I've written about trying to market myself as a writer on this website before. I've even technically written songs as part of my musical play, as well as the parody educational songs "Comma Chameleon" and "Separate Words." However, since I'm not a composer or singer, I was kind of stuck. Sure, my friend and famous musician Evan Paydon recorded some music for one of my songs, but I never sang it or recorded the music video parody of Separate Ways by Journey (my inspiration from the start). Nope, I didn't have all the tools necessary to become a true songwriter.
Then came Jay Isaacson. We'd discussed working together on my musical, but scheduling never worked out, and, really, it would have been a huge commitment with no promise of any rewards. But Jay knew I could write, so when he wanted to start recording some original songs, he asked. Actually, he asked both Lisa and me, but Lisa is currently busy in another first year of teaching.
I wasn't all that sure of myself, but I went along for the ride. Then we joined a songwriting challenge. Sure, the organizers want your money at the end to help you out by offering classes, but that's optional. The challenge provided some marketable themes and some motivation. That's all I needed to start to see how I can fit into the mix of songwriting.
You see, songs are generally very vague. I'd been taught (and spent years teaching) that being vague was bad writing, but songs NEED to be kind of vague so that the masses get the point. For example, I wrote a short story about being a college kid at UW-Milwaukee. I talked about Downer and Mitchell Hall. If I was writing a song about being a college kid, however, I'd talk about walking down a lonely street and entering a red brick building. It's a shift, but it's not really hard. The repetition, rhythm, rhyme-scheme, and metaphors all still apply, like when I write poetry, but I just have to be more careful of the specifics.
I also had to learn standard song structure. Luckily, Wikipedia and a few other websites offer some ideas, but I also just listened to 88.9 in Milwaukee (online) and 102.9 in Jacksonville for some ideas. I saw how lyricists change up rhyming and extend rhythms in a way that I hadn't thought about before. Luckily, Jay is a perfect match for the Indie Rock that I like, even if he didn't realize it at first. His voice is like a pleasant and understandable version of Kurt Cobain.
Honestly, there was nothing better than hearing my first song put to music. Jay nailed it, even without me giving him exaclty how I heard it. In fact, it turned out better than the song in my head. All I had to do is tell him it wasn't country and send a few links to songs I liked. That goes to show how talented he is.
I can see the formula in songwriting, and that's making it fun right now. I can see how my words can be used to make something that will affect way more people than my books of poetry ever will, and that's exciting, even if we end up just getting a few thousand Youtube hits-- people won't even click on my spoken-word poems on Youtube.
The goal in writing songs with Jay, however, is to sell the songs. We're not going to go on tour or pretend to be a boy band. He'll record songs that can be used to sell products or as part of a screenplay. People pay decent money for that. If you're a writer who's stuck trying to get people to read you or a musician who's stuck playing covers, I'd suggest getting to know one another. If nothing else, maybe we'll make some music that's more meaningful than the Top 40 stuff. Then again, maybe one of our songs will become Top 40 someday, so I won't knock it too much.