Published on April 13th, 2013 | by msalt

Elliot Smith on how to write songs

Elliot Smith was an amazing singer/songwriter for about 9 years, from his solo debut in 1994 until he killed himself in 2003. Despite his struggles with booze and drugs, which form the milieu of many of his tunes, he was talented enough that he has become an adjective. I’ve seen music industry people say things like “That kid’s a good songwriter but he’s no Elliot Smith.”

This video is fuzzy and elliptical but has some real insight into how a great songwriter does it. It also demonstrates my theory of real mastery — it starts right at that point where you can’t really explain how you do it, any more.

For a bonus, here is a rare 1998 interview from Dutch TV, higher quality but less about songwriting.

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About the Author

Mark Saltveit is a writer, standup comedian, skimboarder and dad based in Middlebury, Vermont. His improv show "Palindrome Fight!" will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 5-29th 2022 at the Kilderkin Pub, 67 Canongate, at 7:30pm each night except Tuesdays.

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