Artist developmentSongwriting

Learning from songwriting legends (pt 2) – John Prine

Prine Songwriting Formula

In our last blogpost we looked into some of Carole King´s secret songwriting tools! Today, let´s look into the career of country music legend John Prine, who sadly passed away just recently.

John, in contrast to Carole did not focus on getting songs cut by other artists but mainly wrote his own tunes to be performed by him or him and guest artists as collaborations on his records.

One of the greatest songwriters in country music

As a songwriter in country music, John was one of a kind! His journey from his early beginnings to his big successes wasn´t always easy. But it paid off! He won a Grammy for his album “the Missing Years” in 1991 and was granted the Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to Songwriting by BBC Radio 2 in 2003. Personally, I would say, what Bob Dylan is to Folk Music, John Prine is to Country!

Storytelling with a twist

Why is that? Like Bob Dylan, John has a way of applying storytelling techniques in his songs that speak to millions of listeners! His songs don´t shy away from addressing the dark sides of life and the heartaches we go through, but always adding a sense of ease and feel good tonality to it!

John once stated that his favorite song of his, was “Far from me”, a song about lost love from the perspective of a lonely waitress. His greatest hits include “Angel of Montogomery”, which was recorded by Bonnie Raitt and “Paradise” alongside many others.

Getting real

At the center of all John Prine songs are raw emotions, which is probably the biggest secret to great songwriting! Pair this with rather easy tunes, that easily catch a listener´s ear and attention and you are halfway there!

The right mindset

What´s interesting about John´s career though is that he passed through many years as a struggling artist and several setbacks, before making it to a sustainable career in music.

He started out playing guitar at age 14, but only started writing songs in his early 20ies, playing in the local Chicago club scene. He was sort of discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who engaged Prine as an opening act at the Bitter End club in New York. One thing led to another, and Prine soon got signed by Atlantic Records, releasing his self-titled debut album.

When he was fired from his record company a couple of years later, he decided to create his own label in 1981 and started over on his own terms and with new visions with regard to the music industry. This “fall and rise back up “mentality surely played a crucial role throughout his career and life in general. Having survived cancer twice is just another proof of his strong forward thinking mentality.


The key takeaways from both Carole´s and John´s success stories are continuous growth as songwriters by staying open-minded, hard-working and yet curious and playful enough to learn new things at all times, as well as a strong belief into their own abilities, persistence to stick with it and good people skills! John in particular was a good listener and observer, who drew from people´s lifestories! At the end of the day songwriting is a people´s business! We write songs to connect with others!  Music is a community art so to say!  In a way we  (like all artist) are service providers to humankind! Challenging beliefs, opening up new perpectives and providing food for thought! As long as you keep this in mind, you should be good to go!

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To sweeten up your day, here´s a lovely rendition of Angel of Montgomery for y´all!

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