10 Songwriting Tips from Bob Dylan

Around the world, Bob Dylan is considered one of the best songwriters of all time. What if you were able to get into his head and find out what he really felt? What if you could get him to tell you his songwriting secrets and tips for the trade? Below are 10 songwriting tips from the man they call the Bard.

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1. On when to write

“My songs aren’t written on a schedule.”

2. On if there should even be more songs

“The world don’t need any more songs… As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares. There’s enough songs for people to listen to if they want to listen to songs. For every man, woman, and child on earth, they could be sent, probably, each of them, a hundred songs, and never be repeated. There’s enough songs.”

“As far as songwriting, any idiot could do it… Everybody writes a song just like everybody’s got that one great novel in them.”

“Unless someone’s gonna come along with a pure heart and has something to say. That’s a different story.”

3. On perspective

“Your life doesn’t have to be in turmoil to write a song like that but you need to be outside of it. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, write songs when one form or another of society has rejected you. So that you can truly write about it from the outside. Someone who’s never been out there can only imagine it as anything, really.”

4. On the songwriting mind

“First of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of them thoughts.”

“It’s nice to be able to put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind. And block yourself off to where you can control it all, take it down.”

5. On sacrifice

“It’s the kind of thing which takes years and years out of your life to be able to do. You’ve got to sacrifice a whole lot to do that. Sacrifice. If you want to make it big, you’ve got to sacrifice a whole lot.”

6. On the time it takes

“The best ones are written very quickly. The longer it takes to finish the song the more difficulty it takes to pin it down and focus in on it and lose your original intention. I’ve done that a few times. I sort of just leave those songs go.”

7. On stealing

“It is only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy someone. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster.”

8. On observation

“You can go anywhere in daily life and have your ears open and hear something, either something someone says to you or something you hear across the room. If it has resonance, you can use it in a song.”

9. On thinking

“Creativity isn’t like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect…you’ve got to program your brain not to think too much.”

10. On you

“It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours.”

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