Canadian Musician

WHERE THE BLOG & THE SONG BECOME THE BLONG

James Linderman


What am I good at…and why do I want to know? by James Linderman

I want to start out by apologizing for disappearing from this blog for so long. If I were to say that life got busy it would be a lame excuse no matter how true it is.

What drives enthusiasm for a pursuit like songwriting isn’t always easy to understand and what drives an interest in writing about that enthusiasm is also elusive at best and confounding at least. I guess I write about it because I know about it and I guess I stopped writing about it because I feel, every so often, like I should be doing it instead of just writing about

It is reasonable for me to claim at this point in my life that I know a fair amount about songwriters and their work and I believe almost all of my ability to assist them in moving forward has a lot to do with defining the specific subset skill that they possess.

I first like to determine if a writer has a natural and developed ability that is more prominent in one of the three large divisions in song craft. Are they a better lyric writer or better melody writer or better at developing the harmony that accompanies.

The next subset for those that primarily have a way with words is to determine if their particular gift is in producing the initial blast of ideas that provide the inception of the song or if their skill is more developed in the back half of the process and they are a much better lyric editor.

Since these two skills both drive towards the completion of a song lyric, the casual observer might see them as two parts of a single job and always performed by a single individual. However true this might be, I can tell you with certainty that, I am a much better lyric editor then lyric creator and many of my private song coaching clients bring me their work to edit, knowing that this will bring value to our time together and ultimately, to their song.

If you are primarily a melody writer, it is usually helpful if you are also an elite singer as this gift tends to help in the development of a great melody and also helps in the delivery of those melodic ideas. Very few collaborations start with an unharmonized melody with no lyric but when you consider that one of our more universal goals as songwriters is to produce a great tune it seems strange that we don’t produce more stand-alone melodies that exist, uninfluenced and therefore not compromised, by the other elements of the song.

If you’re friends call you “Mr. Chords” or a “Walking Chord Factory” then you might be perfect for the contemporary trend of providing the materials needed for top lining. This is the practice of a singer/lyric writer taking a track, provided by musician like you, and writing a melody and lyric to the track. There is also an even more current trend to bottom line; this is where a musician will receive a completed lyric with the suggested stress syllables underlined and the musician will create the melody and chord progression to accompany the lyric. This trend has two inherent advantages; one is that many songwriters struggle with the lyric portion of the writing process and so the most difficult part the process is already done when the musician starts the music part and the second advantage is that it secures a premise for the lyric content that is now unlikely to get altered or compromised in the editing process.

Once you determine what your primary strength is as a writer you can take that skill into your collaborations with confidence; certain that you can provide valuable contributions that would be perhaps less available to your co-writers. So much of what makes a songwriter great has to do with self-knowledge and knowing what you’re good at is, in my mind, some of the best self-knowledge you can project out into the world.

James Linderman coaches songwriting, and teaches guitar, and piano over Skype to students all over the world. He is a Berkleemusic Ambassador and mentors the Songwriting and Film Composition Resident for the Slaight Music Program at the Canada Film Centre. James can be reached at jlinderman@berkleemusic.com.

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