Hit songwriter Bonnie Baker joined forces with American Songwriter to create a series of comprehensive songwriting workshops.
On March 27 at 11am CT, Baker, who wrote Hunter Hayes’ No. 1 hit, “Invisible,” will hold a second workshop, “”The Art of Songwriting & The Unexpected”,” and she wants you to be a part of the class.
To register for Bonnie’s “The Art of Songwriting & The Unexpected” workshop, sign up here.
The class will focus on: 1. How to write songs with mass appeal; 2. The “rules” of a hit song; 3. Exceptions to the “rules” and 4. How to create the unexpected.
Here is Bonnie in her own words, Bonnie shares her story.
As a songwriter and creator I’m always looking for the pattern, the thing that makes it all make sense—a rhythm of words that feel solid. In my brain, I look for what makes sense to me. Art does not look for patterns. Art wants the unexpected, the unexplained, the senseless, that thing that does not fit the script. Art wants discomfort.
As a songwriter moving to Nashville in 1992, I started walking into rooms with other songwriters to create a song. I quickly learned the Nashville number system—1 4 5 6minor and then back to the 1. There are certain chord structures that are in many songs. It feels right. It feels comfortable. It feels like a foundation that is solid.
What happens when I’ve been comfortable with a chord structure for too long? I get bored. I’ve heard it before. I know what chord I’m going to play before I get there. Mass-produced like a factory, it becomes ho hum and boring and I don’t want to listen any longer. It’s been said there are no new melodies or chord structures, it’s all been written. That is a very strong argument to just stop what I’m doing everyday and give in to the fact that I will never re-invent song structure. When I study the top 40 songs of every genre, there are indeed very few songs that break the normal patterns. That is until someone comes along and does just that.
Those songwriters and artists and creators bend the norm and create a new path and it feels incredible to hear. I rush to study what makes that music feel different and pretty soon I’ve copied it long enough that I am bored again.
I want to be very honest with you, I wanted to believe I was a rule breaker when I started in 1992. In 1998, I was working on a demo of a song that was a ballad and I wanted a drummer to build a loop that would make the song feel more like a mid tempo, because of the pulse underneath the downbeats of the typical 4/4 time signature. The drummer in the session (all males, mind you) informed me that, ‘in Nashville, we don’t record using loops’. Everyone in the session felt that would be the end of the conversation, but it wasn’t. I was determined and we literally built a loop by recording the drummer many times, playing many different parts, until I had what I wanted. At every step of my career, I’ve had to put up a very large fight to break rules. Sometimes those songs turn into keepers and sometimes those songs turn into a trash pile. To say the least, I’ve never been a darling of the Nashville publishing world. I never want to do what everyone else is doing and yet, I DO want to write hit songs. It truly would have been easier if I just wanted to write what everyone else was writing.
I’ve been writing for a very long time. I thought it was a career path that would get easier as I moved through my career. The opposite is, in fact, truth. I find it just as hard today to write a hit song than I did in 1992. The target has moved drastically. The audience has moved drastically. The system has morphed. I have more tools at my fingertips than ever before. Now, I can create that loop for myself that the drummer didn’t want to do in 1998. I can write a song in 5/4 or 10/4 or 7/8. I can count measures looking at a grid in Logic or ProTools. I can write songs in the key of C# with the chorus in a completely different key. I can distort any sound I want to create, something that has never been heard before. I can bang on the steel string of an acoustic and record it and create something I’ve never heard before.
Here is my question. Is that valuable to anyone other than myself? I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe you have some of the same questions. Does it matter if we create something that’s never been heard before? Does songwriting have to fit a structure that is acceptable to the narrow scope of radio to make money? I would love to tell you I have the answers. What I will tell you is that I explore this question every single day. I want to create the unexpected. I want art to disturb my sense of patterns. I want to create the un-created. Those moments that are hanging out in the dark around the light of the mainstream, those are what I long for.
To register for Bonnie’s “The Art of Songwriting & The Unexpected” workshop on March 27 at 11am CT, sign up here.