On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Kurt Huget On Songwriting

Kurt Huget On Songwriting

Kurt Huget has been a San Francisco Bay Area performer/songwriter/teacher for over three decades. He has collaborated with many legendary musicians and performers over the years, including members of bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Country Joe & The Fish, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Blue Cheer, The Charlatans, Ace of Cups, Huey Lewis & The News, Sopwith Camel, Steve Miller Band, Rowan Brothers, Sons of Champlin, It’s A Beautiful Day, Sly & The Family Stone, Elvin Bishop, and The Youngbloods.

A career highlight was writing and recording a batch of songs with Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter. Kurt also teaches guitar and songwriting to students of all ages.


What, in your opinion, are the essential components of a good song?


On a structural level, I’d say a strong melody, interesting chord changes, and accessible lyrics that connect with people. That could be something as elegant as “Yesterday,” or as primitive as “Wild Thing.” I believe that a songwriter’s goal should be to write material that has a long shelf life, although that may well be in conflict with the very nature of popular music.

Kurt Huget On Songwriting


Over the years, you’ve had the good fortune to perform, record, and/or write songs with some amazing people and bands.  What have you learned about songwriting from all that remarkable experience?


All of these artists made their mark by pushing the envelope, by taking what they had learned and creating something new and adventurous, both in the content of the music, but also in the way it was presented. They’re trailblazers, and from them I’ve learned to approach music-making by being fearless, adventurous, creating with others, and having fun.


What is your current process for writing new music and what role, if any, does technology play?


I feel very fortunate and grateful that the inspiration for songs comes to me quite often. In that regard, my creative process has been different than most of the songwriters that I admire. What I mean is, they typically had their most creative and productive periods when they were younger. I guess I’m something of a late bloomer in that I have exponentially more songs in me now than I did when I first started out playing music. I suspect that it’s the result of accumulated life experiences, observations, and music study.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B005ZFSWA0″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51f0UeGqmUL._SL110_.jpg” width=”110″]Many song ideas, words and melodies, come to me in dreams. In fact, my first solo CD was called “[easyazon-link asin=”B005W4S83U” locale=”us”]Dream State[/easyazon-link]” for that reason. I think it’s a creative experience that happens to all of us, in one form or another. It took quite some effort on my part to force myself to get up from that half-asleep state, and capture those ideas. For a long time, I had a boom box and a guitar nearby, and I’d record whatever was in my thoughts (or write it down), then go back to sleep and listen in wonder the next morning to what I’d recorded. Now, I use my smart phone to record my ideas.

Kurt Huget On Songwriting


You’ve been teaching a weekly guitar class at San Quentin Prison in recent years. How has that experience influenced how you think about writing original music?


It’s easy for us living in the “free world” to get distracted by frivolous things, like wondering if our hair looks good, or if we can find a parking space. For the guys in San Quentin, every day is about surviving in a challenging and restrictive environment, and doing it with a little bit of dignity intact. In addition to teaching them guitar and music theory, we also dabble in songwriting. The lyrics they come up with reflect the primal aspects of their existence.

As a side note, a couple of my most pretty melodies came to me while I was noodling around on the guitar in the music room there, waiting for my students to arrive for class. It’s ironic that such a heavy, concrete and steel environment could inspire such things.


What have you learned (so far) about the process of marketing original music?


Marketing music is an area where I still have a lot to accomplish. I’m using the usual channels: I-Tunes, Amazon, CD Baby, radio airplay, selling CDs at gigs. Some of my songs have been covered by local artists, but I’ve yet to sell a song to a major artist. I’ve got over 100 songs that I hope to “pitch” to a greater pool of artists.

Kurt Huget On Songwriting


In addition to performing, writing and teaching guitar, you’re also a booking agent. As such, what are the key qualities you look for in singer/songwriters?


The performers that I work with are successful because they live and breathe music. They love to write and perform, whether it’s for an audience of thousands or at a small club. Some of them have had a huge degree of past successes, and are now just making ends meet, but that doesn’t stop their drive. It’s in their DNA, and it’s there to stay.


Sample Kurt’s Music @ Amazon:


[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSXUY” locale=”us”]Stranger At Your Door[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFT0GK” locale=”us”]Easy to Be With You[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSWHI” locale=”us”]Glory Day[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFT0Z6″ locale=”us”]You Can’t Say I Didn’t Try[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFT1MI” locale=”us”]Down Every Road[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSY8K” locale=”us”]Almost Like the Blues[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSYIK” locale=”us”]Why Oh Why[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSXN6″ locale=”us”]Dreamin’ All Over Again[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSYSU” locale=”us”]Rhapsody[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSWUA” locale=”us”]Empty Dreams[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSZO8″ locale=”us”]Captivation[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFT1C8″ locale=”us”]I Can Only Dream[/easyazon-link]



Finally, what are the top several tips you can offer that might be most helpful to other songwriters?


My advice is to listen to many different types of music! Go see a lot of experienced performers. Study the great standards. Listen closely to the songs of great songwriters such as Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Lennon/McCartney, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Gene Clark, Garcia/Hunter, Hank Williams, Brian Wilson, etc.

Also, try to write songs from a viewpoint of experience and observation. Tell a story. Try to avoid getting too caught up in self-centeredness. Way too many young singer/songwriters are stuck in the “I, me, mine” syndrome.

Be open and aware of capturing ideas for music and lyrics. I got the idea for the title song of my newest solo CD (“Mystery To Me”) when one of my 8-year-old guitar students improvised a little 4-note melody, and a day later, someone said, “It’s a mystery to me” in the course of a conversation.

Finally, write and perform as much and as often as you can. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and the more that ideas will flow. And, in the process, you’ll learn a lot about yourself, others, and the mysterious and wonderful creative human spirit.


Tools of the Trade

What instrument do you use when developing a new song?

Kurt: 90% of my songs are written on acoustic guitar, either my 1970 Martin D-18 or my custom guitar made by Danny Ferrington. Occasionally, I’ll write on the piano. Then again, sometimes I’ll write a song without even having an instrument handy, such as while driving or on a plane. I’m able to figure out the chords, melody, and lyrics, in my head and then write them down when I get a chance.

What devices do you use to record your songwriting ideas?

Kurt: For the finished product, I record using my Mac laptop, with Logic software, with an audio interface and an assortment of microphones.

Do you use any software or apps in your songwriting process?

Kurt: I don’t use any software or apps in the songwriting process.

Are there any other items you consider essential for your songwriting toolkit?

Kurt: Once in a blue moon, I’ll refer to a rhyming dictionary when I’m stuck for a rhyme.


Kurt Huget’s Links:


Music by Kurt Huget:

[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B005ZFSWA0″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51f0UeGqmUL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]

[easyazon-link asin=”B005ZFSWA0″ locale=”us”]Dream State[/easyazon-link]

Sample Kurt’s Music @ iTunes


Almost Like the Blues



Easy to Be With You

Glory Day

You Can’t Say I Didn’t Try

Empty Dreams

Why Oh Why

I Can Only Dream

Dreamin’ All Over Again

Stranger At Your Door

Down Every Road