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Where you write a song matters.
Bob Dylan once said:
“For me, the environment to write a song is extremely important. The environment has to bring something out in me that wants to be brought out.” — Paul Zolo, Songwriters on Songwriting
Tell me if the following scenario sounds familiar:
You sit down in front of your notebook.
Your guitar is near you.
You make a start, but something in the air doesn’t feel right.
You open the window hoping for change.
You start to wonder whether this is the right room for you to create in.
If this scenario sounds familiar, then keep reading.
In this post, I’m going to talk about the importance of the environment in which you write songs.
Here’s what I’ll talk about:
Now, let’s take a look at where some leading songwriting experts write their songs.
Songwriting In A Room
When singer-songwriter, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, was asked if she has a special writing room that she prefers, she replied:
“My favorite place to write is at my first publishing company, Patrick Joseph Music.
It’s a little house over off of Wedgwood, in Nashville.
That was where I got my first publishing deal…
There’s one room in there, I’ve written a lot of my songs in there, a lot of things that have been cuts.
When I go in there, I’m there to write.
I think my mind knows that.
My body knows that, and the rest of the world sort of goes away.
It allows it to just be in the place where I’m going to create some songs.
It’s got a glass door and a window.
Sometimes we open the door, and just listen to birds, and have fresh air.
There’s a fireplace in this one particular room too, so if it’s rainy and cold, just flip a switch and it’s on.
There’s a piano in there, a couch, and a couple of chairs.
That ended up being my favorite room.” —Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
The authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Art of Songwriting write:
“An office can become claustrophobic.
Your room at home might seem too routine and familiar to inspire creativity.
Worse, some environments dampen initiative.
If you’re anywhere near a television set, you might use that as an excuse to slack off.”
Find the perfect place to write a song may be challenging.
It may involve some trial and error.
If you are already writing songs in your room, try a different room.
Today I do most of the writing in my studio, at home.
I find it easier to concentrate for a long time there.
Songwriter, Chuck Canon, describes his studio as being his favorite place to write in:
“I can really write anywhere. I just prefer here [in the studio].
My house is a hundred yards up the hill.
We’re in the middle of the woods.
It’s quiet, just kind of conducive to the whole thing.
I like being able to look outside at the hills.
I like the natural light that we have in here.
We’re secluded and there’s no road noise.”
–Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
When asked about a specific place that inspires him, songwriter Bob Dipiero, answered:
“Actually, I would prefer writing in a windowless room somewhere in North Dakota; the less distraction the better.
When I’m writing, I’m so in that moment that it doesn’t matter if I’m on the beach with a bunch of naked people running out in front of me.
If I’m in the moment of writing a song that I’m really passionate about, then the place is inconsequential to me.
There are no magic-touch spots or inspiration zones.
My office is inspirational to me only because I know the history of this office.
I know the people who have had this office before me.
I’ve heard songs that have been written here.
So, it’s an inspirational place, but I don’t need to be here to write.” –Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
When songwriter, Hugh Prestwood, was asked if he ever made it a point to vary the location when he writes, he answered:
“No, I don’t seem to have any problem going up to my studio. I feel pretty comfortable up there. The main thing is, I want to feel alone up there.
It’s very important for me to feel that I have no demands on me during this period, and to just get in a relaxed state. I can do it in my studio. But, I think I could write anywhere as long as I felt alone with it.” —Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
How About Writing Songs In Private?
When I’m writing, I’m often putting my deepest feeling on paper.
Sometimes I put my darkest emotions on paper.
For this reason, I need my writing to be kept safe and secure.
Knowing that it is secure helps me express myself honestly and truthfully.
Here is a practical viewpoint on this matter, by Danny Cope, author of Righting Wrongs in Writing Songs:
“Having somewhere safe to go about creating is also very important.
If you share accommodations, do you ever wait for the other inhabitants to leave or to at least be out of hearing range before you feel comfortable being truly creative?
