August 18, 2008
It’s Will’s own chronicle of his journey to discover the secret of songwriting, and in the course of his exploration, he uses his position as journalist to go talk to a host of British luminaries, from Keith Richards to Ray Davies. I’m only half way, but so far it’s been very readable and enjoyable.
Having started writing songs at age 18, I forget what it’s like to marvel at other people’s songs and wonder “how does anyone do that?” I say that about someone’s singing or playing, but not often with writing. I don’t mean to sound cocky, but most of the times when I hear a good song, what I say to myself is “oh yeah, I can do that.” There have been few times in my popular music journey where I went “wow — there’s no way I can write that in a million years.” The most recent was The Mars Volta. Classical music is a different story — I don’t listen to Beethoven’s Fifth and think I can write something as good. But with pop music, I very seldom felt that the heights of those considered the best were a plateau out of my reach. Whether anyone agrees with me is a different story, but that particular belief is one of the major decisions why I haven’t stopped pursuing music.
That’s not to say that I don’t write stuff that are not fit for public consumption. I write plenty of banal, generic, awful music. But so did Lennon-McCartney. We are judged by the number and consistency of our best material — they have the power to make people forget all the fillers we put out in between. The trouble with songs, though, is that the strength of writing cannot be understood unless performance and production (if recorded) do it justice. Unlike film scripts which are still gripping read even if it’s simply read in that format, a song cannot reveal its full girth until the actors and the cameramen do at least a competent enough job. That’s the area where I’m still slowly developing, though with Aries9’s first album I felt that I’ve reached a point where my own skills in those areas have finally reached a competent level.
Of course, I’m aware that if writing is my primary muse, I could have found other people to perform my songs. The thought wasn’t lost on my mind, but there are problems with that plan. The majority of my songs fall in genres where artists traditionally write their own material, instead of using songwriters to supply songs. Where that is true is primarily Nashville-based industry of country and related genres, and I am simply not a country songwriter. The other problem is that the primary reason anyone would outsource songwriting is to produce hits. While I think some of my songs are fully deserving of becoming hits on radio, my primary muse of songwriting has always been that of establishing unique style. Like Radiohead or Tori Amos, my material builds an overall impression from a collection, and picking any single song to give it to someone as an ingredient in their piece-meal effort has never appealed to me.
The bottom line is that I’ve never been all that interested in giving my songs to others. It’d be different if I’d written the song with the intention to suit someone else’s needs. I can do that but it has to be for a specific person commissioning me to write a song for him/her. Otherwise, I would rather try to figure out how to make my life work with my own quarky set of songs to satisfy my own muse than try to play the game of the industry by supplying songs that are designed to meet their demands. My art is my business, sure, but so far I’ve chosen not to sell my writing itself, but to sell what I’ve written.
I’m in this business because I enjoy creating. Last night I was up until 1am writing a song. Whether I make money or become famous is, beside the point. I’m already doing what I love to do, and nothing can take that away from me.