Summer Tatering & Tunesmithing

Abe likes a good tune!The Summertime Tatering schedule is moving into full swing. This week we have 4 shows, 3 of them outdoors, plus one songwriting seminar that I held at a VOCAL meeting (Virginia Organization of Composers and Lyricists).

The outdoor shows are some of our favorites, but it’s always a little dodgy watching the weather. Some events have backup, indoor locations, while others just cancel, so here’s hoping for a mostly dry weekend! We had a show yesterday at Henrico Doctor Hospital here in Richmond, for their annual Employee Day. Chris works there as a medical tech, so he had his fan base in attendance!

The songwriting seminar was the first of these I’ve done, and though we had to deal with a last-minute change of location it came off pretty well. The subject of it was “Tunesmithing” – specifically, encouraging modern singer/songwriters to spend as much or more time on their melodies as they do on their lyrics. It’s long been a contention of mine that far too many modern songwriters are really just poets with no other outlet. They work and rework their lyrics to tell some great stories, spending plenty of time wordsmithing until it’s just right, only to drop it on top of a few chords and then declare it a song.

The craft of melody writing seems to be a real dying art. There are plenty of exceptions out there, but if you go to any open mic night, or songwriter showcase, you’ll often be hard-pressed to walk away humming any of the songs. A lot of the dynamic crafting of songs started to take a dive by the mid 1960s and into the 1970s, when suddenly it was de rigueur for any legitimate band write its own songs, shunning “professional” songwriters. There have always been exceptions – Lennon and McCartney obviously come to mind – but the trend, especially among the singer/songwriter crowd for years now seems to have been to spend your time on the lyrics, and just let the tune fall where it may.

In the seminar we talked about some ways to craft melodies, ways to change chord structures and move out of your regular zone a bit, and some ways to get new melodic ideas. A lot of focus was spent on listening and analyzing songs that you like; figure out why the melody/tune works as well as it does, and start adding some of those techniques to your own toolbox.