Pere: Executive Director
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of CSA: The First Decade (1979-1989)
is Song Craft ?
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SO WHAT THE HECK IS "CRAFT", ANYWAY?
By Bill Pere (adapted with permission from Bill Pere's SongCrafters Coloring
One meaning of "craft" is a transportation
vessel that takes you from point "A" to point "B". But ask a hundred people
what is meant by "song"craft, and you may get some blank stares. However, it
can be thought of the same way. Craft is a way of getting songs from point
"A" to point "B". So let's take a step back--
Ask a hundred people what the role of a
songwriters organization is and you'll likely get a hundred answers. In
practice, there are many different roles that such an organization could
play, thus it comes down to how the organization defines and presents
itself. The three broad facets relating to songwriting are: (1) the art, (2)
the craft, and (3) the business.
What would an organization look like if it
focuses exclusively on each of these? An arts-based group would be one
which emphasizes and supports creative expression in any form, with little
application of rules, guidelines, or formats, and which does not judge
or evaluate songs in any prescribed way. Members would be seeking
affirmation, encouragement, and the opportunity to network with
like-minded folks. "Success" is measured solely by the artist's own
internal criteria. Such an organization is likely to be a non-profit entity,
functioning as a support group, and discussing topics such as creative
A craft-based group would have much of the
above, but would add a new element. Craft often gets a bad rap, for
when confused with the artistic focus as discussed above, it may perceived
as "imposing too much structure", "selling-out", "compromising
artistic integrity", etc. But exactly what is "craft"? Consider the craft of
woodworking; A woodworker is an artisan, and may create what he or she
wishes without regard to any rules. However, one can certainly
learn about such factual things as the nature of different woods; how to
make smooth, secure joints; how to sand and varnish wood; how to use
different kinds of hand tools or power tools, etc. This knowledge builds
skills which enable the artisan to bring craftsmanship to his or her art.
The emphasis here is on education with the objective of providing tools to
make the best possible product. Individuals still have their own definitions
of success and complete artistic freedom. Craft-oriented organizations may
discuss rules and guidelines as they apply to craft (i.e. how), not
art (i.e. what), and may evaluate or critique the execution of
technique (i.e. how) without judging artistic value (i.e. what).
Members may be seeking the same types of things as in an arts-based
organization, with the added desire for education about tricks of the trade
and seeking to create a more polished end product. Such an organization is
likely to be a non-profit entity functioning as an educational group
centered on the music and lyrics.
A business-based group focuses on commercial
outcome of the product. The emphasis is on whether or not it can sell,
regardless of the underlying elements of art and craft. Success is generally
defined in terms of tangible outcomes such as money or recognition, and
members would be oriented toward this type of goal. Critique of products is
given with commercial outcomes in mind, and the information presented may
revolve around marketing strategies and tools. Such an organization is often
organized as a business league, and though it itself may be non-profit, it
will not typically have a tax-exempt status. Discussions may focus on
production and marketing.
So back to the original question of where does
that leave a songwriters organization? The answer is that a songwriters
group can be any of the above, individually or in combination. It is up to
the organization. What is most important is for the songwriter to make sure
that their personal goals fit with those of the organization, or at least be
aware of where they differ.
CSA has always been, first and foremost, a
craft-based organization, while encompassing all the elements of an arts
association as well. Our charter defines us as "A non-profit, educational
organization dedicated to improving the art and craft of original musical
and lyrical composition". That has been our clear statement of purpose
since 1979 and all of our programs are centered around this purpose --
helping writers craft the best songs that they can, while defining their own
personal goals and artistic outlets. We clearly acknowledge and address the
importance of providing programs about the commercial side of songwriting,
and we do regularly provide such programs, but that is not our primary focus.
If a new writer comes to CSA seeking only
support as an artist, or assistance in commercial pursuit, they may be
disappointed by the emphasis on tools and techniques for crafting music and
words. But considering that many other songwriter groups are either
arts-based or commercial-based, it makes CSA one of the most unique
groups around, and one of the best at what we do. We have been here for more
than a quarter of a century and have helped many writers find their own
artistic vision, craft it to the pinnacle of polish, and go on to reach
their self-defined destination of success.
The role of craft is often not well understood,
but it sits right in the in the middle of that journey from creation to
realization to proliferation, and thus itís hard to get around it, or to get
around without it.
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