Honestly, for the most part I think it’s ego. I’ve always used songwriting as a bit of a self-exam to see how my skills as an instrumentalist and lyricist have progressed and to track my own progress in a tangible way. At times I’ve used it cathartically to go deep in to my soul, at other times I want to create the silliest thing possible, so I don’t think subject matter and message drive me as much as other writers. I love the rush of finishing a song and wanting to play it over and over again, it’s like cooking a delicious meal that you can eat whenever you want for the rest of your life.
How did you come to song writing?
I’ve had piano lessons since the age of seven, and I started writing songs a few years later. There was no instruction or catalyst that I can remember; it just seemed like the obvious thing to do. Someone must have been writing all the songs I was listening to and playing, so why shouldn’t I? My first song was about a woman’s plastic surgery lips exploding. My second was about being turned in to a turtle.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
I wrote instrumental songs for about 10 years before I was comfortable singing. I wish I had taken singing more seriously and had lessons when I was younger, even in my late teens/early 20s. It took about 5-6 years to really feel comfortable singing and performing the songs I wanted to write. Voice is the main attraction for most listeners, so to ignore that for so long was probably a mistake
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I’ve always admired the dedication of musicians and artists who can lock themselves away for hours on end and practice every day. For me, music is fun, and I hate for it to feel like a chore. This leads to a terrible work ethic. Fortunately, when I do decide to write something, it happens very quickly.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
When I was younger, it was easy to be up until late at night working on music after I had come home from a day job, and bounce back the next day to do it all again. Now that I go to bed earlier and enjoy my relaxation time as much as possible, it’s a real challenge, and something that I haven’t yet managed. I’m very against the idea that a songwriter needs to be tortured in order to create, and I squirm at the thought of sacrificing health to produce art, so keeping regular hours is essential. Professional songwriters in the USA often work 9-5 doing songwriting, and then go home. I can’t imagine that there are any songwriters in Australia who have that luxury.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I have a dedicated music studio and teaching room at my house. I will either write at my piano or at my computer. I’ll usually write lyrics digitally in my Notes app so I’ve got them on all of my devices and so I can edit easily. The biggest trap with writing music on computers is spending the time browsing sounds without actually writing anything. Sitting at the piano takes that out of the equation. Lyrics usually come last for me, and are the most likely thing to be re-written.
What are your essential writing tools?
My piano and my computer. On the computer, I use Logic Studio X.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a song writer?
That the simplest songs are often the most successful. Don’t be afraid to write stupid.
What do you read and how do you read as a song writer?
I used to read constantly when I was a teenager, but I’ve only just picked up reading books again after about 10 years. For me, my writing inspiration comes from listening to other music, and even then, my ideas are sparked by musical ideas far more often than lyrical ideas.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Just sit down and start something. It might be awful, but it gets the synapses firing again. Picking up a different instrument or starting your process in reverse order is a great way to get a different result than your familiar output.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring song writers?
Know your market and aspirations. If you want to make a commercial living as a songwriter, go deep in to what makes a great number one song and don’t be afraid to ‘sell out’. If you’re not concerned with the money, make sure you enjoy the music that you create. If you like it, chances are that others will too.
Dion Read has been writing songs and performing in original bands for 18 years. A graduate of Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Music Program, Dion’s original songs have been played nationally on radio, television and in some of the best music venues in the country. Dion currently runs Counterpoint Music Academy in Brisbane providing tuition in songwriting, piano and stage performance.