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#1122082 - 01/07/17 12:17 PM "Authenticity" in Songwriting?  
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Kurt Fortmeyer Offline
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I know that writers are always told to "write what you know", but where should we set the limits? Some people claim that any fiction at all makes a song inauthentic or somehow invalid. On the other hand, I'm a great fan of making things up (song-wise).
I heard a great interview with singer/songwriter Lori McKenna on NPR yesterday where she talked about "Taking something you felt for about ten minutes one time...and stretching it." It fit right in with the blog piece I had just finished that morning.
Another True Story That I Made Up


I love words. They say so much.

http://kurtfortmeyer.com
#1122084 - 01/07/17 02:31 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Good reading -- but I had a really difficult time reading the text on that transparent "wall" against the background. I copied and pasted it into a word processor!!


"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The 'hard' is what makes it great."
Kevin @ bandcamp: Crows Say Vee-Eh (and Kevin @50/90 2019)
#1122085 - 01/07/17 03:10 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Well, there is a certain amount of pretentiousness in any song.

Real life doesn't happen in stanzas,real life is not evenly metered, real life doesn't occur in any
pattern , or in any one time signature. Real life does t rhyme at the end of each sentence.

Besides, many People never see more than their own street corner, they have to use heir imagination at least a little, otherwise their songs would be boring.

But, I remember in high school being in bands, we have practices, and somebody would have a piece of paper with some lyrics on it. Usually about some girl, having a one way conversation with some girl that clearly never existed. In retrospect I say, where the hell were all these girls? These guys sat at the nerd table!

But I think that ten minute comment covers it nicely.

For me it doesn't have to be a true story, but the story needs to be true....(not bad hey?)

If you completely make it up, there is good chance it's going to show some reason.

Don't forget authenticity applies to music as well as lyrics.

I don't believe half the stuff I hear on the radio, whether it happened to that artist or not doesn't matter, the result is bs to my ears.

If you can create a character in a song, and base it on one or two of your own feelings or life events, and present it in a way that seems real to a listener, you done your job. Not everybody will like it, but chances are somebody will


Last edited by BenJones; 01/07/17 03:13 PM.
#1122089 - 01/07/17 03:43 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Vicarn Online content
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If it's believable as a comment on social life and stirs the emotions it works.
If it's not believable, but funny, it works. Roger Miller wrote some great nonsense songs.



It's never too late? Yes it is, so do it now.

If, given time, a monkey can write the complete works of Shakespeare maybe there's hope for me.

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#1122093 - 01/07/17 04:27 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Hi Kurt:

Interesting topic. When it comes to creativity... my advice gets pretty simple. Whatever works for you! If that means writing from actual experience, then "go for it." Personally, I do my best to tell a story... but there are times when the melody is more important. Rules are usually made for a reason... but don't be afraid to explore their boundaries... or even break them if it brings out something interesting to your audience. There are limits to what we can "get away with" and I don't advise being a "Maverick" just for the sake of being one.

Vic sure hit the nail on the head about Roger Miller. I used to see him at the old Nashville Airport and he was as nice in person as the images he portrayed in his songs.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Last edited by Dave Rice; 01/07/17 04:28 PM.
#1122100 - 01/07/17 05:20 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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I seldom write a song that is a complete telling of my experiences... One of our formerly active mentors here, Harriet Schock, used to say "never let the truth get in the way of a good song" to which she elaborated to say you don't need to add all the details exactly as it happened...
my songs are often how I feel, or how I THINK I would feel in a given situation... And then there's an entire group of songs that I write where I let my inner slut come out to sing. She doesn't get to come out and play, but she'll tell you a story of her life or tell you how she feels. As a card carrying former member of the wallflower club and current member of the goody-two-shoes club, I can assure you I never did or perhaps even thought of doing what she talks about in my songs.
One of my greatest achievements to me was when my pastor asked me if I could give someone a ride to an AA meeting (which I obviously attended based on a song I wrote.) I've never been to one, but have been in a number of support groups (JPF being one) and so I based my song on them.... and was surprised that I was that believable.

#1122109 - 01/07/17 07:25 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Harriet Ames]  
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Originally Posted by Harriet Ames
...my songs are often how I feel, or how I THINK I would feel in a given situation... And then there's an entire group of songs that I write where I let my inner slut come out to sing. She doesn't get to come out and play, but she'll tell you a story of her life or tell you how she feels. As a card carrying former member of the wallflower club and current member of the goody-two-shoes club, I can assure you I never did or perhaps even thought of doing what she talks about in my songs.


I love that statement, Harriet. I can relate entirely! smile

Actually, I love making up stories (and have a penchant for folk ballads and prog-rock scenarios), and the bulk of my lyrics are story-driven. Some of the contexts are purely imaginary, though sometimes characters will be drawn from people I've encountered. The emotion of course comes from either my own experience or my perception of how I would feel or respond in certain situations.

Donna


Honour the Earth. Without it, we'd be nowhere.

