Writing Songs With – Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg

Welcome to an occasional series of posts gleaning songwriting tips from unusual sources. Can a worship songwriter learn anything from horror writer Stephen King? What can a prog-rock band learn from The Goon Show? Find out in the next few weeks, and read on to see how YOU can shape future posts…

Do It Yourself (For Now)

Films are made by casts of thousands, even tens of thousands. One in every 25 New Zealanders worked on Lord Of The Rings in some capacity, so the legend goes. Alongside the extras and assistant to the third assistant directors are a core team of incredibly talented people who carry major responsibility in their own right.

But Peter Jackson didn’t begin by moblising a whole country to his vision, kick-starting the tourist industry and driving down unemployment. No, before Richard Taylor & Weta Workshop had been set to work making a single Hobbit ear, Peter Jackson was mixing foam latex in his mother’s food mixer and baking alien heads in the family oven for Bad Taste.

And before John Williams entered Steven Spielberg’s life (no doubt preceded by a menacing Cello leitmotif) Steven was composing his own score for the 1964 film, Firelight, on the clarinet. Both directors did these roles out of necessity rather than choice and were happy to make way for more talented men or women when they arrived, but in the early stages they did everything. When Jackson needed a steadicam (RRP $40,000) he built one (for $20). When the Nazis in Escape To Nowhere needed matching shirts it was Spielberg who got dye on his hands.

Music has a smaller but no less essential crew.To get a song from an idea to an audience you probably need at the very least a songwriter, a singer, musicians, a producer or engineer, a publisher, and a publicist. Who are you going to get to do all those jobs? Long term – who knows? But short term I’m pretty sure it will be you. Some of these roles you’re gifted in. In others you’re hopeless. But it doesn’t matter. You have to do them anyway, at least till you can pay someone or talk ‘em into doing it for nothing. And that may be never.

What I’ve learned from Steven and Peter is there are jobs to be done and they ALL need to be done. You can’t work doubly hard at some and ignore others.

  • It’s pointless writing great songs if you never record them.
  • Pointless making great demos if you never get anyone to listen to them.
  • Pointless being a master publicist with no songs to promote.

Until your dream team (and the funds to pay them) arrives do the best you can. Study if you have to. But remember as you struggle with SEO, or Pro Tools, or playing the drums that incredible projects like The Two Towers or Close Encounters only exist because something came out of Steven’s Clarinet and Mrs. Jackson’s oven.

Over to You.

Is there anything you’ve learned from someone outside of the music business that has really shaped your songwriting? A preacher, sports coach, cookery expert, business mogul? Maybe even a fictional character? Leave me a comment – who knows? It might be worth turning into a guest post?


About mattblick

Songwriter/Singer from Nottingham, UK. My 2nd EP, Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky, is out now. I'm blogging (& podcasting) through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy. In my spare time I wish I had some spare time.
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