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Songwriters On Songwriting

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  637 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In these fifty-two interviews, the greatest songwriters of our time go straight to the source of the magic of songwriting by offering their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on their art. Representing almost every genre of popular music, from folk to Tin Pan Alley to jazz, from blues to pop rock, these are the figures who have shaped American music as we know it. Here they ...more
Paperback, Revised And Expanded, 752 pages
Published June 19th 2003 by Da Capo Press (first published 1991)
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Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Originally my review just said, "indispensable".
Zollo gets songwriters of various formats to talk about the *craft* of songwriting. The process. He asks good questions. He is obviously talented at interviews, because he gets these writers to talk about the secret nuts and bolts of their craft: rhyming, lying, key signatures, crawling on the floor in tears looking for missing lyrics, etc. He brings out what appears to be a longing in these writers to talk about the nuts and bolts to
Janice Marie Foote
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review is for others who are songwriters at any level using any instrument, I myself am an acoustic guitar singer-songwriter. I give it 5 stars for the variety of songwriters he interviewed, the knowledge he had of each songwriter interviewed, along with the questions asked each songwriter. This book is totally spot on in learning the behind-the-scenes of songwriting at the emotional and visceral level ala the meat and bones. It's definitely not a how-to-write-song book, but rather how one ...more
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Unless you're a songwriter, I'm not sure reading 730 pages straight through makes sense, but as something to dip in and out of periodically it was fun. Probably read it over the course of more than a year. Very wide range of genres covered, and from the questions he asks the songwriters you can tell author knows an awful lot about music.

Some of the insights gleaned from interviewees are tedious ("that modern music isn't as great as in my day" riffs -- a little goes a long way), and many are cont
Valentyn Danylchuk
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Informative and inspiring. Immersive interviews with dozens of high profile songwriters, in which they reveal a lot about their way of feeling, thinking, and making songs. The recurring line is, "just do it, badly at first, then better every time." Analyzing and learning from the songs you like helps a lot. Beyond any technicalities, the interviews show that songwriters are just people with a passion, and that with enough willpower, most people can write songs. ...more
Michele Harvey
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I wish my library had the expanded edition from 2003, instead of just the 1991 version. I gobbled this down, even the ones by songwriters I didn't know (or, in the case of Steely Dan, loathe).

(view spoiler)
Michael Emmerich
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-this-book
I am sure many of you out there seek for ways to tap into your creativity and seek inspiration from various sources. Music and reading are two of my main sources, I have previously written extensively on the music and poetry, that I use to tap into my well of creativity. Thus far, I have not delved into the books that I read on writing styles, creative input and how to manage the day to day challenge of sitting at ones desk, and hopefully write. This book is a well thumbed and oft read/dived int ...more
Reid Belew
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This dude Paul Zollo compiled all these interviews he did about songwriting into one book. This book’s greatest strength is it’s greatest weakness.

Zollo has deep, meaningful, insightful conversation with famously elusive songwriters (Dylan, Van Zandt, Becker) and those who don’t get their due. He treats each with respect and let’s them carry the conversation where they want it to go—not about the hits or the money and fame—the songs.

Zollo asks the same questions to almost every artist (“Do son
Gustav Dinsdag
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Paul Zollo's Songwriters On Songwriting is a book that any aspiring songwriter is always 'currently reading'. Zollo's interviews focus on the creative proces of the greatest songwriters. It's a true joy to see that none of them really believe that writing a great song is a matter of craftsmanship alone. Neither is it all inspiration. 'Inspiration is for people who never really do anything', to quote Nick Cave (who is not in Zollo's book, but he might have been, as far as I'm concerned). Every wr ...more
Vincent Eaton
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nathalia Rojas.
An in depth book that gives you insight into how to write a song. Long story short, there are many ways that inspiration comes, songwriting can be hard work but sometimes it can seem to flow well, and it helps to have some understanding of music harmony, melody, and other basic music theory. It seems very much like writing. It’s a craft you develop. But also don’t be intimated, it’s a way to express and communicate and you don’t have to have knowledge of all the instruments to do it well.
Jeff Thomas
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved this book. I enjoy reading about artistic process, finding the ideas, shaping them, finishing them. I loved that there were little things that ALL these artists did differently, felt differently, thought about differently. And that there were little things they ALL did the same. A very fascinating and inspiring read.
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Worth it for the Zappa interview, in which he breaks out of Zollo's questioning framework and gets to the heart of things. I enjoyed the Susan Vega and Randy Newman one as well. The other interviews are just OK, talking about the craft but never going anywhere truly interesting. ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Fun to read and great getting insight into how the artists approached their work. Some wrote the lyrics first and others had a melody or tune in their head and found words to go with it. A recommended read for anyone who enjoys music with lyrics.
Preston Bernstein
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A true classic
Glenn Evans
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A little repetitive in parts and could have culled a few interviewees but, for a frustrated non-muso such as myself, a compelling and essential read.
Luke Brindley
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
always revisiting this one. very inspiring.
Philip White
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Lots of good information. Worth reading.
Tracy Reilly
Perfect book for me. Ended on Lou Reed. Interesting mind on that one. May become something of an encyclopedia for me in future years.
Jonny Brick
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
You want to be a songwriter? Start here and copy the best. There's a sequel too. ...more
Rona Roberts
Dec 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I deliberately stretched this big, rich book out across a couple of years, because it is powerful and because it is so pleasing. To read verbatim text of songwriters trying with a good will to describe the literal act of creation is to witness something precious, glorious. I am grateful to all of them for their effort to put something beyond words into some approximate words, and grateful to Paul Zollo for all his work. I would like a lot more interviews with women and Black songwriters, though. ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: tortured souls
Great variety; a page-turner for me [a hacker musician]. Too bad Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits aren't included. I quit reading after approximately 3/4 through because I lost the book... but then found it at the bottom of a stack several years [!] later. So I was happy to finish this one.