I have often found this to be the case, especially where melody and lyric writing are concerned!
Sometimes it’s good to be able to sing our little hearts out, safe in the knowledge that we can’t get anything wrong because no one can hear us!
It’s important, and you should make room for it where it is an issue.”
Here is what singer-songwriter, Amy Grant, said about keeping your writing in private:
“I have a safe in my bedroom, and I write down things on scraps of paper and put them in that safe.
The beauty of it is, I know that I’ll write down what I really think, because I know that no one will ever read it.
It’s so important to be able to write down what you really think.
People that write in a diary or a journal, you take on a different tone if you feel like somebody else is going to read it.
You fill in all the blanks.
You try to create the framework for whatever emotion you’re trying to write.
If you’re really writing a journal that no one’s ever going to see, it can almost be stream of consciousness because you know it all.
I don’t know how that relates to songwriting exactly, but it does somehow.”
When asked if there are any specific places that inspire her, singer-songwriter, Gretchen Peters, replied:
“I’ve always found that I have to be alone. I’ve never been able to understand the writer that says, “Well, I was sitting around in the kitchen with my wife the other day, and I was writing”, and I’m thinking, “How, in God’s name, could you do that?”
I have to be alone.
I talked with Jamie O’Hara about this one time and we were laughing, because neither one of us really thought there was anyone else on earth like us.
We were so paranoid about someone overhearing us when we were writing, that we really couldn’t relax, and settle down, and do it, till everyone else was out of the house.
That’s why I build myself an office out in the woods, that’s not attached to the house, because I don’t want anyone hearing me.
I don’t know how else to describe it.
It feels like a very private activity to me.”
—Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
Jimmy Webb, author of, Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting writes:
“I suffer from intense loneliness while I’m writing and crave human companionship.
My assistant bringing me a cup of tea is akin to an angel visiting a doomed man on a desert island with a magical elixir.
On the other hand, it is virtually impossible for me to abandon self-consciousness and write anything meaningful (particularly a lyric) with another person in the room.”
Try To Write Songs In The Same Place
Some songwriters stress the importance of writing in the same exact place.
Danny Cope, author of Righting Wrongs in Writing Songs, says:
“Every moment spent writing is a step toward improvement, regardless of whether we see it.
The trick is trying to find a place and time where those moments are as beneficial as possible.
Routine is a big part of this.
It helps to have a space where we can come back to something that we can find just as we left it, regardless of when and where that might be.”
“The place where we write is important whether it is a physical room or a spacious loft in the heart and mind.
We must clear a safe space around us.
There are nerveless creatures on this earth who could probably perform brain surgery in a rivet factory but most of us can all too easily lose that tenuous thread woven of concentration and inspiration when interrupted.
There is a perverse part of many of us that welcomes that kind of distraction.
It is that part of us that is subliminally delighted with being completely showed in and unable to go to school.
It is indolence without guilt. So, for those of us who have a nervous system and still want to get some work done, tranquility is in order…
There are many pragmatic reasons for having a completely dedicated workplace, whether it is a small room in the home or a separate office/studio or even a favorite boulder in a quiet part of the woods.
One of the most important is continuity. We need to be able to leave a work in progress for hours or days at a time and return to find it completely undisturbed.”
Changing Your Songwriting Environment May Help
If you are doing any rewriting of a song, changing environment, according to the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Art of Songwriting is important:
“Rewriting, in particular, demands a new way of seeing, a different point of view from what you’ve already composed. New backgrounds and new sights encourage that fresh perspective.”
You Can Write Songs In Many Places
When they were asked about their songwriting process songwriters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, replied:
“The songwriting process starts more in the car, or just at home in the bathroom or whatever. When you’re totally relaxed, free, and not thinking about anything.” — Bill DeMain, In Their Own Words: Songwriters Talk About The Creative Process
I wrote my first two songs while traveling in India.
