The following is a guest post by Kevin Ian Common. If you are interested in guest posting, please contact me!
Hello Kind Readers!
The Common Men are working on new material, and in this time I thought quite a bit about songwriting and the consequences of songwriting. I will focus today on some wisdom that has either been imparted onto me or self-realized after all of these years of writing and collaborating with artists of all genres.
Songwriting poses some serious challenges. Here are three main things I feel should keep you balanced during the songwriting process:
– Seek out Knowledge, but Know your Limitations
I have met many songwriters who have tried to overreach themselves and the end result is a meandering mess of a song. This is a tricky one to abide by because as songwriters, we are all naturally curious and want to see what chord substitutions can do and the like. Keep that adventurous spirit, but also realize that certain chords work together for a reason, and more often than not, your first instinct will be the best choice.
You will find yourself growing as a songwriter who wants to learn more about either theory, chords, or melodies. Actively seek out knowledge and immediately apply it to your next song. It may work, it might not, but applying everything you learn as soon as you learn it will make it part of your vocabulary as a songwriter.
In high school, I learned as many chords as I could. I was an expert at chord functions when I entered college. In my theory education, I received my education in HOW and WHY those chords work well together. That–along with my training in melody, voice-leading, and keys–helped me formulated ways to manipulate the audience through interesting and outlandish–but still appropriate–chord changes.
The second part is knowing your limitations. Everyone has a certain “style” to how they write songs. It doesn’t matter what genre you claim to write, if you were to write a pop song, rock song, or reggae song, they will follow a certain pattern and chord progression. Embrace this and be proud of it. You have your own influences and derive from them in ways unlike anyone else who might have the same influences.
As a songwriter in The Common Men, the promise of new material always gets the fans excited, and while I may venture from our usual song type, fans can always pick out the little things that still tell them it’s a Common Men song.
– Keep Things Simple (But Complexity has it’s Place)
This is pretty self-explanatory, but allow me to elaborate anyway 🙂 Even songs that are super complicated (think about most progressive rock bands) have some elements of simplicity to it. Complexity for complexity’s sake makes songs sound meandering and messy.
However, remember that even with band’s that play simple music, they have a song or two or even elements of songs that have something complex about them. It doesn’t have to be a complex time signature change or overly complicated chords. The complex element can be an extra-melodic bass, a more syncopated drum beat or a simple chord with some extended harmony (think sustained chords or diminished chords) added to it. Perhaps your song is in E and you bring the bridge to C, or maybe you make the outro in E Minor. It’s the details that can really make your song standout.
– Perspective, Perspective, Perspective!
This is perhaps the most important of the three tips. This one helps you retain your sanity!
First and foremost: always be mindful of your audience. This does NOT mean that you write what you think the audience wants to hear. This simply means that you realize WHO will be hearing your music.
Most audience members have little to no knowledge about music–they only know what they like. Most of the time, the audience will simply not “get” you. Don’t be upset if they don’t “get” your lovely modulations or time signature changes. Most of the time, these people will simply go home and say to someone “Yeah, they played some complicated stuff.” They will also relate you to what they know. The Common Men are influenced by Joy Division, Bowie, Interpol, and The Moving Units to name a few. However, we get compared to Devo, The Fixx, The Minutemen, and The Dead Kennedys. It just happened that we remind them of what they like because they might not have heard of our influences or simply don’t see it that way. I figure, a fan is a fan 🙂
It may take you days, weeks, months to write a song. However, it only takes seconds for someone to listen, process, and judge your work. So, if they stick around and come up to tell you they enjoyed your set or really like a certain song, smile and be gracious about it!
In my years as a performer and songwriter, I know about the times when no one would show up to a show or even stick around. Now, The Common Men play to a good-sized audience every time we play out in our hometown. This keeps me humble and thankful for everything we have done and accomplished. This also helps breed confidence in our abilities as songwriters and arrangers. Though, the first time someone heard one of my songs ages ago and said “Hey, that sounds good!” was all I needed 🙂
I hope you have enjoyed this column! I will go into some of my favorite chords, and maybe a review or two of gear! Thanks again for reading!
Kevin Ian runs over 17 pedals. He is quite the tap dancer live on stage! He is currently the frontman/guitarist for The Common Men. You can find them on MySpace, Twitter and Facebook.. Please direct questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org