According to the song “Nashville Cats” by the Lovin’ Spoonful, there are “thirteen-hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville.” I wouldn’t question that number, but in fact I suspect it has increased dramatically since that song debuted in 1966.
As my colleague Lindsay Conway wrote about in her blog post Music City 101: NLS Heads to Nashville! NLS will be hosting its biennial Network Conference for regional talking book libraries in Music City, USA. No doubt all will have a good time listening to guitar picking and country music with its tales of heartbreak, sorrow, pity and sometimes true love.
And along with all those guitar pickers, I would assume there are just as many songwriters, working on lyrics, hanging out at improv sessions, and shopping their songs around. Everybody wants to have a break-out hit and finally arrive to their destiny.
Songwriting is an art form. Sounds easy enough; rhyme some words, get a catchy melody, fill in some chords, and you’re done. That’s a good formula, but that’s not how it goes. NLS has some titles to guide you if you are feeling inspired and need basic instruction. Songwriter’s Workshop, (DBM 01322) is a series of one-hour talks featuring five songwriters and lyricists on using the guitar and drum machine as writing tools, developing new lyrics, using the piano for melodic development, developing ideas on electronic keyboards, and navigating the business side of songwriting. Though it’s not focused on country, The Early Days of Songwriting (DBM 00528) provides a history of popular music during the Civil War until the 1890s.
And while great talent can carry an individual very far, there are still some basic rudiments in music required (so you can succeed faster!). We have some titles such as Play by Ear and Improvise by Gale Pederson (DBM 01282) with techniques of broken chords/blocked chords. And the Piano by Ear series (DBM 02407 and DBM 02408) contains instruction for 12-bar chord progression and pentatonic scales for C, G, A and E in both pop and blues styles without the use of music notation. There is also a braille title available, Music Business Handbook and Career Guide by David Baskerville, with the call number of BRA 17638, a 17-volume work.
In the March-April 2018 issue of Contemporary Soundtrack an article about songwriting in today’s Nashville highlights the complexities of getting a song recorded and published. At one time, there were 3,000 to 4,000 songwriters making a living trying to get their songs recorded and sold. This group is competitive but supportive. Everybody wants to have a hit song, and everyone understands the work required to make that happen. But it must sting if you pitch your song to one artist and they promise to record it while you wait around, and another artist is available to take it on immediately. You can have an informal-but-not-in-writing agreement for the first artist, but the wait would try anyone’s patience. Like many professions, timing is everything.
For a number of years, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) participated in a concert honoring songwriting at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress. Go to YouTube and enter keywords “We Write the Songs ASCAP” to pull up a listing of past performances.
And those famous country song titles? How about “She Got The Gold Mine and I Got the Shaft?,” “Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone,” (one of my favorites and I can vouch it’s a real song), and “If You Keep Checking Up on Me, (I’m Checking Out on You.”) A classic from creative songwriter/artist Roger Miller “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” was on the Billboard chart for six weeks, and made it up to number 40 of the Top 100.
The next time your sweetheart leaves, don’t cry about it. Take that inspiration and put it into a song!
If you would like to borrow any of the books listed above or learn more about the NLS Music Section, contact us by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-424-8567, extenstion 2. You can also search BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service, for books in the NLS Music collection that you can access instantly.