Fink’s top 10 songwriting tips
With almost 20 years of experience making music, Fin Greenall – known professionally as Fink – shares some invaluable advice
I’ve written quite a lot of songs – not as much as some, more than others – I guess I’m kinda in the middle somewhere. Seven studio albums and a pocketful full of co-writes has taught me a lot, as has my producer Flood, who, through his production style, has also taught me a bunch of stuff about the process that I find indispensable. I also teach at BIMM in Berlin, songwriting, occasionally when I’m not writing interviews on tour from a Starbucks on the outskirts of Boston – and I’ve enjoyed learning the issues that young writers in the modern world tend to have – anyway – I hope the following list is useful…
1. NOTHING IS EVER FINISHED
The only time you can’t improve what you’re doing is when it’s shrink-wrapped and on the shelves. If you feel at any point when listening to your stuff, “Hey, that verse is a bit boring,” you’re right, it is. Feel your way around the honesty that your guts are constantly feeding through to you.
2. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A DEMO
Flood banned the word “demo” from our sessions – nothing is a demo, they’re all just versions. If you are chasing the demo’s vibe, consider using the demo. Some of my favourite tracks of recent years have been essentially embellished phone recordings.
3. TECHNOLOGY IS NOT THE ANSWER
I’ve found that technology is not the answer; it’s a great excuse to procrastinate a couple of days away. It is the answer to a question like, “I’m bored of all my synth sounds,” but when it comes to the beautiful graft of writing a song, it’s nothing. Nothing beats picking up an instrument, playing it and writing. You don’t need to practice – the guitar and the piano practically play themselves – you just hit them until you hear something you like.
4. THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH
Musicians are not actors. The pop stars can maybe fake it till they make it, but if you’re reading this I’m gonna presume you’re not in Little Mix, so you have to draw on your own experiences and feelings. What artists want is realness, so shake off what you think about yourself, what others will think, and really, really have a word with yourself.
5. A DEADLINE IS JUST A SUGGESTION
Deadlines are just another of life’s pressures that stop the inspirado train dead in its tracks. Sometimes spending 10 hours doing nothing is just the preparation a song needs for the next 40 minutes. If you write one line of a great song in a day, that’s a great day, a chorus, a fantastic day. Life’s pressures need to be managed, but you can’t diarise inspiration.
6. BEWARE THE WELL
In the early days, I would lower myself down into a deep ‘well’ to find those moments that meant something, remembering snippets of conversations and warped memories of conversations I wish I’d had. You have to really immerse yourself in these fragmentary moments; the tricky bit is getting back out, to real life, where maybe you can’t wander around like a depressed zombie. Some decompression time is essential to shield those you love from your self-indulgent bullshit.
7. MUSIC AS THERAPY
Writing songs to yourself, or others, is a great trick. All my early work was really genuinely because I couldn’t afford a therapist, so they were all letters to myself. I needed to work things through, and in the process find truths about things that my natural self would just bury. Music is everybody’s therapy, so primarily it should be yours.
8. YOUR IDOLS WERE RIGHT
There was a blank piece of paper in front of David Bowie, and then by the end of the day it had “Ground control to Major Tom” written on it (incidentally, I’ve seen this piece of paper and it’s practically biblical!) My point is… when I want my songwriting to get a kick up the ass, I listen to Ben Howard or Bon Iver or one of the country greats, to remind me: craft and graft. Be patient. No one is waiting for an average song.
9. YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Songwriters are a dime a dozen and a lot of them are terrible because, in theory, it’s easy. But that’s the thing, if it was so easy then I would have already done it and wouldn’t be available to write this! It’s not easy to write a good song; it’s really rare that you would write a great song – you have to be at peace with that.
10. HERE’S ONE FROM BACK IN THE DAY
I read a lot, I really do – a lot of philosophy and history – it gives my mind colour and perspective, and I recommend it highly. With that in mind… In the 4th century BC, there was this Chinese guy who said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Art made with anxiety for the result is inferior to art made without anxiety.”