I went to a very enjoyable concert yesterday by Auckland band, the Bads, where one of the band members told the audience a great story against himself. Brett Adams is a formidable guitarist who, along with his co-conspirator vocalist/songwriter Dianne Swann plus assorted musical colleagues is currently touring their latest release nationally. Brett’s guitar skills are also much in demand as a skilled sideman to many other NZ performers, including the legendary Tim Finn.
( This is the Bads live in Napier - Brett on the left and Dianne, right.) Photo Andrew Caldwell
The story goes like this. Brett and Tim are touring just as a duo across the US and have to play a show in Colorado, where the snow piles high in winter - very high. Having chugged a good 9 hours or so to their destination, they arrived only to be told that, ‘due to the weather’, the show had been cancelled. Tim’s reaction was priceless. He said let’s go to the hotel and write a song. As you do. In Brett’s anecdote, he wryly remarked that wasn’t the reaction that he'd had. And that the song Brett had started writing then took a good ten years to be completed describing himself as ‘less disciplined than Tim’, whereupon the Bads played his tune.
As well as a great intro to a song’s genesis, this story highlights the difference between the musician who has songwriting front and centre in his life, and the musician who has a different focus. There’s no doubt the guitarist is extraordinarily disciplined to be able play as well as he does night after night, with such a variety of artists and repertoire. But having your songwriting process so close to your heart so that when you get a block of unexpected blank time, you can pick up where you left off is a state of being to aspire to. There’s never any time wasted because you always have something at your fingers tips to tap into. It’s what tunesmith Jimmy Webb calls continuity and rappers call flow. You ‘re able to switch between writing and ‘real life’ modes quickly and easily
The trick is that the relative effort of getting to that creative sweet spot is far less for those who write regularly, who practice their craft often, for those who, as the weightlifters say, do the reps. It’s keeping a mindset of ‘downtime = song time’ or ‘unexpected delay = songwriting hay’. It’s also being aware of the positive feedback loop that comes from finishing drafts. The more you do, the better you get. No different from running scales or shooting hoops. So, when you get ‘extra time’, that’s seen as an opportunity, rather than a drag and that you have to ‘pass the time’.
My guess is that Tim Finn, a skilled and very experienced songwriter, thought ‘yeeha - snowed in, with no expectations on me, no commitments I have to fulfil…. plus the added bonus of unimpeded access to a really good guitar player …I'm a kid in a candy store’. If indeed it was even that conscious, because I suspect that's just how he rolls but I would love to hear what his final output was from their canned Colorado gig.
Talk more soon.
PS if you'd like to pump up your songwriting muscle, check out our Songwriting Clinic this Labour Weekend in Wanaka
Nowadays, it's pretty easy to record draft tracks on ipads or lap tops, and ping them off as wee mp3s and 4's. This is an important part of songwriting - working up drafts of your songs, listening back with fresh ears and for sharing with collaborators or bandmates. Just even remembering a tune or snatches of lyrics can be so easily captured now and the results backed up on a drive smaller than your thumbnail.
So, then what? Here are some possible outcomes/purposes for a recording of your song to think about.
Is your recording to get your song on the setlist of your band? Is it to show songwriting collaborators? Is it audio for entry into songwriting competitions or to put up on YouTube? Is it for radio broadcast, to entice a publisher, a producer, a video director, a really awesome vocalist to work on your material? Is it to get more live work from venues or festival organisers? Are you going to sell it digitally or physically? Independently or with label support?
Each of these outcomes has slightly different requirements for a recording - some you can easily achieve yourself. With the advent of DAW's and hard drive recording programmes, ever cheaper computers, it's totally possible to knock together a cheap home project studio for a few hundred. You can go piece by piece, get a condensor mic, headphones or powered speakers. Whether you set up in your lounge, your bedroom or your garage, having something you can capture basic and clear recordings of your songs is an important first step. There's always someone with more/better gear than you. Start simple and don't get too bamboozled! As monitor and live sound engineer Gil Craig says 'If you can operate an ATM, you can work a home recording set up'
A harder question to answer is what size audience can you command? What demand is there for your material? A strong indicator is how many folks turn up to your shows and what songs EITHER stop them in their tracks OR whip them into a frenzy in the mosh pit. A crowd pleaser live doesn't necessarily make the best radio or internet delivered song, but if there is strong live support for your work, then there's a good chance you've achieved some market penetration and could monetize that, industry parlance.
