Rex Benson – Interview (Part 3)

by Emilio Pérez Miguel on August 16, 2009

This is the third and final part of the interview with Rex Benson from Rex Benson Music Group. It deals with songwriting. Remember to read Part 1 (about his company) and Part 2 (entitled “Music & You”).

PART III

SONGWRITING

What goes into writing a song which is set to become a standard? Is that something natural, something you have to chase actively, or a little of both?

To me, Songwriting is a lot like Real Estate…The overall potential value of a song is determined by How great the Idea/title/concept is…In Real Estate they say ‘Location, Location, Location’…In other words you don’t build a dreamhouse in an undesirable setting…Same with a song…Start with a great setting and then you have at least a CHANCE to write a strong and memorable piece…

As to becoming a standard…that depends on so many factors including the audience’s response to the song…whether Radio plays it…the impact of the artist or artists who record it…Many other factors too…

It is not easy to achieve a balance between words and music in any composition. Paul Simon once said that the number of songs that are popular on the strength of the lyrics alone is virtually negligible. On the other hand, songs that feature contagious melodies can (and often do) succeed even if the lyrics are underdeveloped. Based on your personal and professional experience, is it really so hard to reach a balanced point?

In 2009 it’s gonna depend I think on which format you are writing for…The Great Country Music Songwriter Harlan Howard once described Country Music as “3 Chords and the Truth”… In other words in his perspective the lyric and story-telling was actually MORE important in country music since the music/chords were perhaps more basic…but a writer like Paul Simon who is among the best ever, has the extreme gift of being able to craft BOTH interesting and poetic lyric along with mature and developed melodies and chord progressions… throw in that he’s also one heckuva guitar player and you’ve got a truly elevated kind of songwriter…

But long after the words are forgotten…or if they were never learned in the first place, my original publisher once told me that if you can’t whistle a song after one listen, then it ain’t working…

Yeats once wrote “a line can take us hours maybe, yet if does not seem a moment’s thought our stitching and unstitching will be nought”. Do you think the key to a memorable lyric lies there – in spontaneity?

I don’t know that I can pinpoint any rule…but great lyric is a gift I think…I prefer the concept that songs already exist and that a writer’s real job is to sort of extract them…and in that regard they often do seem to miraculously appear spontaneously…

Samuel T. Coleridge once said something which will always be very, very true: even the most mundane life can be told in songs and become an exciting listening experience as long as it is narrated faithfully. Even these truly minor incidents can become enthralling compositions. What is your opinion? How does that relate to the previous question?

Absolutely true…and a songwriter’s job, just like that of a visual artist, is to observe LIFE and then present it back to the audience with a new, and hopefully more interesting, perspective…

Finally, what advice can you give to aspiring songwriters? How should they start down the professional path? What are the common mistakes that should be avoided?

I’m a believer in writing from titles…As previously explained start with great ideas… Keep a list of titles…Write down anything you hear or see that MIGHT be a title for future reference…Write songs with Choruses which tend to be more memorable and are more attractive to the recording industry…Be VISUAL with your lyric…Paint a picture…Emotion is fine but the GREAT songwriters like Dylan, Simon etc. are also able to create a video in the listener’s mind…and lastly, NEVER, NEVER give up if someone tells you to ‘Keep Your Day Gig’…Just forge ahead…

{ 2 trackbacks }

Rex Benson – Interview (Part 2) | MusicKO
August 16, 2009 at 8:50 am
Rex Benson – Interview (Part 1) | MusicKO
August 16, 2009 at 8:52 am

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Campoli November 29, 2009 at 10:56 am

Always reading on songwriting stuff and when I got to the comment by
Paul Simon, “songs that are popular on the strength of the lyrics alone
are virtually negligible”, I went, wow, I totally agree with that.
How can one disagree? Turn on pop radio today and listen for such a lyric.
Turn on radio thirty, forty years ago and you will find many examples.
What comes to mind for me, now?
How would Cats In The Cradle do today?
How about She’s Leaving Home?
I Want To Know Where Love Is? Oh yea, It looks like Mariah has run out of song writers to call on. Or perhaps she really believes that song
to be great and felt compelled to record it her way.
Keep on writing, Always!!!

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joe hendrickson September 4, 2010 at 12:42 am

hey rex,i been following you along for a long time,donny and reba rambo macquire used to speak your name a bit-i really like them,thanks for doing the interview-i am a songwriter looking to make it big some day also,that song-buy me a rose came thru taxi a few years back-those boys did good-my best friends jim and jon hager-hee haw twins passed away awhile back and i been having a tuff time ever since,keeping at it—joe hendrickson.

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