SS suMMit (or, S-cubed)

So here in Sydney this weekend under glorious autumn skies we hosted the S3, or, as is widely known around the local omniverse, the ‘Sydney Song Summit’, staged at the Hordern Pavillion surrounded by the leafy Moore Park environs.

Now I got mates running a stall there, good mates, good people, one of them is a guy I play with though I chose to stay away from this event. No doubt there is much good information available for songwriters and aspirants of all shapes and sizes, so fair game.

I love songs, and I hate them! I mean songs are my life goddamn it, but to me songs fall into 2 categories, the inspired ones by inspired artists, and the rubbish that gets peddled about by “professional writers” and songwriting “teachers” and the like.

I mean, I receive a monthly newsletter created by my aforementioned friend who I perform with occasionally that is full of good information and anecdotes. My abhorrent objection comes when names get bandied about proclaiming a new Messiah has arrived, always in the form of an esteemed songwriting teacher….eek! P.P. is here!!, and here come the workshops, ‘Tools & Strategies”…(hello…tools and strategies?? …we’re not building environmentally-protected survival huts here…)

All respect to good people and decent citizenship – because that’s the most important thing really isn’t it - but to give undue esteem and credence to people who teach songwriting to me is utter anathema. I suppose for me, growing up in a spartan environment, I had to learn and discover for myself that which I loved. I developed my ear on my own, nutting out songs on the guitar or piano without the use of charts etc, and yes I suppose I’ve related to the more ‘enfant terrible’ bunch of writers, ie John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Paul Weller, Steve Kilbey, Don Walker – these people are all self-taught as writers and do it their way with a touch of that 'f.u.' swagger in their music. I believe in being inspired to write, and you learn how to do it by the love and inspiration you have for songs and music. Without that inspiration and if you need someone to teach you friggin’ “tools and stategies” then why fucking bother??

I’m sure that if a songwriting teacher got hold of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ they would turn it precisely into the Byrds version. And alarmingly there are many people who believe that the Byrds version of ‘ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is the superior version of the song. The original does not have the pretty chiming Rickenbackers nor the sweet and syrupy vocals & harmonies of McGuinn & Co’s rudely abridged version; the original instead is sung with a searing in-the-moment conviction with its kaleidoscope of dazzling lyrical visions & poetry, almost like it envisions the dawn of a new era, the Age of Aquarius or the like.

No-one tells me how to write my songs, and why would they need to?? It’s my total vision, lyrically and musically, and that total vision and inspiration is what drives me to create the finished product. So if you like it, great, if you don’t, doesn’t matter, we all know where we stand because I’m offering the listener one-hundred percent-ness.

Sure, of course there is a place for songwriting tuition…it doesn’t cross my universe and it’s fine that way. What I object to is giving these people who teach songwriting undue kudos & authority – I personally think these teachers who sit around like caesers critiquing and picking through other people’s songs and do so for a living are, as far as being true musicians and creators are concerned, fucked and they know bollocks. They’d surely be telling Bob Dylan to cut verses to his songs on ‘Highway 61’ and ‘Blonde and Blonde’. And all those songs that have been “workshopped” and papered-over and co-written by numerous entities always end up sounding like the equivalent of what dishwashing water tastes.

People, if you’re gonna write songs, get off on the music that you love and moves you and just do it. If you need help from a book or lesson then so be it – but leave it behind as soon as you’ve integrated the new knowledge & skill and then return to your real songwriting tutor – ie, your inspiration & musicality, and as a help, the music, songwriters & songs you love and have brought you to this point, in short, your wonderful, beautiful Life. And my advice is, put your wonderful, beautiful Life first (the eternal being inside your body), then your love of music second, then, after all that, writing songs if you are moved to, or need to.


Anonymous said…
Hi Ross,
Sometimes we get caught up in ruts, that threaten our creativity. We need a brick to break through the glass to open the windows into new ideas.
Sometimes learning someone else's song, or going somewhere different, or falling in/out of love, can be the impetus for new directions. Sometimes these lateral movements can also come from learning about songwriting. Everyone has their own ignition switches and each to their own. All the great songwriters learn about songwriting, but they learn from earlier writers, their styles, themes, everything. Even the Beatles admitted they were the world's greatest plagerists. People always create from their experiences and all experiences are parts of learning. I agree that you need to take from any experience and incorporate this into your own creativity, not let it take over. Learning songwriting, to me, is a way of opening new doors to explore and investigate. But the finished song needs to be part of you, not part of a machine.

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