Local Music

Artists Take on a 30-Minute Writing Challenge on Jim Camacho's Adventures in Songwriting Web Series

Ex Norwegian takes on Jim Camacho's 30-minute songwriting challenge for his Adventures in Songwriting web series.
Ex Norwegian takes on Jim Camacho's 30-minute songwriting challenge for his Adventures in Songwriting web series. Photo by Juan Davila
There's a funny story about how Paul McCartney wrote the Beatles song "Hello Goodbye."

A friend visited McCartney and asked him how it was that he always had a seemingly endless stream of songs ready to go. Where did they come from? How did he do it?

McCartney sat at the piano and began singing words like "hello," "high," and "go," and asked his friend to sing their opposites. Some minutes later, the whimsical Magical Mystery Tour cut was complete.

It's not always that simple, of course. To hear songwriters tell it, some songs take minutes to write, while others take months or even years. To the uninitiated, the art of songcraft is a mysterious, even seemingly mystical process.

Turns out it's just as mystifying to experienced songwriters like Jim Camacho.

Camacho has been writing songs his whole life. His professional songwriting career began with his '90s alternative band the Goods and continues today with his solo projects and a prolific foray into writing musicals. Still, Camacho says, "I would never assume that I know how to write a song. It's sort of like a moving target, and it's a mystery."

It's this curiosity about the process of songwriting — from inspiration to a completed piece — that led Camacho to launch Adventures in Songwriting, a YouTube web series that will also be available as an iTunes podcast beginning Friday, March 24.

The series will explore the songwriting process through interviews with some of Camacho's favorite songwriters, including Charlie Pickett, Rob Elba of Shark Valley Sisters, and Ex Norwegian.

Camacho aimed to present some of the Florida scene's best writers, and he's also in talks to have some exciting Nashville and UK talent on the show, though he's staying mum on names for now.

After picking the writers' brains on their tricks of the trade, Camacho will set an hourglass sand timer and challenge each guest to write a song with him in just 30 minutes. It's a method he's used himself since his days with the Goods.

"What's great about that technique is that you don't overthink and you are forced to finish the song. The song might completely suck, but over the years, I've been surprised now and then."

Camacho admits that the 30-minute method isn't for everyone, but there's an element to the system that he believes to be a virtue for songwriters, who tend to be overthinkers by nature.

"For me, the hardest part is getting out of your own way. I believe that the song already exists and we're kind of trying to find it."

The short window of time, he says, forces writers to set aside their intention or desire to appear sophisticated, which in turn allows them to get to the root of the song's message directly.

Camacho enjoys the elements of surprise and discovery inherent in the writing process. Though it is common practice for co-writers to go into a session with an idea for a song, Camacho likes to go in completely cold.

"What I really love is the blind date with the song. You come in with a blank page, and you have no idea what it's going to be. You walk into a room with somebody, and by the time you walk out of that room, you have a brand-new friend — or enemy. If the song sucks, you move on, but maybe you have something you like."

For Camacho, the process is rewarding either way. "I'm humbled by the blank page," he says. "You don't know what you're going to get."

Adventures in Songwriting Launch, With Jim Camacho and Charlie Pickett
7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Luna Star Cafe, 775 NE 125th St., Miami; 305-799-7123; lunastarcafe.com. Admission costs $5 at the door.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Celia Almeida is the digital editor of American Way and the former arts and music editor of Miami New Times. Her writing has been featured in Venice, Paper, and Billboard; and she co-hosts Too Much Love on Jolt Radio.
Contact: Celia Almeida