Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5♦ Role model

5♦ Five of Diamonds in The Rock Songwriter’s Deck: 52 Ways to Write a Song

The Five of Diamonds reminds us that imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery, it's also the surest way to success.

There's a good reason that young children imitate the behaviors that they see around them. Not many behaviors are hard-wired in our genes, and that's because DNA takes many generations to shape and refine, but the world's circumstances change on much faster timescales. So our instincts give us a metabehavior: do what the (presumably successful) people around you are doing.

The fastest way to learn to write songs that you love is to study all the songs that you love and learn to imitate them. Now, remember that copyright law prevents you from directly copying material from other songs. But that doesn't stop you from learning from their example and copying their techniques.

This week, start with a song that you love, a song whose musical success you would like to emulate. Listen carefully to the song and pick out its key features, the five or so main things that make it work so well. Write down in words a description of each of those successful features.

Next, forget about that song that you used as your starting point. Work with your text description of that song's strong points. Use that as your recipe for a new song. Create something equivalent-but-different to match each of the source song's key features.

After those are all in place, fill in the rest of your new song with something personal, something that's not copied or derived from anything.

Compare your brand new song to the song that you started with. Most likely you'll find that your new song still falls short by comparison. But don't take that as a failure! This exercise helps you refine your perception of what exactly makes a great song. And if your goal is to write great songs, there is no lesson that's more valuable.

And if you do write a song that's every bit as good as a song you admired, then, congratulations! You might not learn as much as your less successful songwriter fellows did, but that great song you just wrote, that's a fine consolation prize.

Blogger's note: I apologize for the three-week lapse in The Rock Songwriter's Deck. With the new year, I vow to get back to weekly updates. But December's lapse means that this series of posts won't be a neat one-year run; we're going to go a few weeks beyond the one-year mark.

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