Do You See What I See?
By Paula Carpenter - 05/05/2002 - 12:47 PM EDT
"WHATEVER OUR THEME IN WRITING, IT IS OLD AND TRIED. WHATEVER OUR PLACE, IT HAS BEEN VISITED BY THE STRANGER, IT WILL NEVER BE NEW AGAIN. IT IS ONLY THE VISION THAT CAN BE NEW; BUT THAT IS ENOUGH." ---- Eudora Welty
I know you have heard it said, "there's nothing new under the sun" .... which could be compared with Ms. Welty's quote above, and it amounts to about the same thing. As songwriters, we are often told (or at least I have been told, and have found it to be true) that there really are no BRAND NEW IDEAS....it is simply the new PERSPECTIVE that makes a song interesting, and memorable...a standout. (plus great songwriting craft, or course!)
I think this is important to remember, as there are only so many topics in the world. I mean, think about it, how many songs are there about LOVE? Countless, countless, numbers! The difference is, everyone SEES the topic differently, and approaches it just a bit differently. The key to a wonderful song, even though that topic may have been addressed again and again, is the way YOUR mind and heart approach it -- the way YOUR environment and experiences flows into your psyche...and produces the way YOU want to say something musically and lyrically!
To answer the question that the title asks, "DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?" (makes you want to to sing: "a child, a child... " doesn't it? ) is -- of course you don't! We all come to life and songs and writing, from a unique and individual perspective. I may look at a situation and see X, you look at the same one and see Y....so of course, the SONG that each of us might write about the VERY SAME set of circumstances... might be totally different.
In a related thought -- often, I'll hear writers complain about how ONE publisher told me this (about a certain song) , and ANOTHER publisher told me that (about the very same song) , and WHY can't the industry make up it's mind what it wants??? Well...that's because the INDUSTRY is made up of a large group of individuals, who all see things...from THEIR OWN perspective! Life has affected them differently than it has you, or me, or anyone else... even though we as mankind share MANY UNIVERSAL experiences (LOVE, GRIEF, PAIN, etc.) we all experience them through the grid of our own lives, so our outlook is unique ...person to person. This is why I always say... you may have
as many differing opinions of a song, as you have people who listen to it.
This may seem a bit discouraging, but it shouldn't. The thing that this has taught me...is to NEVER give up! When I was writing for other publishers, I began to realize that each publisher sees something different to value in a song...maybe not the same thing I see. So I never give up on my very best "babies" ...even though perhaps the publisher or A and R rep or artist that I wanted to impress with it...didn't "see" it...didn't "get" it. (This idea of NEVER GIVING UP ON YOUR "BABY" is assuming that the CRAFT IS EXCELLENT, that there are no BIG BAD SLOUCHY MISTAKES or COP-OUTS in the song form and general crafting.... this philosophy only holds water if the song is well put together, "tight"... but just doesn't strike the same chord in some, as you would like...bottom line....NO EXCUSES for bad craftsmanship.)
A case in point here: currently I have pitched a song to a young artist in Nashville, who has let me know that she LOVES it...and is thinking on it. Well...that same song, written a few years back, while I was writing for a different publishing group...did not strike up enough interest for my publishers at that time, to even want to demo it! I demoed it on my own, because I totally believed in it -- and still do! There was nothing "wrong" with it, craftwise...indeed, it was very, very tight, and very emotionally moving. I think maybe that was the deal...it was kind of a "chick" song...and some of my publishers -- you're right, I'm getting ready to say it -- didn't "see" it. Whether this artist will cut it or not, we don't know -- but the fact is, it is quite a wonderful song, very worthy of an "A-list" pitch -- in MY opinion, and apparently in this artist's! Did my publishers "back when" SEE this? Nope. That's the way it is, sometimes. Welcome to life.