Finally, what resources do you have to devote to the process? How much time do you have? It does take time and resilience, a willingness to try things out, to say yes and sometimes to say no! Who do you know? A strong rhythm section, a great guitarist, an electronics whizz that can give you the beats you need? Do you know someone actually already involved in the recording, mixing and mastering of contemporary music, someone who's released material before who can advise you on arrangements and production? Check out your favourite local recording credits, and approach folks. Reach out! In my experience, NZ musicians are really generous with time and energy, they want to play and will consider a 'development' rate, even a shout for the right person. What money can you bring to the table? For beers and pizza, for petrol, for lunches? If you can offer those who pursue music professionally a little folding, it can go further than you think. But you don't want to outstay the 'favour' welcome. There's mates rates, and then there's get off the grass! Be appreciative and give credit where it's due. Folks can always say no too.
Whatever you can put into recording your music will pay off in your development as a songwriter and each improvement in the quality of your songwriting, your musical taste and judgement, your recording equipment, rehearsal process and personnel used and time you put into developing your skills will definitely show as you make more recordings, just as the more practice you do, the better you play.
Talk more soon
ps email me if you'd like to do my brand new online songwriting course - How do I write better songs? It's short and free!
Just put COURSE in the subject line of the email.
pps click here to join us this Labour Weekend for the upcoming Songwriter's Clinic in picturesque Wanaka
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a great acronym to have at the front of your songwriting brain at all times. Here’s why. It reminds us that songs are short and they travel in real time. It reminds us that songs are heard. We hear them. It reminds us of the purpose of songs – they provoke emotion – we should be feeling something. It reminds us that we, your audience, should be able to remember something about your song after ONE listen. It reminds us that we should be able to sing along – not necessarily professionally, but at least in the shower or in the car in a traffic jam,or while we’re vacuuming or when we’re slumped on the couch heartbroken, sobbing under a blanket. Oh yes, my friends – keep it simple, stupid!
Simple does not mean shallow or dumbed down.
Simple does not mean easy to write. If it was everyone would be doing it!
Simple can be two chords – Eleanor Rigby, two words - Anchor Me, or two notes -Yesterday.
Simple means one story well told, one emotion well reached, a connection made with an audience.
Simple asks what are you trying to say, and expects an unequivocal answer.
Simple is authentic. Simple is uncomplicated.
Simple touches your heart and makes you listen.
And it’s not just my view….
Concision, admittedly, is the essence of pop: its discipline, its challenge, its genius. To tell a story or sum up an attitude in a handful of sung verses or a salvo of hip-hop rhymes, and to unite them with music that lodges those words in memory — and, at best, also summons the feeling behind them — is a songwriter’s job description…. Yet musical or verbal complexity can easily add clutter rather than depth, not to mention idle pretension. That’s why popular music regularly goes through back-to-basics purges like punk (both the 1970s and 1990s editions), electro (with iterations in every decade since the 1970s) and for that matter rock ’n’ roll itself. New York Times
Here’s how. Look at each of the building blocks of your song and see if you can do things, well, simpler!
1. The Point. What are you trying to say? What is the intention or purpose of your song? Is it easy to understand? Will enough of us care about it? Can you explain clearly what your song is saying in one sentence? Universal messages of love in all its forms, songs of longing and hope, sorrow, collective anger or outrage or something upbeat and danceable to get you through all have their place. From my experience, this is the bit that most newbie songwriters skip over.
2. Lyrics. Do you use everyday, conversational language? Like you're talking to us. Is there at least one image that helps us see what you see, clear as day? Do you have the title in the chorus? Does the title tells us the point of your song? Does your story keep reinforcing your song’s purpose?
3. Structure – does the shape or form of the song allow the purpose of the song to clearly unfold. We know where we’re going. There are verses, a chorus, maybe a bridge. It has pieces that are put together in a way we expect, with
a beginning, middle and an end.
4. Chords – the progression is strong, maybe even the same throughout the entire song. This is trending in pop songwriting now. Royals uses the same three chords throughout and they’re all major. (D/C/G).
