4 Songwriting Tips Tom Petty Shared Throughout His Career

As a songwriter and a performer, Tom Petty had an essential ease about him. On songs like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Free Fallin’,” Petty engaged, drew in, and supplied excellent melodies and vivid images.

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But how did he get this way and is it actually how he feels when penning a new tune? Below, check out four tips and insights from Petty into his craft’s process. Secrets of the trade from one of the all-time best.

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1. On emotions fueling songwriting

“Something horrible might happen, but you don’t really write a song when you’re feeling horrible. It’s the last thing you’re gonna do. … If I’m feeling horrible, then the last thing I’m going to do is look for a guitar to write a song. Maybe later it’s cathartic when you’re happy again, maybe you can remember that and draw on it, but does it solve any problems? I don’t think so.”

2. On where lyrics come from

“It just comes out of the air. It’s kind of a dangerous business looking really deeply into the germ that creates songs. I don’t like to stare in that light for very long. I get a little superstitious about it. There’s some kind of actual magic going on there, and for some reason, I feel like I was born with some kind of conduit for this energy, force, or whatever it is, and I can have that happen through me if I really try to do it or sometimes not when I’m just standing somewhere. At the funniest times, something can come into your head, and you think, that’s a good line or that’s a good couple of lines. Then it’s just trial and error.”

3. On when it’s time to share a song with the band

“If I can sing it on my guitar or on the piano and it sounds, you know I’m not embarrassed to sing it for them, then I’ll take it down. When I have something good I think, ‘You know this is coming off’. I make a little recording of it, just myself playing it with the guitar, and I listen to it back and go ‘OK, well this would work on that level, so it’s probably gonna sound good with the band.’”

4. On writing his hit “The Waiting

“I remember writing that one very well. That was a hard one. Went on for weeks. I got the chorus right away. And I had that guitar riff, that really good lick. Couldn’t get anything else. I had a really hard time. And I knew it was good, and it just went on endlessly. It was one of those where I really worked on it until I was too tired to go any longer. And I’d get right up and start again and spend the whole day to the point where other people in the house would complain. ‘You’ve been playing that lick for hours.'”

“It came in piece by piece. First the chorus, which was pretty easy. And the verses took a long time, and the bridge even longer. I knew, when I had gotten that chorus, that I was definitely onto something very good. And I just couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out where to go with it. Eventually I did.”

For more from Tom Petty click here and here.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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