How to Write a Song: Imagine a Grateful Dead Show

Question: What is your creative process when writing a song?

Dan Zanes: It’s always a little different trying to figure out how we’re going to do things, but in the beginning it was I was interested in finding older songs that I could update and I wanted the people who heard them, especially young people to be able to have some kind of an emotional attachment to it, but it couldn’t be at the expense of the adults, the adult listeners, so I mean there is children’s music out there and that tends to be particular to the experience of children and then there is adult music, which is probably most of what we all listen to, but in between songs about learning to eat with a fork or putting on a pair of trousers or learning to say please these are things that young people are kind of that’s a big part of their world. So that is one end of the spectrum and then the other end is songs that I would have sung when I was in rock and roll band about old girlfriends or drinking or you know fascinating themes like that, so between those two extremes there is… that’s kind of where I live, so it’s got to be… the tunes have to… you know they have to work for all ages all the time, but it could be more… could lean more towards adults and more towards young people, but nobody ever gets left behind and if a song is good and easy to sing along with that’s a big plus because when we perform it’s great to… You know it’s great if it can be like a little Grateful Dead show. You know that is really sort of a goal for the live part because we want everybody to be in it together, so singing, dancing, nobody has to sit still, but the more people sing along the more it’s like a you know less like a concert and more like a show.

Or more like a party I should say. You know you want to make it more like a party.

The Grammy-winning composer explains why the most important element in songwriting is imagining it as a party.

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