So really, we're talking about two sort of abstracts here...the one being, that there are no NEW ideas, only NEW ways to say them....based in our UNIQUE experience! Then, related but a little different thought, once we EXPRESS THEM WELL... there's no guarantee that the publisher/artist/whoever....is going to "see" it as we do...because they have their own grid of life through which they are experiencing the song! But don't let it discourage you...as I mentioned earlier...let it ENcourage you...because it proves that:
JUST BECAUSE ONE PERSON DOESN'T "SEE IT THE SAME WAY" ... DOESN'T MEAN YOUR SONG IS BAD!
Now granted, if person after person reacts the same way ... negatively .... there's a clue that something needs to be changed or reconsidered. Just remember to be HONEST with yourself, and make sure your craft is tight, rhyme scheme consistent, music "marries well" with the lyric, the song has a noticeable "hooky hook", that your approach is not SO NARROW, that only YOU know why your details "make sense", etc. If all is well, maybe this person just looks at life differently than you do, and that's the breaks. Another story of mine: once years ago, I had written what I still know to be a poignant picture of a couple, "passing like ships in the night" in their marriage, a gorgeous song. My publisher (different guy) never liked it, and it was an awesome song. (See? I still believe in my "baby"! The deal was, he was, in his own personal life, experiencing a kind of a similar situation...) Does this reek? Yes. Is this fair? No. Is it just the way things are? Yes. So what YOU have to do...is hang in there, be HONEST with yourself...and stick up for those songs of yours, that you KNOW KNOW KNOW .... are "the stuff".
If there is anything I've learned over the last 17 or so years.... it is to trust my gut. To believe in the songs I believe in, regardless of what ANYONE else says, and to NEVER GIVE UP on them! Because I've realized... everyone sees things differently. And back to the quote I used at the beginning...there really are SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS... to approach the same idea in life. Since there are no new TOPICS (although there are new SITUATIONS or EVENTS; ie: 9-11 was new, and we all pray it was an isolated one time horror -- but there has always been the horror of WAR) but instead only new PEOPLE with new VISION and UNDERSTANDING... we simply need to learn to "go with our gut", expressing musically and lyrically our feelings the way WE THINK the song should be approached. And if it's a tightly crafted lyric and melody and chord progression .... based on super song form .... then "Stand By Your Song" , to paraphrase an oldie. News flash: that's why they call it: CREATIVITY. Took me awhile to absorb this, and be brave enough to love my work, the work that didn't produce "raves", but that I knew... was really, really, good.
BOTTOM LINE FOR US ALL to remember: There ARE absolutes, when it comes to GREAT SONGWRITING CRAFT .... but there are LOTS and LOTS of different "subjective" ways, in terms of the "tack" we take in writing or approaching the song topic...AND as you know, lots of different ways for A & R and publishers to REACT to our songs! Just keep your craft tight, and go for it...from YOUR perspective.
Final word of caution: while it's very true that we all "see" life differently based on our own experiences, one of the reasons that music and songs mean so much to each of us, is that they touch the universal heart in all of us. Universal. That's so KEY! That means, that in writing a lyric, while we do our best to paint the picture with imagery and feeling and heart and specific "story details" ... we cannot get "too narrow". Example: once when I was critiquing songs at a seminar, a songwriter could NOT understand why I did not LOVE LOVE LOVE...his song about his Grandma. Well...if he had written it with heart, believable feeling, painted a picture--and made it accessible to ME, and not just to ANYONE WHO KNEW HIS GRANDMA -- that would be different. Write a song that allows EVERY PERSON WHO HAS A GRANDMOTHER (one who was wise, tender, etc.) -- to relate, by telling a story that strikes a...here it is again...UNIVERSAL chord of love, longing, respect, nostalgia, etc.-- in EACH listener. Not just in this one songwriter and his cousins. : ) So...we want to TELL A STORY and MAKE IT HIT a DEEP PERSONAL LEVEL -- UNIVERSALLY REACHABLE by the masses. Hope that makes sense. A specific event/topic ...yet universally felt.
So. Here we are ......"DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?" I bet not! That's what makes the world interesting! INCLUDING .... the world of songwriting and publishing!
See you in the trenches!
Till the next time,
Paula Carpenter, President
STARBRIGHT MUSIC AND CREATIVE GROUP
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