If you’ve ever lacked confidence in your own writing abilities, be comforted. Sir Paul McCartney also doesn’t what he’s doing when writing songs.
At least that’s what he told Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton in a recent All Songs Considered podcast on NPR, in advance of the release of his new box set Pure McCartney. It’s really a must-hear candid interview, as arguably the greatest songwriter of all time talks about his songwriting process, what he misses about working with John Lennon, and why he considers his songwriting just “a hobby.”
Below are a few of my favorite takeaways from the interview. Be sure to click the player at the end of this article to listen to the entire discussion.
Having never once composed a song myself, I’ve always been intrigued by how musicians write their songs. Do they write the words first and place music around it? Do they create a tune and find words to fit within it? Maybe both?
Paul shares that his method involves sitting with an instrument and looking for “melodies, chord shapes, musical phrases, some words, a thought.” Once found, he molds that shapeless clump in the same way that he might do if “writing an essay or doing a crossword a puzzle.”
He and John Lennon shared that same songwriting process while composing together for many years. A collaborative process he misses to this day.
And not one to be repeated anytime soon. Per Paul, the duo shared so many interests and experiences together that no one else could come along and reproduce that with Paul today. The hands of time simply can’t be turned back around to create such a writing combination again.
“I don’t know how to do this. You would think I do, but it’s not one of these things you know how to do.”
By far my favorite takeaway from the interview was Paul’s admission that songwriting—I believe applicable to any form of writing—is not defined by a formula. It’s always flowing. And as soon as you think you’ve mastered the craft, you realize it’s time to learn it all over again.
It was a comforting thought to me that I should have “figured out” this writing thing by now. It will always be in process.