Up until this week I have stayed away from the songwriting groups that some of my musical friends frequent. My justification: I generally work on a song until I am happy with it and once I’m happy with it, I don’t want well-meaning suggestions about how to change it. It would be like suggesting another name for my child. And if I’m not happy with it, why would I perform it for others when it is clearly not ready?
I think participating in the SAC songwriting challenge shifted this mindset. First – instead of songs that came from a very intimate place of experience and emotion, the songs were assignments. “Write this style of song, with this tone, for this audience, for this voice.” That made it easier to step back from songwriting and look at it as a craft, not just a vehicle for personal expression. Second – writing a song a week for six weeks did not leave me time to edit lyrics or improve the song structure as much as was needed. So, I was left with six songs that need attention. (Actually just five – I wrote one that I like just the way it is.)
Prepared with a song in just the right state (not too rough, but not a fait accompli) I set off for the SAC regional writers group in Guelph with a few copies of lyrics. The group (facilitated by Peter Light) seemed a good size; large enough for some variety, small enough for every songwriter to be heard. After each song was played we went around the circle and heard feedback from every person. Sometimes listeners contradicted each other with their advice, other times there was agreement about what did or didn’t work in the song.
I liked the feedback I received. Most of the suggestions were great and I could see how even small changes could improve the song. One big surprise: almost every person wanted my poignant little uke song about heartache and loneliness to have a happy ending. There was one other female songwriter in the group – she and I were the only ones who wanted to preserve the longing, unresolved theme. Different target audience? Or did the ukulele bring out the romantic in those men?
I found this to be a great learning experience. To search for a SAC regional writers group in your area visit http://songwriters.ca/regionalgroups.aspx I would suggest it particularly to musicians who tend to write alone. You never know, an exercise like this could be a gateway experience to co-writing!
[SAC Guelph Regional Writers Group, West End Rec Centre in the Parkwood Gardens Community Room, 21 Imperial Road South, Guelph; 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm]