VanArts Radio

There’s No “Right” Way to Write a Song

Jul 23 by Adam Thorp

I am constantly writing songs to try help me navigate the web of thoughts in my head. Sometimes I feel like a helpless fly stuck in the web begging to be rescued, other times I feel like an agile spider in the web belting about the ups and downs of life. But regardless of my state at any given time, I’m creating music.

I’ve never had any professional training and honestly couldn’t read a note if I tried. I grew up listening to tonnes of music and have always been drawn to sound and instruments. My grandmother had a baby grand piano that I would always bang around on when I visited. I was always singing (sometimes to the point of irritating those around me, sorry hehe). I joined the choir at school as soon as I could and auditioned for every show or musical I had access to. I loved it! … but eventually got a little tired of singing other people's songs.

Singing other musicians lyrics and melodies is an incredible thing - it’s fun, intimate, and makes you feel less alone in this big wide spider-webby world we live in. However, I got to a point where I wanted to create something more personal. I wanted to sing my own words and express my own experiences through music, but there was just one problem...

I couldn’t play any instruments.

As I said before, I have zero training and almost no knowledge about music theory, but I loved writing and was determined. So, what I did was find a song that I really liked (“Here Without You” by 3 Doors Down - I’m a 90’s kid, don’t judge me) and then changed all the words in an attempt to make something new-ish and a lot more personal to me. I kept the same melody, but wrote all new lyrics that told a different story - my story. I remember feeling this adrenaline rush and immediately knew I’d started a fire that I couldn't stop.

I was hooked.

I got a guitar for my 13th birthday and that just added fuel to the fire. I learned a bunch of easy guitar chords from a book I was given and just kind of figured out the basics over time. Before I knew it I was strumming chords and humming little melodies and songs just started falling out my mouth.

I write from a very honest place and enjoy musicians who are raw and unfiltered and don’t hold anything back. I know everyone has their own processes and techniques and no one is right or wrong in their creation - just different. I’ve developed my style a lot since I got that first guitar (which I still adore and use till this day by the way - her name is Florence and she’s beautiful) and have lost track of how many songs I’ve written. It’s just become a part of my lifestyle at this point. It blends in with my daily life so effortlessly that I don’t really even notice that I’m writing anymore. I think of it more as reflecting and processing. Some people meditate, some people cook, some people exercise - I write.

So, when I heard about this new documentary that just came out called “Shangri-La” that focuses on a producer named Rick Rubin and his songwriting process… I was immediately interested.

Rick Rubin is an American music producer who co-founded Def Jam Records and is basically an icon. He’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, the Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Metallica to Linkin Park, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga, Brandi Carlile, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and the list just goes on and on and on.

The documentary talks about Rick’s life, his love of music, his career, the studio that he works out of (called Shangri-la), the artists he has worked with, and everything in between. It mentions how he has absolutely no musical training, but his genuine love for the artform guided him to the top and earned him legendary status in the industry.

Learning about his simple holistic approach to creating music took me back to my roots and how (and why) I started creating in the first place. Everyone has their own unique journey that influences their style, perspective, sound, process, messages, etc. and I think people (especially young aspiring artists these days) get too caught up in the idea of trying to be someone they’re not. They try to mould themselves to fit what they think is “in” right now and what could gain them the most traction online - which works for some people, but it’s not the only way to get yourself out there. I find it sad that so many artists believe that they’re not good enough, don’t have enough training, don’t have enough experience, are not pretty enough, are not “perfect” enough...

I always believed that I would never make it in the industry because of my lack of training. I thought I was too amateur and alternative and couldn’t possibly get very far. However, my outlook on the industry has changed dramatically in the last little while and learning about Rubin and his process basically turned that fire I mentioned earlier into a raging bonfire.

I think that by being genuine and tapping into your subconsciousness for art offers something so incredibly valuable and meaningful to the world. There’s nothing wrong with a structured and slightly more manufactured approach either - as I said before, there’s no right or wrong way to write a song - but I am personally so much more interested in the deeper oceans than the shallow waters.

I’m grateful for music and am so happy I stumbled across Rick Rubin’s story. Check out the documentary on Showtime!

I think I might go write a song now :)

- A