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October 15, 2013

Review: Jason Blume songwriting workshop - Mouthzoff column

As readers know, I'm a keen songwriter and heavily involved in helping Brisbane songwriters develop and grow. So when the opportunity came up for me to attend this workshop by one of the best, Jason Blume, I jumped at it. I was there representing the host - JMC Academy - but as a songwriter it was the best environment to be in. I wrote this review for Mouthzoff Magazine in the hope that other songwriters might benefit from Jason's teaching.

Review of Jason Blume's Songwriting workshop,
JMC Academy Brisbane
11-12 May 2013

When it comes to artists who've sold millions of songs, Jason Blume is usually not the name first that comes to mind. And he likes it that way.

He has a lovely voice, but he doesn't want to be a star. He has access to some of the best studios, engineers, and performing talent in the world but he's happy to appear as a name in the album credits of some of the biggest-selling records in history. See, Jason, who has sold well over 50 millions copies of his songs, is a songwriter. And in an industry that is famous for it's highs and lows, for its brittle and brutal egos, Jason has endured it all for more than 30 years and still loves what he does.

It's tempting to think that a guy like that would jealously protect his knowledge. That he would lock away his secrets and defend his patch. But Jason's other love is to teach people how it's done. "I went to my first songwriting workshop, watched the teacher and I knew that was what I wanted to do," he says. He's written books and recorded audio CDs sharing his work, his techniques and his methods. He travels the world running workshops in which he is open, generous, and supportive of songwriters of all ages and stages of development.

"There are no rules, just tools," he declares, drawing on his own experience of both sides of the music industry's creative process, of brutal put-downs, scathing critiques, and critical breakthrough moments, to provide guidance and inspiration. He examines the greatest currently charting hits to show how they have been constructed, identifying the similarities between pop hits from different eras, different artists, and different genres - though he's mainly about pop and country.

Personable, warm, and always energetic, Jason argues that the Idol franchise and similar shows have been a great thing for professional songwriters, since most of the finalists are great performers who don't write their own songs. Contrary to the general sentiment of in the blogosphere, he's gentle on the contestants and defends 'reality TV' talent for what it is and against what it never pretends to be.

He has seen the American music machine from the inside and talks openly about its practices, its pitfalls and its politics. He plays examples of big hits and emphasizes that this is an extremely competitive world - 'good' is never good enough. "You have to be better than good," he declares. "The only acceptable response to your song has to be 'WOW! That's great!'." Then he explains what it takes to be great, and that "The only thing that's wrong is to settle for something that's not brilliant."

Despite having written some huge hits, or perhaps because he has, Jason acknowledges that his approach to songwriting isn't for everyone. "If you want to write a song to get something off your chest, to explain how you feel, that's great!" he says, "but if the listener doesn't feel it, it's never going to be a hit." In this mode, writing is first and always about connecting the audience rather than making an artistic statement."

Of course, that approach is not for everyone, and that's fine, too. The song critiques that are the backbone of Jason's workshops can be confronting. Each song is preceded by a question: "Is this song written for you as an artist or for pitching to another performer?" Either answer is fine but the distinction frames his - always supportive but sometimes frank - response.

Most of what Jason covers in his workshops is available in the books and CDs that can be bought from his website. Ironically, though, this is where behind-the-scenes, name-in-the credits Jason is not good enough. His teaching and his critique have to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

In these events, Jason takes his place as a true star. It is here that he steps into the limelight to receive the appreciation he deserves.

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Posted by Huge at October 15, 2013 11:42 AM

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