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Writing Country if You're not "Country"
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MountainChild
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30th April 2013
Old 30th April 2013
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Writing Country if You're not "Country"

So I've been a fan of classic country all my life, mostly 40's through 60's stuff, but a handful of modern stuff as well. I've also been a fan of Delta Blues, but I just can't seem to write for those genres without feeling like I'm faking it.

First off, I was raised in the Colorado countryside, but being a military brat I've been all over, so I'm not really country. (That and I don't like fishing or big trucks).
Secondly, my life isn't sad, I'm not a middle-aged dad, and I'm not a heavy drinker.

So how do I write country or blues without faking it?
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30th April 2013
Old 30th April 2013
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Doesn't matter where you are from .. Just right your truth... That's country.. I spent 15 years in New York programming Trax for hip hop and rap and for the last 15 years in Nashville getting country cuts.. It's just learning to speak the language in an honest way
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30th April 2013
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Write the truth. It's really that simple.
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30th April 2013
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If you love the music, it will inform the music you make.

Write from your heart. Country music -- not that unlike others, really -- is largely about feelings and the events/situations in life that bring them about. There's often a storytelling element on some level, because country largely grew out of a cross between traditional ballads and blues music (when blues/jazz was the hot music in the 20s and into the 30s), but sometimes the story/situation is largely just hinted.


Interesting you mention delta blues, as I've long toyed with a modified delta blues slide guitar style, but, you know, didn't grow up pickin' cotton or the son of a sharecropper, so I've largely either played instrumentals (quickly feels like I'm stuck in a Ry Cooder soundtrack ) or accompanied myself on my own, often rather untraditional blues. The one thing I've largely tried to avoid is trying to sound like an old black bluesman. (And, I gotta tell you, a lot of white rappers really underlined the wisdom in that. )

A few days ago I was listening to Peter Green singing on "Love That Burns" from one of Fleetwood Mac's 60s blues albums and thinking, man, the great thing about Green has always been that he didn't try to sound like an old black bluesman, he just sings like himself. (It also didn't hurt that he was playing some just amazing guitar then; talk about burning bright.)


Anyhow, to thine own self be true and all that.

Certainly there have been plenty of hits along the way from those faking it -- but you have to live with yourself, ultimately.
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MountainChild
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1st May 2013
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Thanks for the responses. I don't think I could live with myself faking it. So the truth it is.

On another note, how important is it to have an accent in country? I mean generally people think country = southern accent, but there's plenty of old cowboy country from the Arkansas, Colorado and such.
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1st May 2013
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Look at one of the biggest contemporary country singers--Keith Urban. Not only is "urban" the opposite of "country", but he was born in Australian to boot.

The song "Saginaw, Michigan" was a #1 country hit in 1964 by a Texan named Lefty Frizzell.
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1st May 2013
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The 'country' cliche is a fairly recent FM/AM radio invention. Listen to Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell -- they didn't sound too country to me. Same thing with Wilco's country output. Country needs a kick in the pants -- go get 'em.
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1st May 2013
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Country definitely needs a kick in the pants.

The good news from your perspective is that it's grown to embrace all kinds of other sounds and elements in recent years, so the range of styles accepted by country fans is wider than ever. It's also arguably lost a bit of it's soul in the process, so there's an opportunity there to bring it back to it's roots as well.

One thought: Country over the past couple decades perhaps more than other forms has really embraced a good old twist of phrase when it's popped up.

Like in "Two of a kind, workin' on a full house"


... and ironic twists on the meaning of the hook, like in "Pray for you."

... and the old trick of changing the context of the chorus the third time around like in "Don't take the girl."


These concepts can pop up in any genre, of course, but they've created so many hits, they've become woven into the dna of the modern country idiom, so incorporating similar concepts may get you one step closer to something that's already embraced.
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1st May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aint Nobody View Post
Country definitely needs a kick in the pants.

The good news from your perspective is that it's grown to embrace all kinds of other sounds and elements in recent years, so the range of styles accepted by country fans is wider than ever. It's also arguably lost a bit of it's soul in the process, so there's an opportunity there to bring it back to it's roots as well.

One thought: Country over the past couple decades perhaps more than other forms has really embraced a good old twist of phrase when it's popped up.