5. Melody – the tune is easy to sing and easy to learn, in a range that everyone can sing (not more than an octave plus two). The melody is made a repeated motif (small group of notes that builds the melody, like words make a phrase). Yesterday uses a three note motif made of just two notes. Key professional songwriters like Max Martin start with the melody. Just saying....
6. Rhythm - your song has a clear groove or beat. It makes people move - a little or a lot. At same stage, preferably in the chorus, all the elements in your song hit the first beat of the bar.
7. Unplugged – if the song works with just you and a guitar, or just you and a piano or just you singing, and people get it, you’ve got a song!
8. Repetition – you repeat stuff – the chords you use, the melodic motif, the title in the chorus, the chorus, the groove.
Simple means that we can hear and understand each of the building blocks of the song. How all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is what makes the magic!
Talk more soon,
Charlotte Yates +021 685 561
ps I'm running a free workshop on this material this Saturday 13 May 10.30am-12.30pm @ Te Takere, Levin.
One of the principle tools songwriters use to tell their stories and weave their magic is rhyme. Why is that and do you really have to? Beginner songwriters often do it badly while more experienced writers make it look effortless and feel so natural sometimes you don’t even notice their lyrics are packed with rhyme. What’s with that?
First off, even though we may spend hours, days or even years working on a rhyming scheme in our songs, lyrics are words to be heard. They are audio first and foremost. And the audio travels in linear real-time – it’s a delivery of a chronological narrative. Yes, of course, it’s wonderful pouring over beautifully designed gatefolds and inserts, but a song has to hit us in the ears before we feel it in our hearts and minds. Rhyming is a big part of that. It sets up expectations in the sounds of the words used and the patterns that they are placed. This helps our understanding of the lyric and seriously helps us to remember it. That’s a key objective of songwriters – memorability. A Reddit post from WoutervD explains this further.
"I think this has to do with your brain reacting positively to expectations becoming reality. In music, we tend to recognise patterns in the notes and this causes your brain to develop an expectation of what will be next. Check out this video to see how strongly (and how well) that works. I think rhyming might be the linguistic equivalent of this. Your brain hears a word and then another word matches the first. If you know this will happen (because you're listening to a song or poem) your brain considers it to be very gratifying."
Secondly, lyrics are words to be sung. Singers spend 90 – 99% of their airtime on vowels. If you can line up vowels of a similar nature, your mouth stays in the same shape and makes the song light years easier to sing. Rhyme improves singability. It’s not the only tool you can use to develop this but it’s a biggie. Rhyme is considered part of the melody of a poem.
"Melody refers to sound effects, such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance, with each producing a unique melodic effect. Rhyme is a type of melody, and rhymes can be perfect with identical vowel sounds (“guy” and “high”) or slant, when the sound of the final consonants is identical, but not the vowels (“shell” and “pill,” “cement” and “ant”). "
So yes, rhyming is a huge convention in contemporary songwriting. There are families of rhyme – the extent to which a rhyme is ‘perfect’ or near enough, and there are patterns of rhyming – the way the rhymes land within the song - to learn and try out. But there are also a few tricks to pop up your sleeve.
1. Don’t put a rhyme just for the sake of rhyming. It will feel forced. It’s more important to be authentic than chained to a rhyming scheme. Try writing out what you want to say as if you’re copying someone’s conversation, and then refashion it. You’re the boss.
2. Put ‘unexpected’ rhymes second in your rhyming scheme. Instead moon and June, drown us in a monsoon, or draw us in a cartoon. It will help your imagery too.
3. Rhyming dictionaries – all over the internet, as well as in print. Use them willy nilly. You’ll find prompts for words you won’t ever have considered, and that’s good! Here’s one to try.
4. You can use rhyme within the line, not just at the end – a favourite Paul Simon technique and he wasn’t called Rhymin’ Simon for nothing.
5. If you use one rhyme scheme in your verse, do a different one (or none) in the chorus. It improves your song’s contrast. If you’re using the same rhyming scheme all the time, stop!
The main thing is to understand why rhyme is used, and play with all the options at your disposal. More fun, better songs.
+021 685 561
PS We cover rhymes and their families and friends in our Songwriting Clinics.
