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Songwriting with Results

There’s drudgery and there’s magic – says Nik Kershaw

Nik Kershaw’s hit songs have made an impact across the world – The One and Only, Wouldn’t It Be Good and I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.

His albums have reached Platinum – and he’s unstoppable: his new album EI8HT has just been released.

But what’s the songwriting life like behind the scenes? Nick shares both the magic and drudgery of the songwriting process in this exclusive interview for VoiceCouncil Magazine

Do you just wait for inspiration to hit you or are there ways you can make it happen?
Sometimes I will put myself in the studio all day and when I emerge my wife will say, “What did you do today?” The answer: I stared at a wall.

Hitting a wall happens even after years of songwriting?
Yes – it happened at the start of this latest album. I didn’t have any songs and the first couple of weeks were pretty much messing about with computers and recording nonsense coming out of my mouth…and waiting for something to appear that could be the starting point of a song.

So, how do you handle it when things are slow?
The important thing is that you don’t feel frustrated about it and don’t grab the first thing that comes. You don’t want to be writing out of desperation. A part of the process is just accepting that what you have to work with is not fully formed – it might just be a collection of chords, a vague melody or a just a few words.

Is there any thing you can do to get “in the zone”?
Quite often things turn up at the most inconvenient times – in the midst of cooking a meal. Actually, walking my dog is a good one – it often takes me to a space I want to get into. Accept that songwriting requires solitude; it is a selfish process where you are not totally with anyone you are with.

How do you capture the ideas that emerge at inconvenient times?
I’ve written some fantastic songs in my dreams – but they’re never there in the morning!

How do you capture the ideas when you’re awake?
I will mumble a few words or a bit of a tune into an iPhone. In the old days I had a tape player or Dictaphone. Quite often I’ll listen to these ideas after a few weeks – sometimes I think these ideas are worth forgetting. Sometimes I’m pleased to realize there are some solid ideas in there.

Are you ever afraid of forgetting a great song idea?
Good ideas will keep coming back and it will torture me until I get it down.

Can you boil down songwriting into a process others can follow?
No. I don’t know how to write a song. It is all a big mystery to me and I don’t have a specific way to do it. There are no rules. I can sit down and talk about putting a song together but actually creating it is a different matter altogether.

Is there anything you do – or avoid doing – when you’re in the songwriting process?
Yes. If it sounds too much like the past, I won’t do it. I will make sure I give myself the time alone to let ideas emerge – and I will definitely take my dog for a walk.

How do you know what stuff to dump and what stuff to keep?
In any album process you go thought a process of loving, hating and doubt. There was a point half way through EI8HT when I dumped half of the material I had written.

That sounds like a tough decision.
Well, you have to trust your inner judge – there’s still doubt, though – you can’t get away from that. They key is to not become too sentimental about all of your creations.

Is there an easier way to write songs?
I do know people who just do a stream of consciousness and write tons of stuff – and record everything they come up with. They let other people help them decide what to keep. Occasionally something great happens that way – but it isn’t my way of working.

Nik Kershaw has just released EI8HT, with unforgettable sounds that combine irresistible melodies with sharp, intelligent lyrics. Check out news of Nik’s UK tour in late September.

Nik Kershaw’s debut album ‘Human Racing’ gave Nik his first UK top 5 singles with the hits Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, and Wouldn’t It Be Good, launching his career worldwide. The Equally successful ‘The Riddle’ followed with the title track, ‘Wide Boy’ and ‘Don Quixote’ all reaching UK top 10. Nik has also concentrated on songwriting and producing, working with Elton John, Chesney Hawkes, Ronan Keating, The Hollies, Colin Blunstone, Imogen Heap & Gary Barlow. For more about Nik see his website: www.nikkershaw.net

  • I just wrote a Hymn out of the blue.

    I am an Atheist.

    However I know the emotions and interests that drive Believers as I once held them above what I now accept the truth is about man’s origins and self-created precepts.

    My point is……….any subject, emotion, item, person, ideal, crime, passion, love, death, heaven, mountain, hope, et al can become the germ that starts the song-writing thought process.

    That is why Nik, is man enough and honest enough,in spite of his successes, to readily admit to not knowing what thought or experience (might) prompt the writing of a song. I am convinced that that is what he really meant when he wrote: “No. I don’t know how to write a song”.

    One cannot say really put it that way when it has already been done by them.

    I disagree with the word “Drudgery” in the context put. “Often perplexing and demanding of great self-discipline”, I can live with as a more appropriate descriptor.


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