SANTA CRUZ, December 3, 2013 — Writing songs is widely recognized as an art. The reason anybody pays for recorded music or buys concert tickets is because the performers they are supporting are doing something they personally cannot. Music holds a capacity to transcend personal relationships and touches us in ways nothing else can. The simple combination of words and music can create unforgettable moments of identification, and the trickiest part is that not everyone can do it.
The great songs stay with us, and normally for reasons we cannot put our finger on. Sometimes it happens to be a song playing in the background during a transcendent moment in our lives, one in which we can recall each nuance of the place, the smell in the air, and the colors around us. Music is able to instantly transport us back to this exact point.
For many of us, there are songs we hear during a particularly difficult episode or period in our lives. During these moments, it is common to feel isolated, certain that no one in history has ever felt this badly. Great songs can reassure us, talk us down from our psychosomatic ledges, and reaffirm that others have weathered similar storms and come out the other side. This ability to connect, to cut through everything else and resonate so clearly with the listener remains musics great gift, and biggest mystery.
Songwriters go about writing differently. Some are incredibly prolific, while others struggle for motivation and inspiration. It has never been an exact science and there remains no magical solution. Perhaps it is these very challenges which raise the beam so high.
Every day there are dozens of thrown together, forgettable tunes inflicted on the consuming public. For every tortured soul, sitting in a dark room with a spiral notebook and a guitar, there are a dozen self-proclaimed producers cobbling together greeting card sentimentality and tired, recycled music. In a world where there are fewer labels and executives calling the shots, the quality of music available has steadily declined. The taste makers never cease in their attempts at dulling our pallets with paper thin, mainstream radio garbage.
Truly gifted songwriting is not bound by genre, age, gender or background. Like the ability to paint, sculpt, write fiction, or design, most believe songwriting is not something one can learn to do, but must be born with. Once somebody discovers this talent in themselves, they have the choice to cultivate and hone it, or to ignore it and do something else. Most long time songwriters will admit they have as much difficulty turning it off as they do getting started. Once inspiration hits, they grab the nearest guitar or piano and it may be days or weeks before they come up for air.
At a time where people are relying increasingly on technology to do things we once did ourselves, there is some comfort in the knowledge that no code or algorithm can reproduce the experiences necessary to write great songs, or the melodic sensibility to give these episodes a relevant, musical context with which others can identify.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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