I have been listening to two wonderful podcasts about songwriting. They are both geared to pop music, but I find the insights and interviews fascinating.
The first is Switched on Pop. Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan have a dialogue in which they dissect the writing and production of current hits. It’s kind of like textual analysis of a poem. They consider the melody, the lyrics, and the production choices artists make. I listen to pop songs differently now. I don’t know many of the songs they reference, but it’s a great glimpse into a different world.
The second is And The Writer Is. Host Ross Golan interviews songwriters who are writing the big hits for people like Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, etc. This is not my genre or world, obviously, although I’d be happy to write a big hit, unlikely as that is. What is particularly fascinating to me is to hear about the genesis of songs, and especially the collaborative nature of the work. There is a large group of songwriters centered in LA who are working together in constantly shifting combinations. I can recommend the shows on Charlie Puth, Andy Grammer, and Jack Antonoff in particular. It also made me think of my friend Dave Kinnoin, who lives in LA and has done so much collaborative writing in the children’s market there.
I am not by nature or history a collaborative songwriter. Tom Pease and I have written together for years, and a lot of my collaborative songwriting has been with kids in classrooms over the last thirty years.
So I am thinking about expanding my own experience with collaborating. I have a few rules that seem to apply to the process, gleaned from listening to these podcasts and my own limited experience.
- You have to leave your ego at the door. The song has to come first, no matter what your contribution to it is – large or small.
- You have to not settle for less. If it doesn’t seem as good as it should be, don’t just let it go. Keep pushing.
- You have to be kind and fun to work with.
- You have to be serious about it.
I’m sure that there are more rules, but that’s a start.
One of my books is about Yip Harburg, the great lyricist of the 30s and 40s. The man behind “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He collaborated with many composers, and also brought a fierce determination to create the best songs he could. He’s an inspiration, and he also shows me that songwriting has a rich history that may change with style or content, but that remains essentially vital to this day.