It would take a very brave friend to tell you your songs are boring. It’s so easy to be over invested in songs you’ve poured your heart out in and spent a great deal of time and energy bringing to fruition. Sometimes, the worst people to give you feedback on your work are your nearest and dearest, but, if one of them has the courage to give you the ‘boring’ comment, you should immediately show your profound gratitude with a massive hug, or if that’s not your style, shout them a beer or two.
Because this feedback gives you clear way forward to how to improve your songwriting. No shit, Sherlock! Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly why your songs aren’t connecting with your audience. And a boring song is relatively easy to make, er, less boring.
Think about it this way. Most songs are running at 3 to 4 minutes in radio format, with optional longer video, dance mix and live versions. So, once you capture a listener’s attention, you have to work quickly to keep it. One of the principle ways to do this is heighten your contrast. Contrast between your songs and contrast within them. Contrast within your song will give it shape and dynamic. Contrast between your songs shows the audience the range of topics, feelings and styles you have to offer as an artist.
You can do this in a myriad of ways and the trick is to be aware of contrast as an issue and be active about manipulating it. Tempo is one key ingredient – are all your songs in the same mid tempo groove? In some of your songs, is there a section you naturally rev up – even 1 bpm. This can give a real shove to the feel of the track and generate propulsion. Key is another. Are all your songs in minor keys? Imagine the feeling if you wrote one in a major key just for the mood change or, within one of your songs for once, you introduce a key change.
Then there’s pitch. What is the overall trajectory of your melody? Is it building at any point, preferably the chorus? Or is the range of your melody only within two or three notes? Are you putting the beginnings of your phrases on the first beat of the bar all the time? There are other beats, you know.
Song structure gives a great chance for tension and release by making the verse note lengths different from that of the chorus, changing the chord sequence for the chorus and again for a bridge. Having a song with a bridge for a change or starting your song with the chorus can spice things up too. Do all your songs have extended intros or does at least one of them rip straight into the vocal? And how long are your songs - can you say what you need to in 3 rather than 7 minutes, outstaying your welcome much. Are there any instrumental hooks that are essential to the structure of the song?
Time signatures give a real contrast between and within songs. Most contemporary music is sitting pretty in 4/4 but there are other places to go.
Lyrically, are you using repetition in the chorus enough, varying the rhyming patterns between your verse and chorus, giving us some instability in the verse rhythmically so we can’t just wait for the chorus to land. Are all your songs on the negative side of the love story or is there some light and shade? Are all your songs in first person? Are they all just about you or are the topics ones we can all identify with? Do you have some songs that have a short chorus – (one line repeated can work a treat) and others with a longer message? Do you have some vocal hooks without any meaningful lyric attached?
Remember, I’m just talking about the song here – not about production, either in the studio or live. This is about contrast within and between your songs. If someone tells you they can fix it in the mix, walk the other way and write better! And the elements I’m suggesting you try varying are just scratching the surface of the possibilities of improving contrast in your song. Get into it, play around with the options and your songs will never be called boring again.
Talk more soon.
We drove away from Las Olindas through a series of little dank beach towns with shack-like houses built down on the sand close to the rumble of the surf and larger houses built back on the slopes behind. A yellow window shone here and there, but most of the houses were dark. A smell of kelp came in off the water and lay on the fog. The tyres sang on the moist concrete of the boulevard. The world was a wet emptiness.
This excerpt written by American crime writer Raymond Chandler comes from a review of his biography by the contributing editor James Meek in this year’s first edition of London Review of Books, (5 January 2017).
Meek points out that Chandler ‘has a genius for the rare and obscure prose skill of putting exactly the right number of atmospheric elements in place to enable the reader to both grasp a topography and feel a mood’
And that ‘between the dialogue, the action, the fierce eye and ear of Chandler fastening on each cadence and fingernail and accessory of his characters, there are moments of intense experience of place that are both sensual and precise’
What on earth has all this got to with songwriting? Well, basically, everything!
Berklee College of Music’s Professor Andrea Stolpe points out in her book Popular Lyric Writing, that a songwriter’s objective is
‘to cause a significant experience in the mind and heart of our listener. As writers, we have the power to determine the intensity of the experience we cause…. Any idea can succeed or fail in causing an experience with the listener. The effectiveness is not contained with in the plot itself but in the ability of the story to connect emotionally’
She asks the challenging question ‘Are you connecting with your listeners or providing background music to their busy lives?’
