Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Get Lost

Sometimes as songwriters, it's easy to get lost in the process.

We try to get just the right guitar or piano lick, or fiddle with our fancy toys that we bought because "it will make songwriting so much easier!" Yeah, about that. We spend more time trying to figure out how to turn off something in Pro Tools, or find just that perfect sound on our keyboard, than we do thinking about lyric and melody.

Best tech setup for songwriting? A guitar or piano, and you alone in a room!

And therein lies a problem. Because every Mac has Garageband, every keyboard plays itself, and free software is everywhere to play along with, many people believe themselves songwriters. But what is songwriting?

"You compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about being alive, to set down... some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today." - Aaron Copland (I call him Uncle Aaron...)

Songwriting needs to be about feeling, either musically, or both lyrically and musically. Many times I will just get an idea because my hands hit the piano a certain way. Or I hear a phrase that would make a great hook, and I start riffing on it. Then I support the idea with verses.

It's not much different than writing a thesis. But I digress. Don't want to get lost...

Believe me, no one knows better than me the attraction of new gear! (I just did it and I'm ready to do it again!) But we have to make sure we use our tools for good, not toys for mindless doodles that get us nowhere.

There's also the "it must make perfect musical sense and I need to know why each note is what it is". This is probably something some piano teacher, or college music teacher told you because that was what the book said. 

I beg of thee dear reader, use your ears not your mind when writing. There won't be a test on this later! The average listener will never say, "Gee, wonder why they chose that chord combination?" Or, "I wonder if they took the time to chart this. I'd love to the see the key signature and drum chart."

People listen (especially to Christian music) with their ears and hearts. Forget the studious, laborious writing of each note and rhythmic marker. Get the song down and let the producer worry about the production and technical stuff.

Lastly, don't get lost in what you're going to do with the song before you finish it. It's like the football receiver that starts to run down the field before he even catches the ball. Don't put the cart in front of the horse. Just write the song as you and God intended. Worry about silly things like copyright, publishing, and what you will do with it later. 

I have songs I wrote 20 years ago that are just finding homes on artist's records today. It's awesome and fun when your baby gets to make it's own way in this world. But it takes nurturing sometimes. We have to worry about parenting our baby until the song is mature.

Of course, it may sit around eating potato chips and watching TV for years before it leaves the nest...but if you do your job right, it will find it's own way.

In the end, writing needs to be all about what it makes you feel. Let that be your focus and you will never get lost again.

"I adore art... when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear." - Giuseppe Verdi

Have a great week and write something good!

Eric Copeland is a songwriter, producer, and parent of many songs sitting around playing video games, but he is trying his best to get them out the door. Find out more at


Jeffrey B. Scott said...

thank you, Eric!
Such a great reminder, especially the part about letting the song find its own way. These days, it's so easy to try and manipulate that, in the hopes that you've just written the next "How Great Is Our God"! CCLI, royalties, radio singles, the desire to be 'famous' or even just the simple desire to provide for your family through this thing you love to do - all can lead to a focus not on the song and it being its best, but on the outcome, leaving the song left somewhat unrealized.
I heard a producer say the other day, "I like the song better without the vocal - we might need to go back and rewrite it." Don't leave your best stuff unwritten!

Jen Haugland said...

I was recently reminded of this when my hard drive crashed on my laptop. I had to get back to the basics: paper, pencil, piano and my recorder on my iPhone (glad I still had that!). I thought exactly those same thoughts: "don't worry about what the finished product will need to sound like, how many syllables are in each line, what the rhyme scheme is, what chord am I playing (although that one was really important to me)...leave that to Eric and production when I get there!" It was really quite freeing.

I tend to jump the gun and start worrying about the structure and details and then I miss the true meaning of what I was writing to begin with. It is more important to get the idea down and then work it from there...because once its gone... its gone! Good blog, Eric. By the way, I don't recommend losing your hard drive to learn such a good lesson.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thank you Eric,
It was great speaking with you yesterday. And thank you for this blog. We need to remind ourselves sometimes that the miracle is in the writing. It's wonderful to fantasize what could be; someday. But let's remember simply enjoy the journey; the process of the writing.

Daniel Gaspari

Jeannie Furst said...

Well, I must say, I am bloomin' old...I still use pen and paper...maybe, it's because I like to ponder on my words. Oh, and the scratch marks on the paper look really cool... I totally appreciate the part about the potato chips and TV and I find that those songs tend to encourage others more than I would ever when the song finally leaves the couch and goes out to help someone's heart. Eric, thanks for the encouragement each week.

Always a blessing...

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Eric Copeland is an author, producer, keyboardist, songwriter, and president of Creative Soul Companies. What is Creative Soul? Our main goals are to inform, encourage, and assist Christian creative folks in ministry, no matter where they are in their journey. Thanks for reading! Find out more about us at