Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Martha Craftily Gets Tom Neely To Blog About The Craft of Songwriting

You know that saying? When at first you don't succeed, try again? I'm a fan of: when at first you don't succeed, throw yourself at the mercy of someone who will.

Who did I find to succeed in a blog on craft? Tom Neely. The husband of our own Adrienne Miller.

Check out this good looking bunch ------>

Since craft is defined as a trade requiring special skill, Tom could be considered a consummate craftsman. This guy writes songs. That's like...writing something...without words. It boggles the mind.
At least this one.

Check out Tom getting crafty on his
mp3 site where you can listen to his tracks (some are rumored to be inspired by OUR VERY OWN ADRIENNE MILLER!)

Without further ado: TOM NEELY!
(A little more ado: Within this blog is the best piece of writing advice I've received in 2009. Just for kicks, I bolded and colored it red. It's just that important.

In keeping with my policy of always saying yes to anyone who asks me to write a song for them, when asked to write something (not a song ) about the craft of songwriting of course I said yes.

I’m reluctant to call myself crafty but am definitely quick to call myself familiar with the craft of songwriting. I’m lucky enough to make a living teaching kids to write their own songs, once I teach them how to play an instrument that is, and have written hundreds myself.

To me songwriting doesn’t have to be about reinventing the wheel. It should be about going backwards, or forwards in your way. Maybe sideways. Maybe that’s a crappy metaphor. I think we all have something to say and the first, and biggest, challenge is to figure out how in the world we want to say it, be it writing or singing or art.

I figured out pretty early on that the medium for me was music. I wrote terrible songs for many years but I was okay with that. I was convinced that you had to dig through all the crap to eventually get to the good stuff, being lead on by some sort of songwriting buried treasure. I’m still digging, as are we all, but I feel much closer. I don’t get asked nearly as often if I was singing out of tune on purpose. (I wish I made that up).

As for the craft itself, I have my students write “one of those” all the time. A blues song, a punk song, a country tune, that sort of thing. I’m sure it’s the same way writers go about writing a vampire novel or a regency set historical romance. Stylistic confinement is a good thing. Considering every note and every chord as an option is just too bloody hard a way to write something. It’s like putting every ingredient you own on the counter and then trying to bake something. It’s impossible. You’d just spend the afternoon marveling at how many different kinds of flour you own.

With regard to my own writing, I’ve never been able to get behind the ‘write what you know’ school of thought. On the contrary I’ve let ‘write what you’d like to know’ be my guiding philosophy. If you want to become an expert on 15th century Scotland, set a novel there and just imagine the expert you’ll be after writing that book. It’s taken a couple of decades but I can comfortably write rock or jazz or country or classical songs because I was okay with spending some serious time being awful at each of those styles.

Regardless of whether you’re a songwriter, a novelist, or an artist of any kind I believe this sort of experimenting and variety is crucial to keep your craft exciting to you. We can’t allow what we do to become dull to us. It’s just too precious. Save dull for nine to five cubicle jobs.

As far as the nuts and bolts of songwriting goes, I’m a chords then melody and finally words kind of guy. If it’s a classical/soundtrack type song then I’m very old school and just write down notes using a notation program. I fear any more detail than that would be sleep inducing.

9 comments:

Tom Neely said...

Thanks Martha. I'm always happy to be outsourced to and I'm thrilled to be a temporary pen fatale.
:-)

Rachael Herron said...

I love it! And I can say writing is never dull. I wish sometimes that it was, that I just sat down and thought, Ho-hum, I'll just bang out this little old novel. I keep thinking I'll get there. But now I hear you -- variety keeps the spice (AND THE BLOODY TERROR) in writing.

Excellent post. Thanks!

Lisa Hughey said...

Perfect advice! I love the analogy on confinement. Thanks so much for visiting us Tom!! :)

Martha Flynn said...

No no, thank YOU, Tom. And our readers thank you for something way more substantive (and perfect for the holidays) then I could have come up with.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I am a Neely fan from way back

L.G.C. Smith said...

Nice pass, Martha, and great post, Tom. :)

Because I've been doing a lot of baking lately, I counted up all the kinds of flour I have. I lost count at fifteen. But it made me think about what a skilled songwriter would do when faced with their entire style repertoire -- as opposed to learners, for whom stylistic confinement is a vital tool. Then I wondered what some of your more productive stylistic syntheses have been? Inquiring minds want to know...

Lynn

Adrienne Miller said...

Oh...oh...my pride, it is strong. :-)

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