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Craft, relationship, perfection

Write it down

If you write down all the things you’re trying, you’ll have material for other songs. You know, all that stuff you wrote down that doesn’t work in this song? It might work in another one.

Nothing you make is useless. Save it all.



Think of craft as your relationship with the material. By material I mean everything you use to make a song: chords, rhythms, melody, words. Relationships are built on emotional reactions to what you build with this material.

This is why you write stuff down: so you can look closely at what you’re doing. So you can learn about how you respond to what you’re doing. So you can learn and grow.

If you accept the first thing that comes out of you, then you’re not doing this. You’re not looking at yourself. You’re not allowing yourself to feel anything. You’re saying that you’re perfect.

You’re not perfect. Sorry.


Last words on craft (for now)

Craft is a starting place, a set of possibilities.

It avoids absolutes, certainties

It is about experience. It is about desire.
It can be beautiful.’

– Edmund de Waal


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Craft and weirdness

Craft involves working with music to develop skill. Working with music helps you to understand the materials (chords, rhythms, etc.) you’re working with. Developing craft means developing both skill and a deep understanding of materials.


How do you do this?


One way is to consider how the music supports the lyrics. Doing something unpredictable might support it. Not playing might support it.  Using a different harmonic rhythm or different strumming rhythms than the ones you’ve been using might support it. Adding a chord in the second verse that wasn’t there in the first verse might support it.



All of these things involve doing something unexpected. Doing something unexpected often feels weird.


Think of a song you’re writing. Where can you do something unexpected? Anywhere, really, but where will it be effective? Try things in different places and see how it feels. Write those things down. After a while you get a feel for what works and your writing gets more interesting.


Be patient. In the short term, it feels like you’re getting worse. In the long term, you’re getting better than most other people, because most other people can’t put up with the short term. Try it and after a while the obvious weirdness gets more subtle. Listeners don’t notice it; they just notice that there’s something interesting about your stuff.


If you’re patient, if you really listen to what you’re writing, if you try different things, you will make better songs. It will take longer. You’ll have fewer songs. But it’s better to have one great song instead of ten crappy ones.

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More on craft

In a previous post on craft (back on April 7), I talked about the things you could do with two chords. To repeat:


“Experimenting with chord relationships is part of the craft process. Why does a chord sound better going to one chord more than another? Why does a chord relationship work in one song, but not in another?


Answers to these questions don’t emerge right away. You might have to wait for the next song. Or you might never get an answer. Or the “answer” might come in the form of an insight that has nothing to do with the question. Just ask the questions. Things will happen. You’ll get better.”


The next chord

Continuing the process into the third chord brings up other questions. These questions are different from person to person, but they usually sound something like: Does chord 1 sound better going to chord 2 or chord 3? Do different rhythms sound better between different chords? Many of these questions are unconscious. Try to be aware of them.


Rhythm experimenting

Once you’ve put the chords where you want them, try experimenting with harmonic rhythm (where you’re placing the chords) and strumming rhythms. This might change the progression, or just where you decide to place a chord. It might not change anything.Whatever happens, this process is important if you want to effectively support the words, and write the best song that you can.


A lot of songwriters don’t think about this. Important words come in unexpected places sometimes. A change of chord at those points can make all the difference. Or not. You really have to try things out.


You are not your work

Craft separates you from your work so that you can clearly see what the music needs. Not what you need. What the music needs. Make the separation. You are not the thing you make. But you will still have emotional responsesto that thing, and to your inability to make it perfect.


Nothing is perfect.But everything can be made better.


And yes, craft makes it better.

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