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Songmine: Ideas – Thinking Them Up and Getting them Down Part 1 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Songmine: Ideas - Thinking Them Up and Getting them Down Part 1 by John Braheny

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Songmine By John Braheny
Ideas-Thinking Them Up And Getting Them Down Part 1

The human mind is a complex computer that responds only according to the way it’s been programmed. This is a popular theory that I agree with. The problems occur when- we give it conflicting messages like “I’d love to write a hit song!” and “I’m not a good enough musician to be a songwriter” or “I don’t know how.” Your mind just sits there and says “Let me know when you decide.” Giving yourself a positive “I am a songwriter” program is very important to what I call “songwriter consciousness.,” Once you grasp some of the basic principles of what makes songs “work,” the world becomes an endless supplier of ideas that you then know what to do with. “Songwriter consciousness” filters everything through this network of idea inspectors which looks for hooks (they were going to call themselves “hookers” but didn’t want a bad reputation). They just sit there on duty watching for a big juicy idea to come down the road. They’ve already been trained to see it coming, so they start getting excited when they see one Sometimes it’s a real low key and subtle idea and they don’t see it right away. Sometimes it’s an idea they’re already familiar with and doesn’t seem exciting anymore. Some have worn out their welcome and, because they’re tired of them, an inspector will miss a part of them that’s still worth knowing. Anyway, they especially like juicy ones that are new. They’ll say “Wait a minute, Juicy, I’m not letting you by till we can play awhile and check out your potential. You may be just the one we’re looking for!”

In short, “songwriter consciousness” is the readiness to recognize what could be a good song idea. At that point, you’ll start to find them everywhere. Here are some places and situations where writers frequently find them.

The radio is an obvious place. My partner, Len Chandler, wrote and performed three topical songs a day for the KRLA Credibility Gap news show in the late 60’s. He got his raw material from news and human interest stories on the radio. Sources for more commercial tunes can come from juicy programs like Dr. Toni Grant’s. She’s a psychologist whose daily talk show gets callers with an incredible array of emotional problems and conflicts. You’ll find lots of raw material in these inter-personal conflicts and the way they’re expressed. T.V. soap operas and dramatic programs are also good. Just listening to music on the radio is really stimulating, especially on the freeway where the creative half of your brain is daydreaming. I’ve half-heard lines of songs on the radio and said to myself, “What a great line!” only to discover to my pleasure that, when hearing it again, it wasn’t really the line in the song after all. It had triggered the new line by some strange approximation of vowel sounds. It’s also great to ignore the song you’re hearing and use the rhythm section or ‘feel’ to build your own song on. It’ll help you to come up with an interesting phrasing of your lines that you may not have thought of otherwise.

Books with great colloquial dialogue and books of poetry are inspirations and “triggers” for new ideas. Conversations with friends or discussions you overhear will provide some great titles, especially if the language is colorful. Examine your own life experiences. Think about your feelings toward your lover or your situation and turn those feelings into actual dialogue or a story. “Sometimes When We Touch,” “Torn Between Two Lovers,” and “She Believes In Me” are all great examples. Some writers only write from personal experience. Don’t forget that, like a novelist, you’re a creator and if you hear someone else’s story and it moves you, chances are it’ll move others too. You can also change or embellish or totally fabricate a story that will move or entertain people just as much. It’s called “poetic license,” not dishonesty.

Once you “program” your subconscious to look for ideas, it’ll automatically do it. You have to help though by getting it down on paper or a recorder as soon as possible or your subconscious won’t believe you’re serious. The “idea inspectors” will say, “We pick up on all these great ideas but the turkey never does anything with them. Why should we bother?” Next Time: “Getting Them Down.”

MAY 15 — MAY 28

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


John Rhys/John Braheny chat about the late Joe South etc.

When I heard recently that The great Joe South ( Games People Play, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Hush, etc) had recently passed away I remembered that my friend John Rhys (Eddins  if you know him by that last name) had told me about the first time he’d met Joe in Atlanta in the early ‘60s. – a life changing event for him. John is a hit producer/songwriter and proprietor of my favorite blues website, We got together over his kitchen table and reminisced.

As it often happens, we don’t realize at the time, how a single conversation or event could alter our lives. This is approximately 12 minutes of conversation about that and other stuff. Enjoy!