On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Dave Richardson On Songwriting

Dave Richardson On Songwriting

What makes a good song good? Where do ideas for original songs come from? How do you know when the song is finished?

I recently chatted with San Gabriel-based composer, musician and recording engineer Dave Richardson about these philosophical aspects of songwriting. Dave picked some sparkling banjo, sang baritone vocals and mixed/mastered my most recent CD, The Magic Hour. These days, he still wakes up before dawn to rip through a bunch of amazingly fast scales while most of the West Coast is catching a final hour of sleep, happily unaware of the cacophony of notes bursting from his Gibson.

Rick:

In your opinion, what makes a song particularly memorable or special?

Dave:

A good song must bring about an emotion. Whether it’s laughter, sadness, anger or contemplation, a good one will elicit some kind of response from most people in your audience. Some, of course, will float right through it, and a meaningful message to one person might mean nothing to the next.

Rick:

Yep, that’s probably why it feels like certain songs are actually telling your own story. When you sit down to write a new song, is that what you’re thinking about?

Dave:

The songs that I have written come from real life experiences. I am really prolific when things are not going well! I really don’t know the reason for this. I know that when things are going well, it is very difficult for me to wake up and say, “I am going to write something today!” and then actually follow through. The creative process just comes to me at the moment, and I write it down. Recently, I wrote an instrumental for a friend who passed away unexpectedly. I suppose words could be written to it, but I wanted to play it for the loved ones left behind and let them imagine their own words to the melody.

Rick:

When you’re writing a new piece of music, how do you know when to put a © on it, lay down your pen and call it done?

Dave:

It’s hard to say when a song is finished. Sometimes, when your song is performed live for the first time, you realize that the words are hard to sing, or the meaning of your words is too obscure and need to be modified. I think that there must be a time, however, when you must stop working on it. Perhaps if you record it, and listen to it a month later, you will hear things that you didn’t hear when the song was closer to you.

Rick:

One of my favorite Dave Richardson originals is a barn burner you call The JackRabbit at Kennywood Park. What’s the story behind that tune, and where did the quirky name come from?

Dave:

My sister took me to Kennywood Park, a very old amusement park near Pittsburgh, when I was 9-years old. She told me that she wanted to take me on a “scenic railway” ride. That sounded tame enough to me. Well it wasn’t. It was the JackRabbit! It still runs today, and is one of the few wooden ravine roller coasters still in existence. There’s only a single leather strap holding you in, and there is a double-dip near the end of the ride where you become weightless! I didn’t write this tune until a few years ago, when I got to thinking about the experience. The B part of the song is supposed to imitate the roller coaster. I am going to re-record it this year at a more reasonable speed. It’s really too fast.

Rick:

You mentioned earlier the importance of tapping into emotion with a song. You wrote a song called When Love Turns Blue that must have been hard to sing when you first wrote it.

Dave:

This is a fairly simple song about a man who is intensely in love with a woman, but probably will never be with this person forever due to circumstances. I originally had a verse in the song that hinted at these circumstances, but removed it later. I thought it gave away too much. The song comes from personal experience.

Rick:

Thanks Dave. Maybe this post will help spread the tears to a few new ears.



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