Interview with Murray Webster from London Songwriters workshop and meetup
I have heard great things about these workshops and how some of the workshop involves collaborating –
People talk about how tricky yet fun and rewarding it is to collaborate writing a tune with someone they possibly have never met before.
So I was interested to talk to Murray Webster who runs the group, to find out why he thinks collaborating is important and to find out a bit more in general about London Songwriters
Can you tell us a little about your own back ground and a little about London Songwriters?
I was born on the threshold of the 60s and grew up with the 3-minute pop songs of the day. I even saw The Beatles live at The Hammersmith Odeon (I was 6!).
After I got my first guitar at age 12 I was always interested in writing songs which would have the same effect on others that popular songs had on me. I progressed through school covers bands in the 70s to writing more New Wave and Soul inspired material.
Out of that grew an interest in Jazz and I was a writer/guitarist in a Soul Jazz band in the 80s.
We played places like The Astoria, The Hammersmith Palais, The Town and Country Club, The Bracknell Jazz Festival and The Soho Jazz Festival.
The latter was filmed by Channel 4 and shown twice and we had a single out which was a cover version of ‘Mission Impossible’.
The band featured a great singer called Linda Muriel who went on to front The Brand New Heavies in their early days.
Later I concentrated on songwriting and recording, attending lots of songwriting retreats with writers such as Ray Davies and generally studying the craft as much as I could.
How long has London Songwriters been going?
London Songwriters started in 2009. The group evolved to concentrate on collaboration, songshare and songcraft.
In recent years it has grown considerably into quite a community and hundreds of writers have attended the workshops and occasional festival and charity performances.
There is a big emphasis on collaboration in LS – why do you feel collabing is important?
Most Chart hits are a team effort, but that may not be relevant to a lot of writers. Not everyone may be a master of all skills or know all the idea development possibilities when writing, so another person who can complement you may be a good thing, not to mention the pooling of resources and contacts.
London Songwriters provides a friendly place for newcomers to try it and old hands to hone it. Plus it is a fun and challenging exercise to get to know fellow songwriters.
What kind of people come to London Songwriters?
All kinds of people – all ages and songwriting experience in all kinds of genres. Non-performers are equally welcome – it’s all about the song!
A willingness to take part in the collaboration and get feedback on your own songs, however incomplete, in a safe space is key.
Songwriting can be a solitary pursuit, so spending time in an understanding and like-minded community is good for the soul.
Do you believe in “rules “ for songwriting
ie the chorus should come in the first 30 seconds or there has to be a middle 8?
They say there are no rules only principles, which can also be broken once learned. So, song formats have developed in response to the medium and the audience. People have finite attention spans, so the use of contrast, familiarity and surprise, repetition and variety, imagery, and certain structures have developed to catch and retain that attention.
It can depend on the intended audience, though. A Folk club may have different expectations to a Radio 1 audience.
Do you have a fave song – if so what and why?
Naturally, I have 100s of fave songs…I am going to choose one from my favourite Mary Chapin Carpenter album The Calling (2007). The track is It Must Have Happened and combines her philosophical, reflective, hopeful, uplifting lyrics on love, fate and destiny married to a glorious Springsteen-esque call and response riff. An inspiring and moving combination of what I would aspire to for some of my own writing!
It Must Have Happened by Mary Chapin Carpenters
Is there a song you think exemplifies good songwriting?
For modern Pop, something like Firework by Katy Perry is well-constructed lyrically and melodically and has every single element that makes for a catchy mainstream Chart Hit.
Plus it has an inspirational theme which I like. We often analyse these elements in the workshops.
Do you think you can learn to be a better songwriter?
Most certainly. From personal experience I know that there are structural, lyrical and melodic techniques observed from successful songs that can be applied to the basic knack that you may have and the key is to put those techniques into practice.
They say that we retain 90% of what we learn when we use it immediately and only 5% of what we learn from a lecture. London Songwriters operates on that principle.
Which is the most important in a song, the melody or lyrics?
It is said that melody captures the attention but it’s the lyric that keeps it there and brings you back for repeated listening.
If there are parts of the lyric that are uniquely effective or have some mystery about them perhaps that encourages a longer relationship with the song.
Are there any subjects that shouldn’t be tackled in a song?
Well, I don’t think so at all but it depends on how it is done and whether an audience is willing to tolerate it.
An overtly racist song would produce an outcry, yet sexist songs regularly bother the charts and are not particularly to my own tastes either.
Songs that are of the ‘poor me’ variety tend not to go down terribly well as entertainment.
I understand you have a degree in songwriting – was that fun? Was it useful? Has it changed your songwriting approach?
It’s an MMus from Bath Spa University. A lot of it was fun, a lot of it was hard work, especially when approaching deadlines. I don’t think it changed my approach to songwriting, as I had been studying and practicing for a long time, but the intensity of the research requirements meant that I think I deepened my understanding and it did help me grow. A lot of good solo and collaborative songs resulted from the process and I was proud of the portfolio that came out of it.
What are you doing currently musically? And where can we hear some of your music?
At the moment I am concentrating on London Songwriters and other songwriting workshops I run.
I also write and pitch pieces to opportunities that come up and I collaborate with artists and co-writers.
You can hear some of my songs at www.MurrayWebster.com
Do you have any tricks that you use to be creative and get some writing done on a day when you are not in the mood?
There is the inevitable list of title and concept ideas that I have kept in my phone for about 10 years now, so there is a backlog and there is always rewriting to be done. The London Songwriters collaboration tasks prove that you can write immediately from a ‘surprise’ theme.
If you are writing on your own there are some days when there is no point in forcing it…yet another argument for getting out of yourself and collaborating!
Showing up is half the battle
To find out more abut London Songwriters click here