Insight and Empathy

Many things that we discuss when we’re exploring songwriting have a lot to do with the craft and not so much about the art. Why is that? I suppose the easy answer would be that art is hard to define. In fact, it’s one of the biggest questions we ever asked ourselves. How many conversations in bars, cafés, and dormitories start with this question, “What is art?”

One dictionary definition is “creation of beautiful or significant things.” I do like that one. But there is a component or two left out of the definition: insight and empathy. Many of us who are in love with the art form of songwriting have found certain songwriters to have a certain kind of wisdom. Like great novelists, they have the ability to express the human condition and experience in effective and original ways that resonate with us. I think that’s why many fans of songwriters think they know them as people. The best songwriters seem to have the insight into the way we are internally and through their songs they empathize with us and we with them.

Sometimes it’s done with a turn of the phrase, sometimes it’s done with a particular melody or part of a melody that evokes a particularly strong mood, sometimes it taps into our subconscious and we’re not sure what the song’s about we just know that we’ve been ‘there’.

Can this be taught? I’m not so sure. I think it can be recognized, pondered and pursued. I think it’s important to strive for, to look into yourself, to find a commonality with your listener and to always try to find a humanistic way of expressing it.

What do you think?


2 thoughts on “Insight and Empathy

  1. I think of the art in song writing as main 2 things…

    First its trying to capture and share with the listener more than what is there in the words or line.

    The word “connotation” comes to mind. I want my music to cause them to drift off somewhere into themselves (via imagination relaxed) where they will add to what is being presented by me, thus making it part of them, thus adding weight to the art.

    The second part, which is the real key to this for me at this point, is to somehow make the music / melody / structure enhance this vibe or feeling or connotation…

    I am a melody guy first, the melody pulls me in, but when the words and phrasing somehow gains from that melody, I get goose bumps… there are many things at play, some of them impossible to explain, which is why it’s such a fun puzzle to try to solve.

    But the question was, can it be taught? or learned?

    I say, goddamn right it can! I am counting on it. Bruno’s helping me get there, all the other great songwriters I am meeting are helping me get there.

    Why not spend the couple of years attempting to prove myself right?


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