Thoughts on songwriting

18 Mar

In my grad program, the huge themes we deal with are structures of power and epistemology (ie: how we get information, and how we internalize that information subconsciously). Ok, at least, that’s what I’M interested in. One of the books we read was Howard Becker‘s Art Worlds, which discusses conventions that we use, usually without thinking about it, to create art. For instance, when I write a song, I use a 12-tone scale, 4/4 or 3/4 time usually (or some derivative of), and a guitar. All of which follow certain conventions that have been set through the years – the guitar is of a certain proportion and audio range, made up of certain types of woods and shapes, with standards for the length and width of the string, the neck, the body, etc etc. And, the guitar plays a 12-tone scale. Not a 4-tone or a 33-tone – both of which would probably require the invention of new instruments.

It just makes me wonder, the songs I write, the songs I like, the songs that inspire me – am I just a copycat? Is there anything truly original in what I do, or am I just a faded carbon copy of the thoughts, feelings, words, and sounds of those who came before me? Could I even break these conventions if I wanted? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is, I would get little to no distribution, because people are familiar with conventions, and that is what they want. The longest answer would be to look at how we are encoded (in the Stuart Hall-ian sense) with certain signals that make us feel certain ways, that evoke the feeling of like or dislike (think of those HSBC ads that are all incredibly post-modern), and why these conventions are in place, and what art means, and who has the power in the art world, and then how these power structures play a huge role in how we view society and how we internalize certain codes we receive from visual arts, TV, movies, journalism, the Internet, etc.

Why do I write the songs I do in the way I do? Because it’s what I like, it’s what speaks to me. Why do I like it, and why does it speak to me? Because it’s all been DONE BEFORE. Because I play into these conventions that have been embedded into our art worlds and internalized in our subconscious as the “right” way to do things, the “likeable” way to write music. Not all of us can be Harry Partch.

My brain sometimes feels like it’s about to explode. I’m gonna go quell it with some music.

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Posted by on March 18, 2009 in Uncategorized


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