This week’s guest post comes from Vivek Shraya, a Toronto-based multimedia artist, working in the mediums of music, performance, literature and film. Vivek particpated in a panel discussion called “Looking at Lyrics: The Art of Songwriting” on The This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage.
This past fall, I was thrilled to be invited to participate in Word On The Street for the second time. Two years prior, I read from my first book, God Loves Hair, which had been out for only a few months. As I walked to the This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage, I reminisced about that experience, and about how much my life has changed since I shared my stories.
One of the biggest changes has been that music, which has always been my primary passion, is not at the forefront of my creative practice as much. After writing songs and making records for over a decade, I have been enjoying exploring other expressive outlets, expanding my artistic identity. So it was a surprising and exciting switch to be speaking on a songwriters panel, something I had not done since 2002, and at a literary festival no less!
I am an ardent fan of process and have learned so much by listening to other artists discuss how they create, how they transform an idea into an external piece of work. I felt honoured to be on a panel with local artists Casey Mecija and Gentleman Reg, whose careers and talents I have admired and been inspired by, and was eager to hear what they had to say. I was also excited to be introduced to Derek Monson, another musician on the panel.
Our discussion confirmed that, like most art forms, there is no strict formula for songwriting. Some of us write lyrics first, some of us chase melodies first, and some of us do both in unison. Some of us write on guitar or keyboard and some of us work a cappella. Some of us are trained musicians and some of us are not. Some of us are inspired by the simplicity of pop structure, and some of us are inspired by abstract sounds and images. Some of us believe that our best songs are ones that simply manifested in mere minutes, and some of us are proudest of the songs we agonized over for months, perfecting the lyrics.
As someone that spends a lot of time thinking about the songwriting process, or more specifically about what it takes to write a great, timeless song, it was comforting to revel in our different methods. I was reminded that the key to a great song is being open to the inspiration, whatever it might be, and having the courage to follow it down any road it takes.
I only wish Casey had performed so that everyone who attended could have heard her one-in-a-million-voice.