Life is too important to take seriously.

http://www.reverbnation.com/donnamarilynrichblend




#1122113 - 01/07/17 08:10 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Kurt Fortmeyer Offline
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I am loving the responses.
Y'all are making some great points.


I love words. They say so much.

http://kurtfortmeyer.com
#1122124 - 01/07/17 11:42 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Raleigh, ya'll
"Some people claim that any fiction at all makes a song inauthentic or somehow invalid"

Hey Kurt. Tell me who those "some people" are and I will hunt 'em down like a "Snoopy's" hot dog and cut off all their internet access!!!

What pretentious id'jits!!!...I'm trying hard not to resort to profanity here:-)

Others have already covered a lot of territory, so I'll toss in this quote from memory from PBS series with songwriters, and Odetta was talking to Tom Paxton(showing my age, eh?)

I'm doing this from memory, so the quotes aren't exact, but they ain't too far wrong:

Tom had just sung a song...

Odetta: So you found the one true line for the song?

MIDNITE INSERTATION: I had never heard the phrase "The one true line" until Odetta had said it.

Tom Paxton: Yes.

Odetta: And then what?

Tom Paxton: I made everything else up.....

I don't care if it's "If you knew, Peggy Sue", or "He carried his guitar in a gunny sack", or "I read the news today, oh boy", or "If you break my acky breaky heart"...

"One true line" is all that's needed.

Midnite




Satchel was right. Something is gaining on me.

The Shoebox & Dinner at Eight trailers available at:

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#1122135 - 01/08/17 09:39 AM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Calvin Offline
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Hi,

Well, as for me.....I'm not afraid to make something up :-)


Calvin


http://www.soundclick.com/bands/0/calvinstewart

#1122138 - 01/08/17 11:00 AM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Everett Adams Online content
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Someone once said to me that I must have had an exciting life to write all those songs. I said to him, if I had to wait to have an experience to write a song, I would not have many songs.

It is a songwriters job to write the other persons experience so he/she can relate to it. A good imagination is essential for a songwriter.

#1122144 - 01/08/17 02:23 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Everett Adams]  
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Me with Everett. If I had lived through all the things I write about, I would have died at least seven times.

Joe

#1122157 - 01/08/17 10:21 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Michael Zaneski Offline
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Kurt, one could label you a "singer-songwriter" --and my feelings are that one's relationship with truth-telling in song is different for the singer-songwriter than it is for the non-performing writer.

To me, it's mostly about how we choose to use the pronoun " I " in our songs (and a little lesser the other pronouns). Is that " I " representative of how we and others (if we perform) perceive us, or is it simply a mask we knowingly wear, kinda thing. Neither way is right or wrong. It's different strokes for different folks, and can change from album to album and even song to song.

There are some that can only and do only write with an " I " that represents the self, and tend to use the third person for their story-telling, or at least make it clear, contextually, in the song, that their first person " I " is fictive, like in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and in the folk tradition in general.

Commonly known as "confession poetry" --a term first attributed to Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and their ilk, Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album had her labelled the first "confessional songwriter" for a long time, and indeed, there is no album with more "soul mining" involved than in this landmark album. Many female singer-songwriters still name this album as being most influential. But Mitchell herself railed against being labelled as such.* In fact, many feminists argue that the term has sexist overtones, meaning that they feel the word "confessional" implies that these women who write like that do so because they lack imaginations and can't write in any other way.

But let's forget the term "confessional" and use what I like to call "the truthful I." In a broader sense, we're mostly talking about how we choose to use the first person singular pronoun in our songs, and it's a different set of problems for the singer-songwriter than for those who simply write songs but don't perform them.

A common misconception is that the "truthful I" is just relating personal facts when in actuality poetic devices such as metaphor or giving "the facts" a degree or two of separation from that truth is more commonplace. To add to what Ben said, I'd say "there's a certain amount of pretension in even the most honest of our artists."

With the singer-songwriter, it's about one's relationship with one's audience, and well as one's relationship with one's self.

We visit certain artists knowing we are hearing an autobiographical, truthful "I" and others we know to be fictive. What makes Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" so compelling (aside from the singing) is that her lyrics feel really personal. She dared to present herself naked.

Most singer-songwriters don't live in this totally vulnerable world on every album. It would be too demanding. Kris Kristofferson told Joni Mitchell, around her "Blue" period to "save something for yourself" --but my feelings are that there's something that elevates an album with a "truthful I" immediately, before I've even processed the music fully.

If the primary raison d'etre of a singer-songwriter is to have a close relationship with his or her followers, many or few, there's no faster or better way than to have an honest relationship with them, in one way or another. Prine does it with lyrics sometimes and with his in-between-song patter always.

With someone who just writes and has no aspirations towards having an audience, one is much freer to use the first person singular any damn way they well choose.

For the singer-songwriters among us, truth-telling in song is always problematic, it is much of the time at least a degree or two removed from the self. It's very difficult holding a mirror up to ourselves and being totally honest about what we see, let alone making it song-worthy.

