Taylor Swift Teaches Songwriting 101
Taylor Swift can't guarantee your songwriting will be as spectacular as hers, of course, but she's willing to give you plenty of tips to get you on the right path.
It's likely not surprising that Taylor wrote all the songs on her October release 'Speak Now.' After all, Taylor's songwriting is what made her stand out from the crowd in the über-competitive music business. Consider that she wrote her own debut hit, 'Tim McGraw,' before she was 17. When her self-titled debut album -- which included that song -- went gold just a few months after its October 2006 release, Songwriter Universe and other writers' guides started clamoring to find out how Taylor pens such personal songs. The questions haven't stopped and Taylor answered many of them during an online chat earlier this week.
"My advice to first-time songwriters would be you know the person you are writing the songs about," she says. "First know that. Then write a letter to them, what you would say if you could. That's why I listen to music. It says how I feel better than I could. And it says what I wished I had said when that moment was there. So I would say be as direct as you possibly can. If you need to dial it back later, then, I guess, do that -- but for me, the more details the better."
Taylor also stays ready for her muse to strike. Some of her best ideas for the songs on the upcoming album, she said, came to her in the middle of the night as she traveled on her Fearless tour. No collaborators were around, so she wrote and finalized the songs herself.
Although she refrains from revealing many details of her personal life during interviews, Taylor told those on the chat that she "definitely sings about it" on her songs, and so should you.
"The more it seems like a journal entry the better. The more it seems like an open letter the better," says Taylor. "The more true and honest and real it gets the better. Where you're naming the places you went and the time it happened and all the things about a relationship."
Although Taylor didn't give an example from her own writing, she shared her admiration for Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed the 2003 movie 'Love Actually.' "Richard Curtis is one of my favorite writers. And he's the guy behind 'Love Actually, which is my favorite movie. I think the best thing about Richard Curtis' writing is that when he plays out these relationships in these movies it's not just a boy and a girl fall in love and all that. It's all these inside little mementos of each other. Like the one relationship in 'Love Actually' they had an inside joke of how she loves a Joni Mitchell album and then there's the little storyline where all the little jokes that play out. So if you can, in your songwriting, be as detailed as possible. Because for people to relate to it, they may not have the same details in their relationships that you have in yours but they can relate in that they had these little details of the relationships. The more honesty the better, the more details the better, the more direct the better."
Taylor shares her songs with her mother and others in her inner circle long before she records them. Those people can be trusted to tell her if they don't like a song, which is just as important to Taylor as hearing that someone does like the song.
Even if a song makes the cut, Taylor said she's open about which songs actually make the final records.
"It has to be personal when I'm writing them but it can't be personal when I'm picking them. It can't be like, 'But no, that one is special to me,'" she says, pretending to whine in protest. "To a certain extent it is 'May the best song win.' I don't get my feelings hurt when it comes to picking which song makes the record and which one doesn't."
The first single from Taylor's new album, 'Mine,' will be released in mid-August.