As songwriters or producers, it is our job to make an artist look good. In other words, we need to capture with sound what makes that artist unique and appealing. I’d like to share some techniques I have found work well when songwriting with a recording artist who may or may not be a songwriter at heart.
Sometimes performing or recording artists are vocalists or instrumentalists with very little songwriting knowledge. In a collaborative situation, it is the songwriter’s job to take the lead and help the artist to verbalize with music and words elements of who he or she is as an artist. This can be a daunting task unless we break it down into smaller steps.
Some of the best lyrics can be found by truly listening to the artist talk about what is important to him or her. Getting to what’s important sometimes takes some digging. It is up to us as the writer to ask the right questions to reveal these good lyrics. We start in conversation, listening closely to what comes up. When something does come up, such as a memory of a situation, a person, or a pivotal experience, we can investigate that with the artist. The moment that holds the well of emotion is the moment the song should capture. Pretend you’re a journalist, and you are interviewing the artist. You might ask, what really hit you at that moment? What do you believe now because of that experience? What do you want people to know about you because of that time in your life?
Follow your instincts, and when you ask questions take the stance of someone who is truly curious to understand the person inside the artist. As you do, record the exact words the artist says. Using the artist’s language ensures that the artist feels he or she had a major part in writing the song. This gives you a better chance of seeing your song chosen for the performance or the record.
We can also use this technique writing with other songwriters. It’s a kind of collaborative object writing or destination writing. It also helps us to see eye to eye on a song idea, getting us on the same page from the beginning of the song. It’s not uncommon for collaboration to feel difficult or even uncomfortable at times. Having some tools at hand to keep the session lively and productive can alleviate our fears and result in some great songs and relationships.