The way comedians talk about their craft having evolved after Louis CK kind of relates to this conversation too. Louis CK changed the rules of stand-up, and made it not about telling jokes, but about mining one's own life for material***. The problem with being a simple joke telling stand-up comedian, these days, is people want to feel like they know you. If you are topical or stringing jokes together or doing "sketch" it's a hard road, these days. Most of the performing comics In Los Angeles could be called "confessional stand-up comedians" cuz the scene is literally 90% that, right now.

So perhaps in this age of the 150 character soundbyte where brevity and being clever is at the heart of social media, and that trickling down into the fabric of our daily lives (seen any in depth song critiques, lately?), maybe we look to our singer-songwriting "artists" for something that transcends that shallowness, somehow.

Mike

**********************************************************************************

"..it makes perfect sense to make art from one's subjective inner life because it is the only inner life we have direct access to. "--Camille Fantasia**

*********************************************************************************
*""When I think of confession, you're imprisoned. You're captured. They're trying to get you to admit something. To humiliate and degrade yourself and put yourself in a bad position." --Joni Mitchell

**
http://www.baeblemusic.com/musicblog/4-17-2015/the-original-sin-of-confessional-songwriters.html

***
I'd actual give Lenny Bruce this honor. For several years near the end of his life his act was mostly recounting his problems with censorship and the law.

*********************************************************************************

Last edited by Michael Zaneski; 01/08/17 11:28 PM.

Fate doesn't hang on a wrong or right choice
Fortune depends on the tone of your voice

-The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon)
from the song "Songs of Love"
from the album "Casanova" (1996)
#1122167 - 01/09/17 12:59 AM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting?i [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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BenJones Offline
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I agree with Michael on this. Singer songwriters are way different than songwriters looking to pitch to artists. Songwriters looking to pitch to artists have to try and gear their content to a market, or to a style that the singer they are targeting is used to recording. But I also think in that case I think the non performing songwriter has a much more limited window to write authentically or from real life.

You could writ a song about liking to beat up your wife, if that is your version of fun, but what artist is going to record it? Instead non performing songwriters hide a lot of their demons and write what they think is a positive, safe song.

It's way different. your Bob Dylan's, and Neil Youngs, and John Prins, and James Taylor's, and even your Taylor swifts are artists, who people want to know what they think or do. Taylor swift probably would be nobody if she didn't write.

She made people care about her love life, and they wanted to know about it. I could have cared a less, but I'm not that demographic.

But there is so many different types of songs too. I dint think anybody listens to motley crew or van Halen to hear the singer pouring his heart out.


Last edited by BenJones; 01/09/17 01:09 AM.
#1122183 - 01/09/17 01:45 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting?i [Re: BenJones]  
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I agree with everything you say......I wrote this song about The Singer Songwriter. Not many around anymore. Instead of one vision NOW we have multiple writers....UGH....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB-O234qX3w "SINGER SONGWRITER"

#1122531 - 01/15/17 01:18 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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I've had people who know me very well personally (friends, family members, etc.), upon reading something I'd written, say things like, "That never happened to you." Or, "When did you ever do that?" It's as if I was being totally fraudulent, dishonest or delusional. For me, only about 3% of any lyric I write is close to being autobiographical.


If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.
#1122533 - 01/15/17 01:29 PM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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Barry David Butler (D) Offline
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Write Stories that affect people in different ways....fiction OR truth.
Then get the catchiest melody for chorus as that's the part that the average person remembers and hopefully winds up humming...

I have this argument all the times as to what is more important the Melody or the Lyrics....I think it's the chorus...B

#1122589 - 01/16/17 04:31 AM Re: "Authenticity" in Songwriting? [Re: Kurt Fortmeyer]  
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E Swartz Offline
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E Swartz  Offline
Top 100 Poster

Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 3,383
Ohio
I read something here years back from Mike Dunbar that has always stuck with me on a topic of what is "most" important aspect in writing a good song? He basically, though I don't remember verbatim, expressed the lyrics should be interesting for a listener, not just the songwriter. What may be interesting to some may not be to others, but good lyrics should be interesting enough whether "fiction or non fiction" to either enjoy or relate to, or both. Personally, I believe that "MELODY" is what initially pulls someone to a song, and if they like and feel that, they'll listen. Many good lyrics have been written and have landed on a "poor melody train" that will NEVER be heard, but sometimes "mediocre lyrics" get heard on the radio air waves on a GREAT melody train. If you have both, then all the better!

I think it matters not if it is fiction or non-fiction; what matters is the story composition/structure, believability or relatability as Vic mentioned. But song vibes & style also play a part--some songs work "more poetic," others need more general expression or analogies/metaphors perhaps, others more fragmented thoughts--but "good" simple lyrics can sometimes be more difficult to write than more complex, IMO.

I think "rhyming" when sung, helps create "interest" and accentuates the metering or flowability to music which enhances the "rhythm" of a song--people like that as it aids in them "feeling" the words better since they're listening rather than reading.

Just a few of my thoughts and perceptions on this subject, and opinion.

steady-eddie.


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