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The Last Piece of the Puzzle

I was talking with my Verve Pipe writing partner Channing Lee yesterday.

I said, “You know what we need to do? We need to copy the same formulaic chord progressions of every hit song from the last 10 years (they’re all so similar), eliminate the urge to write a pre-chorus and a bridge (hit songs don’t have them anymore), and think of ONE good line of lyric, and repeat it over and over, instead of obsessing over every word.”

“Ok, let’s do it,” she said. “But you know we’ll probably mess it up by making it too interesting.”

We had a laugh over it, but it dawned on me how sad that really is.

I know songwriters who collaborate by sitting together in office spaces at major publishing companies, writing at least a song a day—every day—in hopes of striking gold. Good for them, I support that as a viable way to make a living in music. Committing to that work ethic is not easy! And eventually, they’ll stumble upon a song that sticks, and they’ll have a major artist record and release it to the masses. Of course, there’s a pretty good chance the artist’s attorneys will demand they’re artist get a songwriting credit on the song as well, which is fine because having a song you wrote on the album of a very famous singer means a pretty decent paycheck and an open door to submit more songs to them.

This is not a process that interests me.

What interests me, and has always interested me, is the puzzle. The puzzle of coming up with a word here or there that amplifies what you’re trying to say in the lyric, without having to repeat it. The puzzle of a better rhyme than rhyming “to” with “too.” The puzzle of finding a melody that is similar to what the listener has heard before, but they can’t quite seem to recall what song it is; and they won’t because it’s an amalgamation of many songs the writer has been influenced by over the years, from James Taylor to U2.

I live for the satisfaction of putting the last piece in the puzzle; hearing (and feeling) that last little snap of it fitting perfectly. I live for that moment of sitting back and looking at (or listening to) the landscape you’ve worked on for days, weeks, even months, now complete.

Maybe no one will come over to see your puzzle (and maybe no one will listen to your song), but there’s the great reward of pride in completing a work of art.

Thanks for the minute. Carry on.

Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer and songwriter for the band, The Verve Pipe. He has a new album of cover songs on vinyl or CD that he hopes you'll consider purchasing to keep his lights on. You can stream it everywhere, or you can purchase it here:


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