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Gary Ewer Breaks Down the Core Elements of a Good Song

First and foremost, who is Gary Ewer and what made you gravitate towards the art of songwriting?

I'm a music teacher, author, adjudicator, composer/arranger and conductor. I'm the author of "The Essential Secrets of Songwriting", a set of 7 eBooks that deal with every aspect of songwriting. And I've recently completed a book for Backbeat Books (a subsidiary of Hal Leonard Corporation), called "Beating Songwriter's Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music."

My formal training was in classical music, though I've always had a strong interest in pop music. So my training has allowed me to look at various pop styles of music composition from, I hope, a unique perspective. I try to show songwriters how the writing of all music follows the same basic principles regardless of the actual genre. Describing those principles has been a strong interest of mine for the past 10 years or so, and the main focus of my blog.

I recently read one of your blog posts and you stated that writer's block is not caused by a lack of inspiration. Would you mind expounding on this idea?

Yes, the truth of the matter is usually that even though inspiration is lacking for people who suffer from writer's block, the loss of inspiration is a result, not a cause. Experiments on people who suffer from creative blocks, whether music, literature, or other creative art forms, have shown that one of the best ways to defeat writer's block is to write anyway -- to write through the block rather than sit back and wait for inspiration. Here's a bit more about how that works. Songwriting is the bringing-together of musical ideas until we've created a complete song.

When we conjure up a musical idea, we feel a tiny shot of excitement when we add that idea to something else we've created. That shot of excitement is what we would otherwise call inspiration. Now, sometimes we bring ideas together that just don't work well, and so we toss them out and keep attempting to create more. If we keep tossing ideas for too long, we don't create the inspiration that excites us, and our temptation is to stop. If that goes on for a few days, weeks or longer, we call it writer's block. The best way to cure that is, most of the time anyway, to set a schedule that "forces" us to write. Granted, there are times when a good rest is just what the doctor ordered. But more often than not, writer's block can be solved by creating a writing schedule and sticking to it.

I have started researching good songs and I have found that good songs usually resonate with the audience. Based on your experience what are the core elements to a good song?

If you ever look at online lists of "worst songs ever", you'll find that most people find songs with bad lyrics to be the ones that are worst. So you'll usually find the opposite of that will be the songs that truly resonate with people: songs that present lyrics using plain, everyday words that speak to the listeners' collective heart.

In songwriting terms, resonance simply means, "Hey, you're speaking my language." In that sense, we'll all have our own definition of what makes a song resonate. Beyond lyrics, you'll find that the basic beat of the music, the instrumentation, and then of course the delivery (performance) of the music are going to be key ingredients to making a song resonate.

What is Gary Ewer's favorite song of all-time?

"I am the Walrus" (The Beatles). I really love the instrumentation, the vocal sound and performance style, and just the attitude the song conveys. I was a bit too young to be caught up in the Beatles craze, being more a child of the 70s. But there's something about that tune (and a lot of Beatles music, actually) that just seems timeless and fantastic.

I need a song to sit with me a long time before it ever becomes a contender for all-time favorite song. Two other top favorites: "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" (from the Genesis album of the same name), and Imogen Heap's "Tidal", from her 2008 album "Ellipse." Why? No idea. And maybe not knowing why a song just sounds so great is part of the magic.

You have a 6-eBook Bundle titled The Essentials Secrets of Songwriting. Which eBook took the longest to write?

"The Essential Secrets of Songwriting" is the one that took the longest. Close to a year. I could probably write that one quicker now, but much of what I was writing about was something I needed to study and research. Finding concise and coherent ways to describe what happens in a song isn't easy.

And part of what took the time was to research the principles of songwriting that are in common across many different genres. I needed to know that the aspects of music I was describing were ones that occurred in all (or at least most) genres. And that took some time, particularly because I needed to get a bit more familiar with genres I was less familiar with at the time, such as country and metal.

Gary Ewer is a veteran music teacher, clinician, composer and arranger. His interest in the relationship between the pop and Classical worlds eventually led him to write an ebook for songwriters, "The Essential Secrets of Songwriting", that looks at hit songs in much the same way a Classical musician would analyze a symphony. Through his writings, he shows songwriters how to take their music to a new level of excellence. He is the author of "Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music", published by Backbeat Books. His songwriting blog can be found at: http://garyewer.wordpress.com.


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