This is a great benchmark to use to measure your songwriting success.
An audience has to feel something to connect with your song. Telling them to feel won’t work, but showing them how to see what you see, hear what you hear will help them feel what you feel.
This means using your senses as points of connection, just like Raymond Chandler did so effectively. He told us what the tyres sounded like (they sang), what he could smell (kelp) , what the colour of the window was (yellow), where he was leaving from (Las Olindas), what the concrete felt like (moist), what the weather was doing (fog, moist, dank) and how he was travelling (driving) – in other words he employed every sense he had, plus movement. This increased specificity makes us literally reconstruct his experience for ourselves.
Same in memorable songwriting. Not just any shoes, but blue suede shoes - not just a car, but a little red Corvette, not just a road but a dark desert highway, with the smell of warm colitas rising up through the air. Senses are being seriously stimulated here – sound, visual, smell, taste, touch and movement.
Incorporating sense-bound writing into your material enables your listeners to experience what you want them to. They can connect with your songs more fully through the choice of specific details you provide.
When next you write, intentionally think about what your characters look like, sound like, what they smell, or smell like (!), how they're moving, what or who they're touching, what they're drinking or eating. You might start to unearth some new images and lines you hadn't previously thought of, taking your song from good to great.
Talk more soon.
ps sense-bound writing is something we look at really closely in our song clinics.
It seems to me that one of the most challenging times in songwriting is finishing. In fact, I’ve often said in workshops, ‘completion is the enemy’. Beginner songwriters often struggle with completing the first draft of their songs. They may have ideas for the first verse and the chorus, an idea or riff from where the inspiration sprang or a really cool chord sequence and feel. But when it comes to getting all the various bits of the song structure, lyrics and melody in one transmissible package, something stymies them.
‘Not finishing’ is one of the main issues that provokes folks getting some more input into their writing. Generally, the conversation goes something like this: ‘I have heaps of ideas floating around for songs’ or ‘I’ve got pages of lyrics and poems in a folder/notebook’ or ‘I’ve been working on this groove for a while now and I think it’s got some legs’.
Then comes the‘Big But’. ‘But I don’t have time to put it all together’ or ‘but I don’t know how to get it happening’ or ‘but I don’t know where to go next’ followed by ‘then my brain turns to mush’ or ‘whatever I write is so cheesy’ or ‘I know I need to get back into it – I’ll do it next summer.’
Remember, the trick isn’t to be number-one-hit-perfect with your song draft, but just to finish it. There's a bucket of psychology behind why we don’t want to finish work or put barriers in our own way – partly fear of failure, partly self-doubt, partly fear of leaving our comfort zone and more, but here’s three useful things to help you write your way out of this quagmire.
1. Reduce the size of your task. I read about one chap who was going to the gym and never quite made it, so his task reduction became “I will do two push ups each day for five days”. Now even one of our guinea pigs could manage that, but it meant he actually completed a very manageable regime and could then progress to something more substantial. What if you lowered the bar for a minute, dropped your anxiety load, and said to yourself ‘I’m going to write the next line of my verse each day for 4 days’. Now note – there’s no quality control, no editing, just a small bite sized chunk of songwriting designed to help you finish ONE song.
2. Give yourself a time limit. With the suggested bite-sized goal, I said ‘each day for 4 days’. You could put whatever time works when you were going to write – ‘I’m going to write the next line of my verse each day for 4 days at lunchtime’. So I’ve now linked the writing time frame to a (hopefully) pleasurable activity, but also one with a defined limit to help your focus. Schedule theory – if it’s scheduled, you’re more likely to action the task.
3. Switch off your devices when you write. This reduces temptation, distraction and pester power. You want to encourage creative flow, not dissipate it. Anything that helps you avoid having to use the limited supplies of willpower we have is a boon. Willpower is over rated. Help yourself to help yourself.
Let me know if any of these techniques work for you and see you at the finishing line!
ps If you want to really spice up your songwriting process, try our clinic.
It occurred to me this morning that the chorus is the soul of your song. I mean I’ve heard lots of descriptions - the meat in the burger, the point, the message and so on, but there is something indefinable too - an essence to a really good chorus.
For example, take the chorus in the Crowded House song, Weather with You. The chorus lyric is
Everyhere you go, always take the weather (x4)
the weather, the weather, with you.
