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Analysis: Contempory Songwriting Techniques

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Unit 34 Contempory Songwriting Techniques

Two contrasting Songwriters

Elliot Smith

Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith born in Omaha, Nebraska was an american folk singer songwriter, recognised as a guitarist and songwriter but was also fluent on piano, clarinet, bass, drums and harmonica. Likely one of the greatest songwriter of his generation he delivered his songs with his distinctive “whispery” vocal style. Smith song writing technique came from trusting your gut and lazing about on the couch.

Elliot Smith would imagine music, lyrics and story’s during the day and play the guitar mostly at nigh. He would not pay too much attention to what his hands were doing, he did this because he believed that it gained an unconscious connection to his music. Smith also had a liking to writing songs in bars , he believed that a bar was a half way point to being in public and being alone. He also enjoyed the background noise and music because it allowed him to switch off to his inner critic – his own worst enemy. “Playing safe is the best way to fail” Elliot Smith.

Smith would start his song as instrumentals and was more interested in the shapes of chords, the movements and sequences they made between each other and the implied melody that a chord sequence would have. Smith would play versions of chords where the bass note is a 5th like a C with a G in the bass, nothing terribly exciting but there was something he liked about it. Smith would like to sing late at night, he felt like being relaxed made his songwriting flow. He would gradually build up lyrics that were not tied melodically to the song. In my opinion smiths lyrics are very poetic but he never thought his lyrics as stand alone poetry. Smith never worried himself with mixing up...

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...have” Kurt Cobain on his lyrics

When Cobain's journal was released it became an important source. A lot of lyrics relating to; emotional stress, break ups, angst, anger at situations or people. Some of the sources included literature such as the novel “Perfume” by Parrick Suskind which is about an apprentice in a perfume shop who has an amazing sense of smell but no sent of his own and becomes a murderer of young girls for their sent (Scentless Apprentice). Also newspaper articles (Polly).

A lot of Kurt's solos during the “Bleach” album era was described by Butch Vig as “Kurt, Strangling his guitar”. On his more popular songs on “In Utero” and “Nevermind” albums they are more pop influenced and not as heavy and some even following the melody.

Nirvana's songs differ in dynamics. Going from quiet, slightly distorted or clean to loud and heavy distortion.
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