Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Woodshed [ woo d-shed ]
- a shed for storing wood for fuel.
- Slang. to practice a musical instrument assiduously and with a specific goal in mind.
Whenever I hear the term “woodshed”, I think of a talented singer/songwriter I met in South Dakota years ago named Hank Harris. I remember his songs being thoughtful portraits of a soul-searching artist, set to the remote, beautiful landscape of the Black Hills and northern plains. One of the songs I remember described a notably long winter, and the persistence of chopping wood that sustained him. I think as artists and writers, we all go to some version of our woodshed, some form of meditative isolation that gives us time to search the quiet for meaning and truth, and come out with a few splinters of an idea that might consolidate into hardwood.
One thing that struck me as I looked up Webster’s slang definition of the term woodshed, was the use of the word “assiduously” in the description. Not an often-used word, and one that I had only a general idea in my mind of its definition. So, I looked it up. Partly because, as my co-writers know, I love words. But it was also because I wanted a better understanding of its context with the term woodshedding. What that arduous research (20 seconds on Google) produced was what I was looking for:
- showing great care, attention, and effort : marked by careful attention and perseverance.
And there I landed on the complete thought I was looking for when I think of the term woodshedding. After 20 plus years as a professional songwriter, I can look back at those times I woodshedded hard. It didn’t always deliver a great song, but it did develop some key elements that made me a better songwriter. It was where I developed the ability to look patiently at an idea from all angles, learned perseverance and how to focus, and importantly, to “listen” to an idea rather than tackle it with my intellect.
The woodshed is a place we have all experienced as music creators - but understanding its value and purpose more clearly, and learning how to harness that space, is something that can be helpful to aspiring songwriters as they develop their craft.
The irony is, with a few wonderful exceptions, songwriting is most often a very collaborative process, much like the rest of the music business. Learning not only to collaborate, but how to collaborate well, can be one of the most important things a songwriter should deeply understand. But it will often be our time spent diligently working solo in the woodshed that fuels the journey. I always think of the great analogies in professional sports. We see the amazing plays and incredible, inspiring moments in the spotlight, but what we don’t see – all the practice with a purpose, the reps, the work, the love for the game and the passion that drives it - that’s where our potential begins to coalesce, and takes us where it will go. That is what the woodshed is really all about.