By Michael Anderson
Just do it. With apologies to Nike, I am "borrowing" their slogan in this article because it says pretty succinctly what this article is about thematically — taking the process of writing a song from the theoretical to the practical.

One of the great things about being a teacher is how much you learn — there is an accountability to presenting information to students who are aware — they will call you on stuff — and you better know what you are talking about or you lose credibility very quickly.

But recently I have gone over to the other side — I am taking classes as a student. And one of the good things about that is seeing how other teachers handle aspects of education and procedure — everyone has his own style — and it is interesting to see how another teacher deals with presentation.

One of the things I have noticed about the class I am taking is the approach. It is a film class — it can be very technical and it deals with some complicated equipment and computer software.

My usual way of teaching is to get into the theory of what makes things work and understand it from the inside. The teacher of the film class is the opposite — with out much explanation or fanfare he threw the class into technical aspects of equipment and computer programs that are complicated and expected us to work our way out — like teaching a kid to swim by throwing him into deep end of a pool.

To my surprise I found myself doing things I didn't know I could do — and saw other students doing the same. You swim or you go down.

And I was surprised at the attitude of the teacher with the expensive equipment and complicated programs — that they are nothing but tools to use to accomplish the task — there is nothing inherently mystical or sacred in them.

For an old school musician that attitude is a bit heretical — any guitar player will at least be familiar with the respect due a 1959 Les Paul, or a vintage Martin acoustic guitar — a classic Hammond B3 for a keyboard player — U87 Neumann mic for a singer. There is an almost museum quality reverence to gear in that sense that is there even for a songwriter.

There is even an element of gear head awe in the magical qualities of computers — who can pay for a new computer and start it up without some kind of respectful, if not reverential, deference to the workings no ordinary human can understand? You don't know how it does what it does, or why, at times, it doesn't do what it is supposed to do — not much different in perspective from some illiterate native at the turn of the century watching a train or automobile — looks more magical than logical.

But they really are tools — tools to do your work. And in the case of songwriting — tools that can help or hinder the process.

You can start with a blank sheet of paper, a pencil, and an acoustic guitar or piano. Or you can work in a studio filled with gear where you can turn your masterpiece into a finished product. But you have to start and do to get anywhere.

I have found for myself and for most of my students a more basic, easy to understand, and comprehensive process is less intimidating and generally more productive.

But I am also learning that you can use the elements of a very complicated system and grow into the aspects you need with the right attitude — when you stop being overwhelmed with possibility and start using what you need for where you are. Creativity is a one-step-at-a-time process — don't let the process distract you — just do it.

In video work for Web sites and music videos I have worked for a while with iMovie — a simple program that does the job. In the film class they use Final Cut Pro — a comprehensive tool that can overwhelm a pro with options and variables — but if you jump right in, Final Cut can also be a very elegant program. You can drive to the store in an old Toyota — or you can drive in a new Mercedes — but getting to the store is the point — don't let the vehicle be the process.

In songwriting it is the same thing. You can do it with that old acoustic guitar, the pencil, and the pad of paper, or you can do it with your word processor, and Garageband / Logic / Pro Tools — or even a sound stage with a full orchestra — but the point is the creating the music. Don't let the technology be the process.

Use what you got — use the best you can, but use it to get done what it is you want to get done — that vision is the reason — the process is just the ride. Enjoy it.

Technology is your friend — it is your tool. In fact, it is your slave, in a nice way. I wouldn't recommend throwing your computer in the pool to teach it to swim though.



You can contact Michael Anderson or buy Michael Anderson's Little Black Book of Songwriting at michaelanderson.com.

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