words, a song is critiqued as to its own
intention, regardless of any commercial potential. The Pacific
Songwriters Workshop does not stress any particular style of music or
language. Rather, it treats a song - either words or music or
both - according to what it is trying to be.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MUSIC
Having addressed the process for words, now a few
words about music. I always encourage the composer of music to
listen to all kinds of music, some that he or she might not necessarily
even want, or think, to hear. I warn the musician against musical
tunnel vision - to mix a metaphor. Listen to everything -
classical, jazz, world, (pop, if a classical musician), etc. Go
where you're not naturally disposed, for the education and/or
experience of it.
Study music, become fluent in harmony. Try using
a variety of different chord sequences to one's own melodies. Get
used to hearing what might sound odd or even disquieting upon initial
hearing, certain dissonances - especially those that have some
history in depth to them. Try writing melodies based on different
kinds of chord sequences. Try setting different sequences to the
same melody. Try using different voicings to chords.
The control that the commercial song industry has over
the airwaves and channels constitutes a cultural totalitarianism, that
has resulted in a deadening of this faculty and facility for harmony
among a multitude of musicians. It's a downward cultural spiral
that can be overwhelming to aspiring musicians.
If the aspiring musician as composer is drawn only
towards writing the sound-alikes of whatever happens to be the popular
song-flavor of the moment, their disappointment will not be long in
coming. The developing composer needs to know that whatever it is
they are hearing over the popular channels for music, it has already
been in the making for months if not years. There's already a
warehouse of sound-alike material stored away as potential follow-up to
the possible success of whatever song might be achieving its momentary
The audio and visual projections coming at you via the
media are at the end of a long line from where the music was
made. Try being different, try getting at the beginning of that
line - but by way of study, not just by way of idiosyncrasy.
A song is shaping word(s) and music together into a mutually
complimentary form. In some instances, if a
good lyric is not matched by equally good music, or vice versa,
the writer or writers will be encouraged to reset the lyric to
music, or vice versa. This is often one of the most difficult
for songwriters to do. A lyric can become married to a melody and
chord changes that do not work well together. And changing the
mismatch can be very difficult if not painful.
Writers in the workshop often return with improvements
to a lyric and/or music because of suggestions offered by the other
members. In most instances, the writer or writers will usually be
grateful for the feedback that caused it, and the group equally pleased
to have been part of the effect.
Most participants in a workshop tend to be primarily
lyricists. Because songwriting is also, if not always, a
collaborative process, workshops also afford opportunity for writers to
meet others for collaboration.
How well one writes depends on two elements - art and
craft. Art, which requires talent, cannot be taught.Â
Only craft can be taught, the purpose for which the workshop
As occurs in workshops, many matters are addressed,
to go into here. But, in past workshops, for instance, such
upon included philosophy, history, culture, tradition, creation - the
stuff of creation itself being composed of sound - and how we are all
affected by it. There also has been a lot of laughter.
A workshop treats only the initial writing of original
material, not to its next steps - arrangement and performance.
The song is the thing, not its development and performance.
Not everyone who aspires to be a songwriter is as
willing to put the work into crafting a song as some. But those
that do, make a workshop worth the effort of putting one