How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

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fange
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How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby fange » 09 Aug 2017, 08:39

I'm talking about those conscious elements (or sometimes even unconscious or lucky coincidences) that strike you when you are listening to music and you think, "Geez, I love the way this song was written/put together, the parts and sounds and ideas just seem to flow and work together" or maybe "Shit, there is nothing to this song - it's just a couple of minutes of chord changes and boring/reheated lyrics or sonic ideas that are a big hollow nothing".

Is it more important in some genres compared to others?
How important is it to you personally?
What MAKES good songcraft for you?
Has the art of songcraft/songwriting died, or are there still great new practitioners around?

Etc.

What do you think?
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 09 Aug 2017, 16:21

Songcraft, that is, what the music is like in the abstract, apart from any particular performer, has become the number one thing I notice. I do this for the simple reason that you can't improvise on a tune if you don't know the basics of how it's put together. In addition, certain attributes, e.g., the modulation to and in the bridge for "Body and Soul" are things that you notice. Either you can figure out how to change keys in time or you can't.

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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Muskrat » 09 Aug 2017, 18:16

I love lyrics that make literal sense, clever interior rhymes, a smart (but not overworked) turn of phrase, etc. Also melodies that "sing" well.
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Quaco » 09 Aug 2017, 22:11

Such a big question. Sometimes it's conscious; other times it's just felt. The other day, I had John Lennon Walls and Bridges on for the first time in a long while, and noticed a great number of crafty details that I had never noticed consciously before, but certainly have an effect: The way he goes to the bridge in "What You Got" instead of a second verse -- and he's right, it would have been too boring to do a second verse and chorus there. The surprise bridge 3:30 into "Nobody Loves You..." when you'd assume the song was winding down -- and the devastating last verse thereafter which is so well done. There's obviously a lot of craft in "Going Down on Love", the way it goes from one bit to another naturally even though it's not a normal structure. The unusual music of "Beef Jerky", which one might easily write off as a "jam" until you actually sat down to learn the thing. Then there's the horn and string arrangements.

It's not even considered one of the great albums, but it is full of songwriting and arranging craft, much that is not immediately obvious but just makes it sound better. I tend to think this kind of thing is largely a lost art in the era of self-contained producer-based record-making -- because you'd have to be a complete genius to have all that knowledge and experience in one producer. In the same way that, say, advertising of a certain level -- even large-billboards -- is just one guy on his computer working with images and fonts, and usually on a deadline, when it used to be an art department of people doing artwork, developing film, doing retouching, building fonts from scratch, and so on.
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Positive Passion » 09 Aug 2017, 22:29

The really, really great songs probably do have some song craft, no? The piano part on bridge over troubled water, the oh o-oh oh bit at the end of pride in the name of love, the reduction to bass, is it, in good vibrations, and yes the construction of the central section of bohemian rhapsody. These things make the songs great. How do the artists decide to do it? Do they just try different things until they find the way that feels right?

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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Bent Fabric » 10 Aug 2017, 00:29

Quaco wrote:Such a big question. Sometimes it's conscious; other times it's just felt. The other day, I had John Lennon Walls and Bridges on for the first time in a long while, and noticed a great number of crafty details that I had never noticed consciously before, but certainly have an effect: The way he goes to the bridge in "What You Got" instead of a second verse -- and he's right, it would have been too boring to do a second verse and chorus there. The surprise bridge 3:30 into "Nobody Loves You..." when you'd assume the song was winding down -- and the devastating last verse thereafter which is so well done. There's obviously a lot of craft in "Going Down on Love", the way it goes from one bit to another naturally even though it's not a normal structure. The unusual music of "Beef Jerky", which one might easily write off as a "jam" until you actually sat down to learn the thing. Then there's the horn and string arrangements.

It's not even considered one of the great albums, but it is full of songwriting and arranging craft, much that is not immediately obvious but just makes it sound better. I tend to think this kind of thing is largely a lost art in the era of self-contained producer-based record-making -- because you'd have to be a complete genius to have all that knowledge and experience in one producer. In the same way that, say, advertising of a certain level -- even large-billboards -- is just one guy on his computer working with images and fonts, and usually on a deadline, when it used to be an art department of people doing artwork, developing film, doing retouching, building fonts from scratch, and so on.


I like that album in a sort of "it's better than I'd once believed it to be" kind of way. But I do remember John Lennon saying something in one or more of his last interviews about that record and Mind Games being "pure craftsmanship" (i.e. uninspired). I see his point - though I've also managed to pluck out some of the magic within that veneer of "high gloss competence".

