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Jeff Rea Reflects on 40 Years of Songwriting

It’s hard to believe that 40 years has past since I heard my name called out as the winner of the very first MLT Songwriting Awards in the James Cumming Wing in Gore. As I have reflected on those 40 years, a lot has changed, both in the music industry and in society.

In 1980, I recorded my entry on a reel to reel tape recorder and submitted it on a cassette. With the introduction of digital recording, the ability to record high quality recordings began and gradually became more affordable to the everyday musician/songwriter. With the internet now part of our lives and recording software freely available, the ability to share music has never been as easy. The days of needing a record company and contract to get your songs heard is passing. Internet sites such as Spotify have revolutionised the way we listen to music. The days of buying a CD are numbered and online streaming will eventually rule.

As a songwriter, I feel the changes have been both good and bad. While we still copyright our music and the great folks at APRA look after and collect royalties, the ability to stream music has, for a large part of the population, made music free. On the other hand, you can use social media to self promote like never before to a world-wide audience.

So how has songwriting changed over the last 40 years? In many ways, while everything else has completely changed, songwriting has remained the same. It is the soil from which everything else grows. Without the songwriter, there is no industry. Those who sing have no material. As it was in years gone by, a great song then is still a great song today. The only rule to what makes a great song is that there are no rules. Because we are in a creative medium, people’s opinion of what a great song is will vary greatly, but that is right and proper. A songwriter has a blank canvas, a finite set of notes and scales and the language of his native tongue to to make people smile, to energise them, to make them want to dance, and to somehow reach the listener on an emotional level. To this day, I still get huge satisfaction from finishing a new song, just like I did all those years ago. What the MLT Songwriting Awards did for me was encourage me to believe I had the talent to write songs for which I am forever grateful. Johnny Cash said a good country song was ‘the simplicity of melody and the bearing of your soul’.

I think nothing has changed.

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