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Behind The Muse
Behind The Muse
Pop and Rock's Greatest Songwriters
Talk About Their Work and Inspiration

by

Bill DeMain
Reviewed by Jace Carlton
Originally published in
The Songwriter's Connection  -  August  2002
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You no doubt have read a LOT of books on songwriting; how to do this, why to do that, what do you do when such and such happens, but Bill DeMain’s “Behind The Muse” answers SO many questions about how the great songwriters wove their magic to make such great hits!  Bill’s not just an excellent journalist, he’s also a songwriter and recording artist, so he knows first hand what’s important to share with other songwriters to help us all improve our craft.

Bill carefully sifted through over ten years worth of interviews he conducted for such publications as Performing Songwriter, MOJO and Entertainment Weekly (over 300 interviews in all) and selected a great variety of composers, lyricists and artists (over 40!) to include in his “compilation”; sort of a “Best of the Best” kind of selection.  From Burt Bacharach and Hal David to Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Smokey Robinson to Dolly Parton, Brian Wilson to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alan and Marilyn Bergman to Todd Rundgren, and Justin Hayward to Sheryl Crow (to name only a few!), Bill covers a full spectrum of songwriters who gave us such legendary hits as “Stardust”, “The Tears Of A Clown”, “Nights in White Satin”, “The Way We Were”, and hundreds more!

The oft asked question, “Which comes first, the title, the lyrics or the music”, is answered in every way possible.  Hal David related a comment made to him when he was invited to a dinner party and the hostess told him, “When you arrive, don’t ring the bell, just come in.  It’ll make one less bell for me to answer.”  Jerry Herman was writing a musical and the first words he wrote down were “Hello, Harry” (after his father), then “Hello, Manny” (after his uncle).  He started working on the lyrics, “where this woman is saying hello to these different men”, and then “Hello, Dolly!” was the “natural thing for them to answer to her.  I realized I had a title not only for the song but for the show.  So I don’t really work from titles.  Titles come out of what I’m trying to do.”  Still others will get a groove going and be working it out on their piano or guitar and just singing some dummy lyrics until after they’ve worked out all the music.

Among all of the wonderful gifts I received for my recent birthday, was an awesome gift from my eldest son, Erik, and his wife, Tammy … a very rare, personally autographed CD from one of my favorites, Smokey Robinson!  Needless to say, I was completely speechless as I held that CD in my hands.  (I’m STILL overwhelmed by the way Erik managed to secure such a gift!  HE’S got connections I never knew about!)  I’ve always loved Smokey’s special way with a groove and a lyric.  He just gets so deep into the experience of creation that the results can’t be anything but a hit.  He’s a perfect example of what it takes to truly make it in this business … always giving it everything he’s got to make it right.

Using Smokey's words to sum it all up, I’ll quote from Bill’s interview with him:

If you were teaching a workshop, what would you tell your students?

“First, make sure that your song is a real song.  A song is going to be your future.  I’m sitting
in my office right now doing this interview with you, but I’m making money because I’ve
written some songs that are constantly being re-recorded and aired.  So that’s what I would
tell young songwriters.  Make sure your song is the best it can be, that every part of it is
working.”

Regardless, of how much or how little experience you have with the craft of songwriting, Bill DeMain’s “Behind The Muse” can help you reach that next level you’re after, IF, in Smokey’s words you “make sure that your song is a real song … that’s it’s the best it can be, that every part of it is working.”


Copyright 2006 by Jace Carlton

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Jace Carlton is a Nashville based songwriter, music publisher, artist manager, and freelance writer.  As a songwriter and collaborator much in demand in the Country market, he also enjoys writing for A/C, Pop, R&B, Smooth Jazz, Contemporary Christian, and Cabaret.  As a Freelance Writer he has contributed reviews on new CD's to online newsletters and artist websites, and occasionally  ontributes book and concert reviews along with personal commentary on the music industry to Nashville's Songwriter's Connection e-Zine.

He was recently honored by being selected to be a part of Nashville's Shine On Foundation, assisting talented songwriters, artists and musicians.

Comments regarding this review may be sent to Comments@1423MusicNashville.com

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