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27 May 09 What does it take to write a song?

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This is a very interesting question, I believe – especially from my standpoint. Musically, I have a very limited number of tools required to complete the songwriting process. When I started, I did not know how to play an instrument. Now, I own an acoustic guitar, a bass and a keyboard, and I still don’t know how to play them! My singing experience consisted of an outstanding career in the childrens choir back home, and years of exhaustive shower singing research.

So what made me think I could be a songwriter? The answer is actually very simple. I know how to tell a story. To me, that is the single most important element of songwriting. And whether a person is writing lyrics or plotting out the musical elements, he needs to understand that he is, indeed, a storyteller. As a television news director, I preached this daily to my staff. The photographer had to tell the same story with his video that the reporter told with his words. My producer had to tell the story of the most important 30 minutes of news at that time. I had to tell the story of the news philosophy of our station, and so forth. We are all storytellers. Our success as a team is dependent on each member of that team to effectively tell his or her story.

In July of 2000, I left a 24-year career of television news and moved into television sales, which required a lot of travel. For the first time since 1977, I was not writing or telling news stories. And I was sitting in a lot of hotel rooms, looking at my computer screen. My fingers were restless. I thought about writing a book, but I did not have the patience. I thought about writing travel articles, but I did not have enough time to research the stories. Then, a traumatic personal experience suddenly aimed me in a new direction.

My mother died in late August 2000. After all was said and done, one of the items I inherited was the rocking chair that she used to rock me in when I was a baby. I love that chair. If you’ve ever had a chair like that – worn, comfortable, with each creak bringing back the comfortable feelings of early life – you know what I am talking about. One day I was sitting in the chair, rocking and listening to the sounds. They created a certain rhythm as I rocked, and that made me think back to my mother humming to me as she rocked me too many years ago. The next thing I knew, a story developed in my mind, then a melody. I really think that first song wrote itself. I called it “Mama’s Rocking Chair.” It’s not the best song I have written, but it is quite possibly the most important, as it opened the portal to my musical creativity.

From that point, I found that I love writing songs. Sometimes, I get a melody and come up with lyrics. Other times, a line will lead to another line, and another, until I have a story written. When that happens, the melody usually follows right behind. I can’t always explain how it happens, but it does. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I have since been blessed to match up with my co-writer, Gary Tullier, who has since become one of my closest friends. Gary and I love to work together to tell a story – me with my lyrics, Gary with his music.

So what does it take to write a song? My experience has shown me that it takes two things: the ability to open your mind, and the ability to tell the story that you find there inside.

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