How do you write a song? It’s a simple question with no simple answer. Everyone seems to have a unique method to the madness. There are those who approach it as if they’re accepting a transmission from another world while others are more methodical about the process, treating it like a day job. Some start with lyrics or a poem while others want the music and melody defined long before they even think about putting the words in the mix. Clearly, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, but for something so personal and often private, is it really possible to teach someone how to write a song? The answer, according to Ojai singer-songwriter Rain Perry, is an unequivocal “Yes,” and she’s out to prove it with her Songwriting for Civilians workshop.
If anyone has the credibility to teach a class for beginner songwriters or, in many cases, folks who’ve never even attempted to write a song, Perry has the pedigree to do so. Balancing the day-to-day demands of being a wife and full-time mom to two kids, she’s also managed to carve out an interesting musical career. She’s released three excellent records, and her song “Beautiful Tree” was picked up as the theme song for the TV show Life Unexpected, which ran for two seasons. It was a grand slam for an independent artist, and besides a few solid royalty checks, it even led Perry to a cameo on the nationally televised show that is a feel-good story for those who feel think the big breaks in the music industry are only reserved for the big boys.
The point is, Perry firmly believes that you don’t have to be Bob Dylan to write a song and get the personal and maybe even professional benefits that come from doing so.
Inspired by music conferences and workshops that she’s attended over the years that were “designed for people who were experienced songwriters and didn’t seem welcoming at all to a beginner,” Perry wanted to put together a different kind of class where people who weren’t necessarily seasoned songwriters or musicians could, in a non-intimidating way, test the waters of songwriting.
“I’m looking for people who don’t necessarily identify themselves as a songwriter,” explains Perry. “Maybe they were in a band in high school and haven’t touched an instrument in years. Maybe it’s someone who has some poetry and wants to put it to music but doesn’t play an instrument. Someone who has a few riffs but doesn’t know how to turn them into a song. Maybe even someone who’s just a huge music fan and is interested in how songs come together. It really is a class open to everyone at all levels.”
Perry has already tried the concept in two different formats: a weekly class over the course of a few months and a weekend workshop. The first workshop was a proper retreat in the desert but this one is closer to home, taking place at a private location in Ojai, and it even includes meals prepared by Perry, who, among her many talents, is a culinary expert. All ages and backgrounds are welcome and Perry keeps the classes small and intimate. There’s definitely a communal sense to the experience Perry creates, and the results have been inspiring so far. Attendees of Perry’s classes and workshops have gone on to perform for the first time at open mics, book their first shows and make recordings with songs that were created or honed at Perry’s classes. Perry, of course, couldn’t be a prouder parent.
“Every class or workshop has produced new friendships and new music, and I’m learning as I go along as well. It’s a great feeling to write a song or perform it live, but teaching is just as satisfying.”
Rain Perry’s Songwriting for Civilians takes place Oct. 27 and 28. For more information about how to participate, visit www.rainperry.com.