Write What You Know – Songwriting Tips from Rich Mouser at the Mouse House StudioBy Kaylene Peoples | July 17th, 2010 | Category: Indie Hotspot, Tips and Advice | No Comments »
Writing a song can be daunting. First, there are the drums, then the rhythm, chords, and so on. In spite of all that, you still have the lyrics, and you’d better sing them with some feeling! Why would anybody tackle such a task? Many songwriters ask themselves the same thing when they spend so much time in the studio writing and producing a song, only to get it rejected. So what is the secret to writing a good song? Naturally, there’s more than one way to do anything, but seasoned producer Rich Mouser helps to shed a little light on this very complex art of songwriting.
Interviewed by Kaylene Peoples (boldface)
Responses by Rich Mouser
Write what you know. What does that mean?
It means things that you believe in or have experienced, or if it’s a made-up story, something that you feel strongly about so you can put your whole heart and soul into it.
Can you give me an example of an artist you would say who writes in that manner?
50 Cent on a recent interview talked about writing about what he knows. The Beatles wrote a lot in the third person, but they were able to put you right there. For example, “Eleanor Rigby” was taken from a gravestone at the church they used to attend. It’s good to personalize a song.
“Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.” – Beatle’s Lyric, “Eleanor Rigby”
How does a songwriter get started?
Different people have different methods of writing. Sometimes you come up with a title first or a chorus line that gives you a jumping-off point and then you fill in the blanks. Phil Collins would sometimes just start with a drumbeat that felt really good and start adding music on top of that . . . and the lyrics may come last.
When I think of great songwriting, Sting immediately comes to mind. What do you think about his lyrics?
Can you give me any more examples of great lyrics?
I think the Eagles’ Don Henley is a good lyricist, and Coldplay. Don Henley writes in a way where each line is a complete statement within itself. For example, “You can spend all your time making love or you can spend all your love making time. –Don Henley “Take It to the Limit”
Coldplay hits me with some clever lyrics. I remember listening to Coldplay and the lyrics popped out and made an impression on me. But there are a lot of songs I love to listen to that I don’t know half the lyrics to, but I love the overall feel, and it moves me.
What advice would you give a songwriter in getting started writing a song?
Listen to some of your favorite artists for a while, and then take a break and start writing. See what comes to mind. I think it’s important to write where other people can relate to it. You can’t just write solely for yourself. Using broad strokes is good, because people can take what they want out of that song. You shouldn’t just write for yourself. It seems in the end the songs that get over have the combination of music, lyrics, and rhythm that just moves people—touches them inside their soul and makes them feel something, be it jumping up and down and getting crazy or dwelling on something in their past.
What do you think about when people write “formula?”
It’s easy to digest at first, but it doesn’t have any legs to it and will be forgotten quickly. Having some kind of formula is good, but there must be some way to twist it slightly so it doesn’t seem too cookie-cutter.
Who’s your favorite songwriter?
I have many favorites: George Harrison, Peter Gabriel, and John Anderson of Yes. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant . . . the list is endless. There are a lot of things with a song. It’s like having a good script and a bad actor that can’t sell the line—it won’t come off right. You need the right artist to sell the song. You need both a great song and a great artist to really grab people.