Like in "Two of a kind, workin' on a full house"


... and ironic twists on the meaning of the hook, like in "Pray for you."

... and the old trick of changing the context of the chorus the third time around like in "Don't take the girl."


These concepts can pop up in any genre, of course, but they've created so many hits, they've become woven into the dna of the modern country idiom, so incorporating similar concepts may get you one step closer to something that's already embraced.
I have to say that twisting a phrase is pretty old school country.. I would say that went out of style over 10 years ago.. Occasionally you see it but not often .. If you are sending that kind of title to a publisher it better be one if the best they've ever heard.. Otherwise it will prolly sound dated around town now.

Clay
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1st May 2013
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Goes to show my taste in the genre, I suppose. I could hang for a while when it was headed in a rock direction, but when it started sounding the same as the adult contemporary station, I started tuning out.

Last time I tuned in, they were playing Taylor Swift and LL Cool J.

I thought I had landed on the wrong station.

Not a personal judgement, just an observation about the shift that's taken place.

Also though, I tend to take a longer view of songwriting in general. Whatever the genre, I personally try to bring the elements that have worked through the ages as opposed to trying to be trendy. Trendy, sure... but not JUST trendy. Whatever worked a hundred years ago worked for a reason. Sounds may come and go, but concepts endure... some more than others.

In every genre, people are always trying to sound just like whatever the flavor of the moment is, and my take is always the same. Stop doing that. Take the long view of the genre, but listen to the most recent stuff for the production cues. Deliver the sonics people demand, organize the concepts in an arrangement they can digest... but draw from a deeper, richer pool than what is currently shown on the genre's surface.

I'm doing pop these days, but I look to my parents' generation, other cultures from around the world, and even to Tin Pan Alley and the Renaissance for inspiration.

Like I said, might not be what works best for most folks, or the surest route to riches, but it's always been a core philosophy of mine, and the older I get, the more I'm convinced it's one worth embracing.
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1st May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MountainChild View Post

So how do I write country or blues without faking it?
I think one of the defining qualities of a good songwriter is empathy and imagination.

As a gift you can view other peoples stories and put yourself in their shoes, writing this way feels less fake because you can draw on the emotions of their story. It becomes a form of projection as you have lived it. Those emotions are now also yours.

I can 'switch on' and get teary eyed just listening to an interview from a fireman at the Texas fertilizer plant and start writing a song about it, I never lost a relative in that explosion but I can sure has hell 'feel' as if I did. Their loss becomes my story and you can weave your own details around that. But as a jumping point, it comes from something real.

Even the story doesn't have to be real, just use your imagination. Emotions can be made up if you work on it, for instance people can feel real fear just looking at a photo of a view from a great height. Whatever gets the juices flowing.

Also somewhat related.

While it helps great fiction writers don't need to have experienced something, a bit of research does the trick in terms of details, the Game of Thrones writer has never been in the presence of dragons but for a moment he can make us believe in them.
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2nd May 2013
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Good storytelling is always in style.
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3rd May 2013
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As a gift you can view other peoples stories and put yourself in their shoes, writing this way feels less fake because you can draw on the emotions of their story. It becomes a form of projection as you have lived it. Those emotions are now also yours.
Well said, I think I've been looking at this all the wrong way.

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Trendy, sure... but not JUST trendy. Whatever worked a hundred years ago worked for a reason. Sounds may come and go, but concepts endure... some more than others.
Words to live by haha. I kind of draw on that philosophy in all my work. I do a little screenwriting every know and then and I try to shy away from post-modern work because I think culture seems to be back-tracking to a more traditional thought process (i.e. superhero movies, things with a clear-cut concept of write and wrong). Thanks for the tip on phrase twisting as well.
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3rd May 2013
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A song with a good story, has a powerful message, and can relate to a lot of people can go a long way no matter what genre you write for.
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4th May 2013
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I totally agree that Country is about telling a story. It can be in your own voice, in the voice of a character that you know/imagine, or in the voice of a narrator in 3rd person. Most of the songs have a moral or anti-moral of some kind (even if it is a clever, humorous one like "A Boy Named Sue") or convey/elicit an emotion (longing for lost love, loneliness, contentedness, being in love, etc.).