This was in 2012, in a beautiful place called Hampi.
I was isolated and completely surrounded by the majestic nature.
The author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Art of Songwriting writes:
“When the environment interferes with your work, change it quickly.
My first recorded song was written on a park bench. You can sit in the car with a notebook and finish a lyric.
I know writers who operate best while having coffee in a restaurant.
A writer friend of mine has done some of his most successful work on a rooftop.”
I have actually done some songwriting while having a coffee at an outdoor cafés.
It definitely helps to get out of the environment that you are already used to and work elsewhere.
This is what songwriter, Brett Beaves, shared when he was asked if he has a writing room or a special place where he feels the creativity flowing more easily:
“I have written everywhere. I’ve written in parking lots, on the road, on a bus. I’ve written in my bunk in the bus.
I do have a little place that I go to regularly.
It’s a building right across the parking lot.
We have several writers’ rooms there.
I’ve written songs in every room in that building.
I think it’s just that the building’s familiar to me.
Also I’ve written songs in my co-writer’s office, which is lined with gold records and, maybe the first time you walk in, can be very intimidating.
I’ve been able to write good songs everywhere.
I understand the benefits of having a comfortable work area, especially free from distractions.
Maybe it’s not so much where I do it, just so there’s not music blaring, not any distractions, no people coming in and coming out.
I like windows. I like being able to see outside. To me, writing also, metaphorically, involves windows.
Sometimes they’re open; sometimes they’re shut, even in the process of writing a song for three hours.
There’s another room over there, with no windows, and it kind of closes in quick.” —Susan Tucker, The Secrets of Songwriting
The author of 126 Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting ,Robin Federick, says:
“creative spaces come in all shapes and sizes.
You don’t need to think of a creative space as an entire room with a door to keep out the rest of the world.
There are many, smaller spaces in your life if you just look for them.”
Write Songs In Places That Make You Creative
The choice of where you write your song is something personal. The ideal songwriting location varies from person to person:
“Some writers have special places or activities that seem to get them going. For Tony Lane, Neil Young, and many others, driving around does the trick.
Van Dyke Parks and Carlos Santana get ideas in the shower.
Among the places, situations, and activities that have proved fertile ground for songwriters are vacuuming, golfing, “doodling” on an instrument, walking, contact juggling, sitting in a Laundromat, and grocery shopping.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some writers require quiet or solitude to get the ideas flowing.
For them, sitting in the woods, engaging in prayer or meditation, watching the ocean, and lying in bed before falling asleep are the situations that work best.” — C.J. Watson, The Everything Songwriting Book
Danny Cope, author of Righting Wrongs in Writing Songs, asked his students how seriously do they take their songwriting.
The majority of his students replied that they take their songwriting very seriously.
When he asked them where they write their songs, they didn’t have a definite answer.
Here’s his opinion on this:
“If we are serious about songwriting to the point that we would like to be able to make a career out of it, then it follows that we should be thinking about a working space.
All professionals have their working environment, whether it is an office or a chair in the house, a truck on the road, a flower bed, a hospital ward, or whatever.
When we’re earning money, we know that we’re “at work”—wherever that may be.”
Danny Cope’s advice on the songwriting location is very helpful:
“Wherever you find yourself being most creative, make the most of it.
Get yourself into the frame of mind where you are able to pounce on the inspiration should it come.
Don’t allow yourself to miss it and be another one of the thousands of would-be songwriters complaining that they never know what to write about because they never went looking.”
Conclusion: Where You Write Songs Is Important
Where you write a song does matter.
It’s not just about knowing the songwriting craft and being able to write well.
It’s more about understanding that the environment in which you write songs affects you.
It is definitely worth to look for the best place that works for you, even if it means experimenting and trying to write in different places.
Now, I want to hear a little bit about your favorite songwriting environment.
Where do you like to write your songs?
Have you figured out what works for you?
Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.
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