I know it’s different for everyone, but for me all songs start with a feeling: I feel songs, I don’t hear them. It took a long time to become aware of this fact, that realization only took place in the last year. In other words, I was involved in the process quite successfully before I began to understand how the process actually worked. In conducting a thought experiment around this process, I’ll state that when I feel a song I “become” it in some sense, and once I’ve become the song I know how to write it, or at least write enough of it that I can use existing songwriting structures and modalities to animate the truth of the song. If that’s done with honesty and if the feeling of the song is kept central (this is where the writer puts their ego aside) a song that’s authentic is created.
Inspiration, Don’t be a hero: Why songs crafted from the heart are the easiest and the best work we do
Artists often tell of their best work coming in short amounts of time while other works develop more slowly, taking weeks, months, or even years, and after all that, often never quite reach the level of the “instant” song, even though much more effort has gone into the former work. The reason is that effort is antithetical to creation, it only exists to help fill in the spaces that weren't directly downloaded via inspiration. I’m not talking about physical effort here, you have to show up, you have to practice, you have to train for this work, and it is work. I’m simply saying that creation is the domain of the heart, and the mind plays the role of organizer, editor, and more often than it should, critic. When the mind is asked to start filling in large inspirational gaps, trouble is not far off. The point at which inspiration fails you is the point after which songwriting formula and rules take up the slack: a perfect songwriting experience requires no editing.
In theory, of course.
Inspiration, Don’t be a hero: Take a trip off the beaten path
Courting inspiration is a process of getting out of the way and trusting "other", whatever that means to you. Hint: defining "other" won't help you write better songs, but engaging in a search for the source of inspiration can be, for lack of a better word, inspirational. Relentlessly seeking the mystery of other is a sure way improve your overall ease in finding inspiration. The heart is the realm of inspiration, the mind is the realm of the imagination. Imagination is not the root of creativity, inspiration is. Imagination represents what the mind does with inspiration, and that imagination may take many forms: a song, a painting, a bridge, a radio, whatever form the imagination directs the inspiration into.
Inspiration, Don’t be a hero: Finding the rhythm of inspiration
Don’t ever set out to write a song directly, set out only to court inspiration. If you can’t find it (or if it can’t find you) do something else with your time, go out and have a fun experience, and then try again the next day. Once you've found it notice how you came to find it. Does inspiration feel like something in your body (I feel songs in my chest, where my heart is)? Does inspiration find you more easily in a certain space? At a certain time of day? In a certain season? Once you've observed these things start scheduling your courtship of inspiration according to this rhythm. Just as life moves to a rhythm, so too does your inspiration.
Inspiration is the source of all invention, not just songs, everything. The entirety of the human landscape is the physical manifestation of inspiration: it was all just a dream in someone’s head first. Even science recognizes that the greatest innovations seem to appear out of the ether, to many people in fact, not just one, a phenomenon which has been termed “multiple discovery.”
Don’t be a hero: let inspiration do the heavy lifting, that's what it's there for. Can you write without it? Yes. Is it productive to do so? Yes. I've written plenty of practice songs: these rely on your imagination to do the heavy lifting, which is good, because it needs to remain sharp so that it can be a willing partner for inspiration. But be honest about your songs and where they come from, realizing that just as your inspired songs can connect with people in ways you never imagined, your imagined songs often fail to connect people in the ways you reasoned they would.
Next week we begin to delve more directly into songwriting, for now, have some fun and find some inspiration.
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Americana Singer Songwriter Ed Dupas’ lived-in melodies unwind with reflective lyrics that speak to the current state of the human condition. Soothing where possible, agitating where necessary, and calling for change where appropriate. Ed Dupas creates and shares well worn wide awake music.
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