time to change the way we view music and the arts

Block of Genius

After working the day away and watching the sun disappear way faster than I would like it to, I thought it might be nice to spend some of my remaining evening writing –outside of the blog that is. Ever since college, and yeah, I guess even before then, (although perhaps not as often) I enjoy songwriting from time to time. Truthfully one would probably call me more of a proficient lyricist than anything else. Sure, I compose melodies and know a solid chord progression when I have one, but lyrics come to me all the time and I feel a compulsory need to scratch them down somewhere before I lose them because I know a melody will always come around eventually but it can be hard to re-find that beautiful chain of words, sometimes even right after you’ve uttered them aloud.

That aside, nothing particularly remarkable came to mind so I’ve dropped the pencil for the night. (yes, I still physically write things out) As retribution for my frustration though, the internet has come through to hand me a great piece of perfectly pertinent reading that I feel needs serious praising. Coincidentally, I was also having a little trouble finding inspiration for a “hook” for tonight’s discussion. Then I uncover an interview done by NPR with one of my favorite musicians/bands/songwriters, Ryan Tedder, on songwriting, song structure and the current/future state of general writing trends. He is the frontman of the Colorado based band, OneRepublic and I absolutely love his versatility as an artist and producer. I’ve placed a link to the full interview below, because my modest highlights wouldn’t do it justice.

Ryan Tedder on: The Craft of Songwriting

There is one excerpt I will block quote here though, because I think Tedder gave such a wonderfully poignant yet succinct explanation that the only thing I did after reading this part was wish he was in the room with me so I could thank him for unbelievably having the same opinion as me, since he could get his opinion broadcast and published by NPR, which I can’t do.

Those kinds of structures, those kinds of approaches to songwriting — specifically delivering the hook — do those still apply now?

It does still apply now. The classic, quote/unquote, craft of songwriting still works; it still is relevant. I will go out on a limb and say it’s the least relevant it’s probably been in twenty years. It always will be relevant and music is a gigantic pendulum that swings back and forth. And right now it has swung toward the — I don’t even know how to classify it — everything is so dance oriented that frankly, with people like me who — I learned how to write in Nashville and learned under songwriters who had Grammys when they were 20 and have every accolade that you can imagine. These were the guys who I was coming up under and very intimidated by and learned a lot from. And I learned a traditional craft and I studied Beatles lyrics and Bono’s lyrics and song structure.

And now in 2010 — and most likely 2011 — you can almost throw that stuff out the window. There are still people doing it and there’s still room for it but music has been so throttled by dance that I’m seeing song after song — some of the biggest songs in the world — that literally have no pattern, no format. Where you think the chorus is going to happen, there’s literally NOTHING, just a musical bed. It’s turning into like a house DJ kind of rave but it’s on the radio. Like you look at — again — “Boom Boom Pow” or you look at Akon’s new single, “Angel” and it sounds like you’re in Ibiza and it’s 3:30 in the morning and everybody’s wearing glow sticks and jumping up and down. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying it’s reality. And what happened in the clubs in the late ’90s and early 2000s, which was hip-hop, made its way into radio. Music always starts in the clubs. That’s how disco happened. That’s how Saturday Night Fever happened. And what’s happening in clubs right now is essentially house music. And it has now finally made its way on to American radio after fifteen or twenty years. And that has fundamentally changed people’s approach to songwriting and Top 40. There’s probably going to be a lot of songwriters coming up now that don’t learn the traditional arrangements or style of traditional songwriting. So I’m curious to see where it goes from here. I’m sure it’ll swing back the other way at some point but right now it’s in a very unique, different place than I’ve ever seen it.

I’d say that particular interview question is where I heard most of my opinion resonate with Tedder. Granted, he is 31 and I’m, well, I’m less than 31, so he obviously has the experience precedent and I’m the one technically mirroring his views. Still, it’s refreshing and reassuring to hear such blunt, open speech from a popularly successful musician about the state of “hit music” without coming off as brash or disrespectful toward other artists. This passage also happened to humble my “Rage Against the record label Machine” with this illumination on the rise of, what is essentially just, house music in clubs these days. I can’t boast an extensive collection of house albums but I can/do acknowledge and respect it as a defined genre with an established set of characteristics. As well as respecting that some styles of music are meant to highlight rhythm and sound over verses or just be low on words, since there are lasting, reputable, verbally minimalistic, contemporary tracks.

Example: The La’s “There She Goes” (1988)

So if the first 25 or so of the 2000s eventually become known in the music history books as a “comeback of house” then that conceptual pill is much easier to swallow than my previous dose of “OK, Everyone [pop-composers] has officially just gotten too lazy to write past a 5 word or one sentence song; whichever of the two hits the page first.”

Oh what my level of excitement would be if Ryan Tedder hosted a songwriter’s circle…..

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