Meaning maybe not immediately obvious or IMHO, not even that interesting, or useful even. But match it with the melody, it's catchy as all get out and audiences ate it up. It totally rated.
You can analyse why, for sure. Simple everyday language, the title features strongly in a key position, the melody starts higher than that of the verse and it’s easily sung and easy to remember, with loads of repetition and so forth, but in a song full of whimsy, this chorus is the highlight - not being particularly direct, yet working a treat. It is the soul of the song, a wee bit of magic and it connected with lots of folks.
Songwriting is often a solitary activity, at least in the initial stages of idea capture and development. Even in collaborations, you may be one of just a handful of intrepid soldiers of song. You can spend hours and days working on material, rewriting and revisiting your work and it can be easy to lose focus, to lose what you are trying to get across. If you want to write songs for yourself in your bedroom, that’s great –it’s valid self expression much the same way as a personal journal can be a terrific outlet. But if you want to write for an audience, there’s another process to consider and that is whether you are actually communicating something to someone else that they can relate too, in some form, at some time. If lots of people relate to your song easily and immediately, and can remember something about it – even sing some of it back to you, you’ve done something right.
Now, I’m not saying write shite. Not at all. To thine own self be true, for sure, but even if I don’t understand what your song is about, I can still have a very strong emotional response to it. (See above)
My point is that writing for an audience is about sharing an emotion, an idea, a story, a thought in song – the emphasis being on sharing.
One of the ways you can enhance that is by writing strong choruses that incorporate some of these features.
1. The Flying F--- Syndrome. Does your chorus have something a lot of people care about, understand or relate to? If they don’t give a FF, (children are reading this and they never swear), your song could be a dead duck.
2. Can I sing it? Or just Maria Carey. Keep it simple. And give me space to breathe!
3. Can I remember anything about it, preferably the title? Keep the chorus simple and short.
4. Repeat something. It will help me remember it. I may hear your song live for the first time in a bar or in a supermarket or when I’m driving. I’m not always going to be able to take notes! Songs are oral and aural.
5. Let me know this is the chorus. Make the melody different from the verse, start it higher and have a different rhythm – longer notes, on the beat, fairly resolved with any tension released. Lead me to it with a pre-chorus. I want to know where I am and have it feel good. I want to sing ‘I’m a Creep I’m a Weirdo’ or I Wanna Hold your Hand’ or whatever you want me to sing! Give me what Dr Pat Pattison calls the ‘Ahhhh’ factor.
6. Put the title in a strong position in your chorus. The beginning’s a good place. So is the end, and reinforce this by repeating it.
Even if you focus on one of these elements in your next chorus, you could improve the connection you make with your audience. It may feel clunky trying some of these things out and feel a bit ‘wooo who made the rules’ but songwriting, like most artforms, is a meld of inspiration, perspiration and technique. Have a crack and you may be well on the way to writing the soul of your next song.
Best wishes and have a lovely summer.
More next year.
PS if you want to really pick up your game, come to our next Songwriting Clinic.
Recently, I had a couple of ‘unexpected’ shifts in my reasonably busy but not actually chaotic schedule. The first was due to increased traffic and interest in one part of my business. The second was nature reminding me I am very insignificant in her schedule by delivering a fairly impressive rapid fire series of earthquakes, floods and storms.
Now, I found I was more prepared for the seismic interruption both physically and psychologically. Our home stayed upright and was well stocked with earthquake kits and bottled water, pinot noir and chocolate. We could work remotely, the power was on, our hard drives backed up and we could communicate with family, friends and clients pretty easily. Geonet was helpful, RNZ coverage useful, Facebook a yawn, but we could all at least clock in and get on with our lives, no drama.
It was the first time squeeze that had been way more disruptive than seismology, mostly ruffling my peace of mind with an unwanted noise of ‘busy-ness’. Urggghh! It mucked with my ability to sit down and write, and by crikey, I hate that!
‘I don’t have time’ is a common refrain from people who are learning to balance family, work, socialising, exercise, Netflix etc etc and what they say they really want to do – songwriting.
How do you prioritise something that you love to do without jeopardising the responsibilities of adult life? How do you do this if you’re at school without neglecting your homework assignments, your part time job, walking the dog, household chores, netball or piano practice?
