Matt Blick interviewed by Henrique Fogli (originally published on creativegibberish.org)
Being a beatlemaniac, an aficionado about the creative process and a music student for about 3 years now made me come across a wonderful jewel on the internet, Beatles Songwriting Academy by Matt Blick. On his outstanding blog, Matt dissects the creative job done by the Fab Four, analyzing their creative process, the music theory behind it, the sources of their inspiration and other aspects involved in their songwriting. I became a big fan of his blog.
And I got real lucky! I asked him if he could share a bit his view of the creative process involved in songwriting – not only from the fab four, but his as well, for Matt is not only a music teacher but also a songwriter. And he agreed! So here I’m sharing a piece of his insights about creativity and inspiration.
Henrique: Matt, let me ask you about Yesterday. Paul claims that he woke up one day with the tune in his head and found the notes and the melody on the piano. A moment of divine inspiration I would say. But as a songwriter yourself, do you think that this would have happened if he’d never touched an instrument before? I mean, would inspiration take place without technique and practice to back it up?
Matt: The story is true, though it’s worth pointing out that he only had the verse melody, not the bridge, lyrics, chords or string arrangement. Without Paul’s technique Yesterday would have only been completed through a massive amount of trial and error, which would have taken so much time, the original inspiration would probably have be lost.
Practically speaking we have Yesterday because Paul was a good enough piano player to roll out of bed and figure out what he had heard in his head quickly enough to keep it. Then he also had the skill to come up with a complimentary section (“why she had to go I don’t know”) and use his instinctive, but very developed, sense of harmony to come of with a chord progression that suits the melody. Not to mention the poetic ability to craft a simple, memorable lyrics (which he did over several months). So I would say inspiration happens to anyone, but it takes a lot of skill and practice to catch the inspiration and turn it into something that others can understand and appreciate.
Henrique: How does inspiration reveals itself to you?
Matt: When I go looking for it! I think for any artist it’s important to have some kind of capture system. The nature of creativity and the unconscious mind means the great or original ideas often come at times when you’re not thinking directly of creating something. So I write down lyrics which go in a folder and record musical ideas which go into a playlist. But it takes work to turn those inspired idea into songs, and it’s only at the end of the process that you can listen to a recording, or play a song for others and know whether it’s any good or not.
Just to be clear I believe you can be inspired in the ‘hard work stage’ too, but you can’t stop every two minutes to take your own ‘creative temperature’. Trying to figure out if what you’re doing is any good while your doing it shuts down the whole creative process.
Henrique: When writing a song, do you have a method you mostly use? Do you write the lyrics first? The harmony? The melody? Even if you don’t always use the same pattern, what do you think is the easiest one? Why?
Matt: My usual method starts with lyrics. Once I have a rough idea of what the song is about, I can get lots of clues about what the structure and feel of a track needs to be. I have written every other way too, but I often have a clear idea of something I want to say and I want that to dictate the mood rather than whatever chord progression my finger landed on. I think for a beginner whatever’s easiest is the best method, but if you find your method is making all your songs sound the same then it’s time to try another approach.
Henrique: Do you believe that studying any other art form can help you write songs more easily? Like having experience writing poetry, for instance?
Matt: Most definitely. I’ve written posts on my blogs about what songwriters can learn from famous authors, film directors, comedians, even album artwork. You can learn a lot from poets and poetry so long as you understand that lyrics are not just poems stuck onto music.
Henrique: Do you try to communicate the same message with the music and the lyrics?
Matt: Yes. The only exception is where you’re trying to create a humorous effect from the two being mismatched.
Henrique: Most people tend to think that, in order to work with creativity, you must stay away from rules, patterns, organisation and schedules. What do you think?
Matt: I would say that most unsuccessful artists think like that! I’m a football (soccer) fan. When those guys train they spend hours passing balls to each other, running round cones, shooting from the penalty spot, taking corners and practicing different tactics or set pieces. They practice all these things so that when the game begins they can do them at the instinctive level. It’s the same with songwriting. That’s why I spend so much time analysing the Beatles songwriting techniques in order to ‘master the basics’. There’s a world of difference between ‘forgetting everything you’ve learned’ and never knowing it in the first place!
Matt Blick is a singer/songwriter from Nottingham, UK who is analysing the songwriting tips and trick from all 211 Beatles songs and sharing what he learns at Beatles Songwriting Academy