Songwriting Resources 4 – Books and things

1. Art of writing

Not about songwriting… But about compelling, truthful storytelling and good writing in general. You: (i) are reading this blog; and (ii) have read this far. So you get it.

On Writing – Stephen King

Bird by Bird – Ann Lamott

Why are these books interesting for songwriters? A few things stick out: daily practice (sorry, that thing again); and writing lots freely and then editing down is easier than perfecting right off the bat (also entitled “shitty first drafts”).

What these have in common is that they use interesting language and a super-relaxed tone. I don’t think that’s the confidence that goes with success – I think probably they got where they are today by finding and sticking with these voices.

And, this was a bit of a revelation, novel writers (these ones at least) don’t know where their story is going when they start out. They don’t have it all planned out. They get the characters and the situation and see where they go. And this is not only OK but much the best way to go. SongExpresso feels better already.

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Read this (once – probably best borrow it). It’s short. And – perversely – usefully thought-provoking. As songwriters, what it shows us is that there are many ways of rewriting lines to give a similar meaning. We’re not interested in writing correctly but in writing beautifully (so for example we can skip the entire chapter on punctuation – hurrah!). So in fact we can go backwards and use some of the “incorrect” forms if they sound right, match our rhythm and convey the meaning we want. Some examples: “The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape” vs. “Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape”. “On arriving in Chicago” vs. “When he arrived in Chicago” vs. “On his arrival in Chicago”. “There were dead leaves lying on the ground” vs. “Dead leaves covered the ground”. “He was not often on time” vs. “He usually came late”. Less vs. fewer, whether vs. if etc. etc. (Anyone still reading?)

2. Online bits and pieces

Sodajerker on Songwriting – “interviews with some of the world’s most successful songwriters”. It’s well researched and the enthusiastic interviewers Simon and Brian do a great job of keeping a low profile and allowing the guests to tell their stories. They really do get names that SongExpresso wants to hear from – not just from today but from down the years since the 80s. They also have a Spotify playlist for the songs featured in each episode, at the charmingly named “tinpanscally”

Sold on Song – by BBC Radio 2 – sadly discontinued but happily archived (that’s what the web is for – though it seems a shame that the audio seems not to have been preserved). Just look at the song list. BBC Radio 2 is supposed to be for over-26s (and of course as it isn’t refreshed this is drifting backwards in time) but these are must-listens.


What would you include in these categories? SongExpresso will be refreshing and imposing some much needed order on these pages soon. Recommendations (but not spam) always welcome and SongExpresso will review the worthwhile ones here.

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