If anybody in the music business is well-equipped to hand out songwriting advice, it’s The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. He has close to 60 years of experience and knows precisely what tropes to undertake and which ones to avoid. alongside the rest of the band, he has delivered some of rock and roll’s finest tracks.
Keith Richards’ mercurial songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger is one of the finest commodities in rock ‘n’ roll. Individually, they might not be supreme songwriters, but beautiful alchemy occurs once the two men come together. It means that the art of songwriting is one space where Richards’ advice should always be heeded.
When putting together a song, many songwriters treat it like they would a normal job and sit around for hours trying to mine their minds for the perfect line, but that’s not how Richards works. It can be normal for him to go months without picking up a guitar or pen and then work at a prolific pace once his brain falls into gear.
Richards maintains he doesn’t need to be in the world’s most luxurious studio, and the location of his body is irrelevant. Instead, it’s where his head and heart are, which is most important to the guitarist.
During a Q&A with fans on his YouTube channel, Richards explained: “I think that writing songs has little to do with places and spaces.” He continued: “And it doesn’t matter where you are if going to write a song. Songs are written not mechanically. Not in rooms. They are written inside. So it wouldn’t matter where”.
While Richards’ advice does veer into pretentious territory, it’s true. Some of the most adored tracks have been written in teenage bedrooms. He believes there’s no guarantee of a correlation between the quality of a studio and the output created within its vicinity.
The guitarist again touched on this topic with Rolling Stone in 2020, and Richards made it clear there are no rules where creativity is concerned. “When you’re writing songs, there are no fucking rules. In fact, you’re looking to break them,” he explained. “You’re looking to sort of find the next missing chord. You’re looking to find the next best way to express things. Writing songs is not about the lyrics one side and music on another.”
He continued: “It’s about the two coming together. You can be a great poet and you might write some lovely music. But the art and the beauty of writing songs is to pull those two together, where they seem to love each other. That’s writing songs.”
Richards’ final point regarded spontaneity and how too much planning can often be a recipe for disaster. He added: “It should be spontaneous. Absolutely the guy that’s actually doing it (shouldn’t) know where it comes from. It just appears at your fingertips. Is coming out of the instrument.”
The Rolling Stones‘ guitarist’s three-point plan for success won’t work for everybody, but it shows how he operates. Richards doesn’t follow a formula. Instead, he lets the music flow through his body, and his sole job is to extract it into a recording.