Well, you can’t conjure up more hours in the day and more days in the week. But you can look at what’s realistic for you to commit to so you don’t pop a fuse.
We know that if you invest time and energy in something, it will develop, especially as you learn new skills and techniques and start applying them. What we don’t know is if you give ten songwriters the same skill set and set of circumstances, which one will write a hit? Or that any of them actually will. What we do know is if you don’t spend time on your craft, you don’t give yourself the option.
Now, I’m not saying write ten hours a day, and you’ll be the next Neil Finn sure as eggs can boil. What I’m pointing out is when things crank up in your life, it can be very easy to put your songwriting on the back burner. At times, that may be the right thing to do. But if it becomes the default position and your momentum is constantly eroded, then change something.
Try these tactics.
1. Downsize - the more you have, the more you have to look after. Do you really need ten guitars when they all have six strings? One guitar can help you write ten songs at least. Do you need to work overtime to buy the biggest speakers for your studio when your ears can only listen so long at the highest volume? Time is valuable. Put it in your songwriting account.
2. Automate – yes, of course, for bills and income, but also use online and phone alarms and calendars to help you schedule songwriting time. Pre-planned reminders remove the need for willpower to make a start. A once a week session is better than not at all.
3. Outsource – do you need to mow the lawns this week or can Jim’s/Pete’s - insert ‘single syllable guys name’ green fingered business with a strimmer and a ute do it? Do you have to cook all the meals, or can you share the cooking with your partner or shock horror your teenagers? Do you really need to do all the after school pickups or can the kids get the bus this week/ car pool with other parents?
4. Buffering – give yourself some wriggle room so that if you get a flat tyre, the traffic’s terrible, your client’s late, the dentist took longer, it doesn’t throw the rest of your week out causing you to dump your session. Buffering allows for the things of life, the whoops-a-daisies that ALWAYS HAPPEN and yet, we’re often surprised when they do. Don’t cram your expected schedule so much there’s no room for the unexpected, which isn’t really that unexpected, eh....
Talk more soon
This week, I made a mistake during the recording of a vocal. I'd pressed 'record' but because my headphone extender lead is starting to fray at the connector, I couldn't hear all of my playback consistently. It kept shorting out. While I was mucking around trying to get both left and right channels at full signal, fiddling with the lead and connection, I missed my cue. But the song improved markedly because of it.
Suddenly, there was much needed space where there had previously been a bunch of words packed into four bars like a fistful of frightened sardines. Now, the new 'mistake' or 'missed take' space created a sense of anticipation for the next line, closely followed by a sense of relief when the 'punchline' hit. The words immediately after the space became lit up like a Christmas tree. Useful, because they're the title of the track. Helpful, for the singer, because now she can breathe during the chorus. Effective for the writer, because the whole point of the song had taken centre stage.
In essence, my ballsup fixed my ballsup!
This points to the principle of being in the room. If I hadn't been trying to get a better vocal take, if I had been trying to fix a bit of kit on the fly, if I hadn't been trying to make a new recording at all, I wouldn't have captured a solution to something's that been quietly nagging me about this particular song despite the fact that I've sung it in concert a number of times and rehearsed it maybe a hundred both solo and in ensemble. It took putting the song in a different environment, a different room, a different drafting process, me being in a diffferent role, to get to the bottom of the issue.
Remember, your lyrics are words to be sung. That means creating space for your singer to breathe, which in turn allows time for sound waves to hit the eardrums of your listeners and actually register the meaning of the words. If the singer is repeatedly slipping up over a line or phrase, maybe you need to rewrite it rather than sack the singer as a first option. Part of bringing a song to life is being in the room with it, getting it off the page, working through the practical results of your writing. This can mean singing it to yourself repeatedly, singing it front of an audience to see what a fresh response is, giving to someone else to sing or reinterpret, making a draft recording of it, putting it in different environments (solo, band, acoustic, electric, studio) so it can develop. Then you can see its strengths and work on its flaws from all angles, not just staring at the screen or the scratch marks on your page. I think of this as making your song three dimensional, rather than two and I think you get that by spending quality time with your songs, regularly. Your input may pay off more than you expect.
Talk more soon
Hi, I'm Charlotte Yates and I can help you get better at writing songs.