Mark at This Guy Falls Down has some musings on songwriting and his “songwriting hacks” series (which can be found by riffling through the Creative Process category on his blog archives).

I just don’t think participating in the creative process is an area where you can find a clever workaround. The creative process is not one to be manipulated. I guess it works, if all you want to do is be a “hack”.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Mark, but hey, I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with a Grammy winner. Because I do think there are ways to manipulate the creative process, and I don’t think it necessarily makes the creator a “hack.”

Besides, most of what Mark wrote about in the “hacks” series weren’t manipulations to the songwriting process, but guidelines to make the process easier. Saying that you should read good material to be able to write well is hardly a controversial idea, as writing advice goes. Saying that you should work on one song at a time is a matter of preference and experience (I don’t write as well unless I can flit back and forth between multiple songs in progress). Of course, Mark did say at the beginning of the series that he was taking liberties with the word “hack” anyway:

I’m hoping to share some advice I’ve picked up along the way as a musician, particularly as it pertains to songwriting. I call this advice “hacks”, even though that’s probably not the proper use of the term, simply because we’re on the Internet here and it seems appropriate.

But I guess I’m arguing that you could talk about songwriting “hacks” in a way that’s closer to the “clever or elegant solution to a difficult problem” meaning of the word. I’ve even talked about some of those kinds of things here over the years. There are scads of books written about songwriting technique, and some of them get awfully clever with the difficult problems they tackle.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Taking a purist approach to songwriting and letting raw emotion drip from your pen is usually the best way to get to the heart of a feeling or an experience. That’s the art of it. But once you have the raw material, there are definitely tricks and techniques that comprise the craft of songwriting, and knowing a little of Mark’s music, I know that he’s very capable with those tools and techniques. And I’m pretty firm about advocating that craft in creativity is nothing to be ashamed of.

I also think it’s very natural to go through phases where we vacillate from a more purist approach to a more crafted approach to creating. As long as we keep creating, the balance seems to restore itself eventually.

Purity vs. technique in songwriting

7 thoughts on “Purity vs. technique in songwriting

  • October 18, 2006 at 3:40 pm
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    I think that ignorance about those techniques will hold one’s inspiration prisoner in an even smaller box than the ones we normally impose upon ourselves. Still, marrying your learned skills with the ones you were (hopefully) born with is going to be tricky, even if nobody ever talks about it.

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  • October 18, 2006 at 3:44 pm
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    Yeah, exactly. In fact, especially if nobody ever talks about it.

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  • October 18, 2006 at 3:48 pm
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    It gets worn out pretty quickly because it’s such an enigmatic, personally subjective factor.

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  • October 18, 2006 at 6:05 pm
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    And I’m pretty firm about advocating that craft in creativity is nothing to be ashamed of.

    “Being a good craftsman in no way prevents you from having Genius.” Good enough for Renoir = good enough for me!

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  • October 19, 2006 at 10:27 am
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    I don’t even think he believes what he said in that post. I think he’s just realized that expounding on craft is useless unless there is some talent there in the first place. I only skimmed through his past posts on the subject, but all of those “hacks” are not shortcuts, they’re just how you do it. Unfettered creative writing does not make a song, and I think anyone who has attempted to write knows that.

    I think he was just bored with the posts, and for some reason felt the need to justify not writing them anymore. Because his post doesn’t really make sense, especially in light of his own writing (which obviously uses all of those “hacks”).

    Just a weird post all the way around.

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  • October 20, 2006 at 9:58 pm
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    Mark gave kudos to your response, and I have to agree. Well said.

    Reply

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