Zollo is a musician himself, and exhibits empathy for his chosen interviewees. While it seems at times that he feeds their egos and spoons them soft easy questions, the positive slant is that he gets them comfortab
Motez Bishara
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rock-books
Terrific book and reference guide into the minds of some of the great songwriters of modern popular music.

There are dozens of interviews with heralded songwriters, from Dylan and Neil Young to Tom Petty and Joan Baez, but I found the most compelling chapters from the less likely sources. John Fogerty, Alanis Morissette, Madonna, and Lenny Kravitz were some of the most engaging reads in this treasure trove of songwriting styles and tips.

The Yoko Ono chapter was very cool too, mainly to hear Yoko
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Halfway through this symposium of lyrical gods I already know that I will be returning to its pages time and time again. An aspiring songwriter, I relish any insights that might clear the fog of ideas incessantly clouding my brain.

Mr. Zollo makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he is a fan. His enthusiasm is contagious and his questions both well-informed and probative. Often to the surprise of his subjects. I was also delighted to discover insights provided by songwriters from the jazz er
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great book. Gave me a new found respect for Lenny Kravitz (who I always thought was a bland pastiche artiste). He comes across as a true musician in this book, and expresses his dismay about the fact that interviews with him always focus on his current girlfriend, rather than his music. His stories about being in the California Boys Choir (second only to the Vienna Boys Choir apparently) are really fascinating. Lots of other great interviews here too. Bob Dylan one is also very funny.
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If this topic interests you ---- or even if you are a fan of any of the artists featured in this book, this is mandatory for your library! Zollo does an incredible job of drawing out sensitive and technicals aspects on songwriting and art from his interviewees which can add some great perspectives to your next listen. Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon and so many more provide a real smorgasbord to enjoy and better understand this art.
Jul 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The best book on songwriting that I've read. It's hard to imagine another book that would better cover the subject. The interviews are inspiring, but you won't really "learn" anything (like scales or chord theory). The whole point of the book is its in-depth description of the mysterious nature of songwriting. The Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen interviews are the highlights of the book to me. ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Most of the interviews in this book are fascinating. There are a few duds - why would I want to know where Alanis Morrisette gets her ideas? But Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, etc. - so many great writers try to unpack their methods and you wind up with a good collection of advice and instruction. Highly recommend this to anyone who writes or wants to write songs.
Harry Mccoy
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
A treasure trove of insight into the songwriting process. I really liked that he asked the same questions of most of the subjects, to get a litmus test on each personality. Face it, they're all kind of saying the same thing, but Zollo has a knack for asking the right questions. And surprises from the most unlikely subjects. If you're a songwriter, this should be in your library. ...more
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A reference, an encyclopedia, a place at the interview table, and a catheter into the very soul of all the writers surveyed. The people you think are celebrities gave drab answers, the ones most lauded were self-deprecating, and ones I had never heard of were honored by copious dog-earing. An exquisite anthology of the craft of songwriting.
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Paul Zollo is a singer-songwriter, author, and music journalist. Since 1987, he's dedicated himself to interviewing the world's greatest songwriters. From 1987 to 1997, he was the editor of SongTalk, the journal of the National Academy of Songwriters. He's currently the senior editor for American Songwriter. Born in Chicago, he studied English and Music at Boston University and is the author of Th ...more

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35 likes · 5 comments
“I can't discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines. You can't discover that in the raw. ~ Leonard Cohen” 2 likes
“Pythagoras felt that specific notes affected people to very minute gradations of feeling. And every songwriter, I think, knows that D is a great key for a long song. It just happens to work. And B flat is always a great jump key for jazz.
~ Janis Ian”
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