Songwriting Tips From Bob Dylan’s Interviews

As part of our new series AirGigs Insights we’re digging deep to find nuggets of wisdom from some of the world’s most iconic songwriters, musicians and producers. In this episode we compiled 10 essential songwriting tips from Bob Dylan taken from interviews and quotes given over the last 50+ years. Dylan’s personal style has always been a bit enigmatic, so with some of these you may need to look a little deeper to get to the root of them for yourself. Be sure to leave a comment with your favorite tip.

The Best Ones Are Written Quickly

“The best ones are written very quickly. The longer it takes to finish the song the more difficulty it takes to pin it down and focus in on it and lose your original intention. I’ve done that a few times. I sort of just leave those songs go.”

Bob Dylan’s 1985 interview for 20/20

Immerse Yourself (But Don’t Copy)

“It is only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy someone. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster.”

(taken from an Interview with Robert Hilburn in The LA Times, April 2004).

Keep Your Ears Open

“You can go anywhere in daily life and have your ears open and hear something, either something someone says to you or something you hear across the room. If it has resonance, you can use it in a song.”

(taken from an Interview with Robert Hilburn in The LA Times, April 2004).

Write The Songs You Want To Hear

As far as serious songwriting went, the songs I could see myself writing….would be the kinds of songs I wanted to sing.

Chronicles Vol One, Bob Dylan

The Right Environment Can Bring Out A Song

For me, the environment to write the song is extremely important. The environment has to bring something out in me that wants to be brought out. It’s a contemplative, reflective thing…

The Song Talk Interview

Sort Out Your Thoughts

First of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of them thoughts.

The Song Talk Interview

Access Your Subconscious

It’s nice to be able to put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind. And block yourself off to where you can control it all, take it down…

The Song Talk Interview

Don’t Think Too Much

“Creativity isn’t like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect…you’ve got to program your brain not to think too much.”

1995 USA Today interview

Make It Yours

“It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours.”

9/27/2012 Rolling Stone

Follow Your Own Path

Robert (Johnson) was one of the most inventive geniuses of all time. But he probably had no audience to speak of. Robert Johnson was so far ahead of his time that we still haven’t caught up with him. His status today couldn’t be any higher. Yet in his day, his songs must have confused people. It just goes to show you that great people follow their own path.

Interview From NY Times 2020

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