Advise from Seasoned Songwriters, Cowriters, Journal, Muscle Shoals Music, Stephanie C Brown - Songwriter and Catalyst
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Songwriting – Craft or Art?

All songs are not created equal. I should know. I have been writing songs more years than some of my cowriters are old. I am seventy five. I started writing in my mid-thirties. Do that math! I know the rules well enough to follow them or break them. Like carpenters who can make square boxes after learning to make one square box, songwriters can write songs once they learn the basics of combining words and melodies. According to Harlan Howard, country music’s songwriting legend, three chords and the truth is all you need to write a great song. For a blues song, you need less than that. I cowrite as many as four songs a week in different genres with songwriters much more skilled than I in structure. I regularly write with seven different co-writers: Mark Narmore, Sandy Carroll, CoCo O’Conner, Will McFarlane, ElizaBeth Hill, Taylor Grace, and Mitch Mann in varying combinations. We write many genres, some simple and some complex. I am confident in saying we are not going to write a bad song – unless we want to. That is the only claim I will make. We control craft but not art.

I have songwriting questions for which I have no answers. What makes one song better than another? Why can not all my songs be either beautifully artistic or commercially successful? Why do listeners love one more than another? I wish I had the answers to mine and the ones others ask. The one question I am often asked, I can answer. What happens in a songwriting session? The answer? It depends. There is no typical or normal cowriting session for us. We set appointments. We show up. We write. None of the songs are the same. Some are better than others. I go into every session hoping for a song to come shining through with that intangible magic that comes from somewhere other than the songwriters.

CoCo O’Conner, ElizaBeth Hill, and I had such a session yesterday. We showed up for our 10:00 Zoom session. (All the things said about showing up are true.) CoCo and i have written many songs together with many different cowriters but not with ElizaBeth. I would like to think the combination of the writers gave the song the intangible quality, but from my experience with cowriting I know more than the combination of writers was involved. The song has more than three chords, but it does have the truth. That is true of many of my songs, but not all of them are inspired. Inspiration does not always show up, but when it does we can feel it in the room – even a Zoom one. We began by talking about what was going on in our lives. As professional writers, we try to come into sessons with something, maybe a title, an idea, some lines, a bit of melody. The three of us have lived long enough and have gone through enough to write about and for women. We talked about the ideas and lines we came in with and about what we wanted to say to other women. I can over-dramatically say, the song wrote itself – or maybe inspiration wrote it. Our song, “She Never Got to Memphis” says a lot about women and life.

When we have demoed it, I will share on the Songs page. I hope you feel the intangible. I would love to say this song will surely surface and be heard by the masses. I would love to say all who hear it will love it. Unfortunately, that is unlikely. All I can say is we three women songwriters love the song and are thankful to have written it.

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