To that end, I think songcraft, such as it is, is no substitute for powerful instincts. A person with a real special touch or some basic universal moving imperative behind their work can really do a lot with an advanced knowledge of arrangement or presentation, but...it's a balance that I shudder to see tilted too far in the wrong direction.

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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 10 Aug 2017, 04:20

It really depends on what's on offer. I'm a guy who loves songcraft almost for its own sake. I actually called a friend just yesterday to talk about The Buckinghams' Mercy, Mercy, Mercy just to talk about what a good job they did adding lyrics to the jazz standard. So yeah...I care a lot about craft. Unless I don't.

Ultimately a track works on its own terms. If the craft is exceptional it might tickle one set of pleasure centers. If the track excels at something else, I'll likely appreciate that.
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby pcqgod » 10 Aug 2017, 14:57

I love a well-constructed song, from just a technical level, and on an aesthetic level. Not everything I listen to hinges on songcraft, obviously, like I'll be happy to listening to a drony psychedelic jam or some technical math-rock thing when I'm in the mood for that.
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby Diamond Dog » 11 Aug 2017, 09:14

It's a big question!

With me it's very important to a degree. I love the craft of a Bacharch/David song, where you hear something that you know has been worked to the nth degree but which sounds like the most natural thing in music (the story of Hal David taking literally all night over one word in a line of a song, just so the meter stayed correct ,is one such example). I think lyrically you tend to appreciate the craft more - because, from what I've read, a great deal of truly great writers of music are complete naturals - Lennon and Bacharach spring to mind as (self confessed) 'lucky guys' who really didn't have to think much but just found those quirks that distinguished them from others just came very easily and unexpectedly to them. And were almost completely unexplainable too. Whereas when you feel the effort, it just doesn't seem as good. I'm thinking the transition of Lennon to the sloganeering advertising board of the 72-75 era, where you can really sense the enormous amount of effort he put into the lyrics (with generally unremarkable conclusions) at the expense of the tune itself. When earlier on he was writing things like "If I Fell" it sounds so remarkably obvious, but contains that unusual/odd chord structure that makes it so much more exciting than the lumpen material ten years later. There are probably hundrerds of examples you could recall with a similar conclusion.

You then have the guys who you know are 'technically' great songwriters but you really resent because it sounds so fucking clever. I'm thinking of someone like Elvis Costello from the mid 80s onwards (when he started that seemingly endless trawl of collaborating with the great and the worthy)- the songs are rammed full of lead on bridges, cul de sac middle eights and teasing switches of tempo, that by the end of the song, you just feel exhausted. It's like he's shouting "Look at me - I'm a proper songwriter!". And it (mostly) sucks. McCartney falls into the same category mostly, for the past thirty years. The one exception being "Chaos & Creation.." where he seemed to go back to writing naturally, not over complicating and just letting it flow (it almost certainly helped that he had a producer who was happy to lock horns with him too).

Springsteen is another - the invention on the first three albums is just wonderful. Stream of consciousness lyrics, ridiculous inserted and inverted melodic twists, song structures blown apart frequently with quirky add ons and innuendos.... gloriously unrestrained songwriting. There's a lovely story of him working with Melissa Etheridge on an Uncut tribute CD to Bruce, where they were running through one song together (I can never remember if it was "Thunder Road" or "Jungleland") where she said to him "Man that is really really weird...". Bruce stopped and thought to himself "It is. And I would never write that song that way now". And you sensed he was confronting his own muse there and then - he knew that what made those early songs so exciting and vibrant and special was their complete refusal to conform to the 'songwriting convention'. He knew the stuff after that was structurally perfect and much easier on the ear (and to play) but you couldn't help but think that he knew that particular 'brillance genie' was released from the bottle back in '75, and it wasn't ever coming back.

So, yes, it's massively important - but my idea of songcraft may not be what others think it should be. It's about being natural and letting the song unfold naturally, as opposed to examining and tailoring to the minutest degree.
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Re: How important is Songcraft to you (and in general)?

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 11 Aug 2017, 14:25

Springsteen is an example of someone who has very consciously manipulated song form, and I'm not talking about just the experimental stuff at the beginning of his career. Here he describes a format he's used for decades:

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: I think that "Born in the USA," which was a sort of a classic situation song that got misinterpreted by some, was people felt the pride was in the chorus; the spirit - in my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part, is in the choruses, the blues, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And your daily realities and your - and - are in the details of the verses, you know?

GROSS: That's really interesting.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: If you look at all my songs - "Badlands," "Promised Land" - it's the way I sing "Badlands;" it's the verse of "Promised Land;" it's the chorus of "Born in the USA." The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from gospel music in the church, and then the blues and what the song is - the details of what the song is moving to transcend are almost always contained in the verses, you know?

transcript at http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript ... =100038036

audio at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =100038036