I think that most genre's cover this ground, but country sometimes makes it a little more specific and personal, hence the story line. Listen to the popular stuff from the late 80's-90's, it will help you to bridge the gap between the older stuff and today, if that is what you want
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4th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesAlbert View Post
A song with a good story, has a powerful message, and can relate to a lot of people can go a long way no matter what genre you write for.
I lieu of that, try a guest rapper.
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4th May 2013
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Quote:
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I lieu of that, try a guest rapper.
Funny.. Brad has written some great songs over the years .. Easy to single out one average one
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5th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
There is Alt-country and Americana as well.
Hmmm never actually heard of Americana. I googled it real quick looks like it's something definately up my alley.
As far Alt-Country, I'm not quite sure what you mean by that. I would call most of the stuff on the radio today alt-country, of course Lost Highway records has stuff signed as alt-country that sounds more classic country.
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5th May 2013
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Originally Posted by GetCreativeSongs View Post
Funny.. Brad has written some great songs over the years .. Easy to single out one average one
Haha, yeah, he has. I think 'average' is a pretty generous description of that song though. I might have gone with incredibly naive and unintentionally ironic.
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6th May 2013
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I tried N.S.A.I. for a year.

Everything I sent them was always the same. Good structure, conversational and so on and then...here it comes....."too contrived for today's market"... (WHAT?)

The message I got was, if you are writing songs for some one else they have to be very simple and overstated. Too rule bound for me...people are smarter than that. If you give them something to figure out for themselves, they are much more likely to connect with it. My style is story line with some use of metaphors.

If you would buy the song you wrote, then stand by it. The rules constantly change.
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6th May 2013
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Well I was wondering about the whole "not over the audience head" thing. Have you ever heard honeyhoney? Their lyrics aren't exactly complicated, but their often ambiguous.
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6th May 2013
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No I haven't heard the song you referenced.
I am no expert, this is one person's opinion...by todays rules and standards, there would be no "Sgt. Peppers" or "Dark Side of the Moon".
I don't go over the top with metaphors, just slightly enough it leaves the story line open in spots.
Somewhat the same principle as the teacher who would not give you the answer...if they did, 5 minutes later you would forget. They made you figure it out for yourself.
Two quotes I love "Be prepared to throw your first 100 songs away" and "Great songs are not made to be rewritten, they are made to be rewritten, rewritten, and rewritten".
I use a book titled "6 Steps to Song Writting Success" as my main tool.
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7th May 2013
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Never heard of that, I might have to check it out. I struggle with lyrics but I want to write my own lyrics for my music. Mainly because I have thought or an idea behind and I don't want the lyrcist to project their ideas onto my music.
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8th May 2013
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8th May 2013
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some great ideas in this thread. I'm a newcomer to Nashville - been here about 6 months and been getting into some great cowrites - more in pop and rock than Country - but am finding a new and sincere appreciation for the honesty in the country genre.

I love that Darius Rucker record - and then to find Clay in here posting useful thoughts is just gold.

Thanks all for sharing!

best wishes
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8th May 2013
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Be influenced by country songs.

You do not have to be middle aged and a drinker. Just simply if you listen to lots of country music you will naturally get the feel of it so with that influence you would be able to jot down some ideas that may be polished as a proper song.
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8th May 2013
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8th May 2013
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A few country artist seem to be veering away from the trucks, whiskey, girls, fishing model. For example, Kacey Musgraves sings about trailer park life, HoneyHoney sings about killing people (ambiguous lyrics though, it could mean dating), and life after moving to LA.
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9th May 2013
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Yes, not all country is "pop" country, which is what is mostly on the radio. Look up some of these folks. They are a little more alt-country/folk-country: Slaid Cleaves, Bruce Robison, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Kathleen Edwards (some of her stuff), Ryan Adams (some of his stuff), Pat Green, Kevin Fowler, Kelly Willis, and others

Last edited by pickinrooster; 9th May 2013 at 09:27 PM.. Reason: typo
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10th May 2013
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I've heard Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams, I'll check out all those other names.
If you like that kind of Americana sound though, I have to recommend HoneyHoney. I think they're signed under the same company as Ryan Adams (either that or under Lost Highway records) they have a very cool alt-roots sound.

I just wish their was more blues/alt/country crossover going on. I can't get enough of the gritty sound. Haha I guess that's up to me to change that though eh
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