All About Songwriting

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Songwriting – Making The Time To Write Is Essential

Most songwriters say that the hardest thing about writing songs is finding the time to write and as we live in a world that tells us we have no time to do anything, how do we overcome this?

We overcome this situation by not buying into the fact that we have no time to write.

I think it was Zig Ziglar who once said that a “…lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”

Every day, through every type of media, we’re bombarded with words and images promoting the latest time saving device or yet another solution to the “problem” of life just being way too busy.

It seems that society is cleverly turning us into obsessive time freaks and for what? So we can be sold the latest and greatest time saving device?

Now, I realise that this is a blog post about the gentle art of writing songs, not a forum about the ills of our western world but I wanted to give you all a bigger picture of what we, as songwriters, are up against.

Making time to write songs is essential for being a songwriter. The trick is to know that it doesn’t matter how much time you devote to your craft, but that you at least devote some of your time to your craft every single day.

Let’s do some simple math shall we…

So, starting from today April 28th, 2018, if you devoted one hour a day to your songwriting, by the end of the year you will have have spent 247 hours honing your songwriting craft.

That’s 10 days and 7 hours of continuous songwriting time. How many songs do you reckon could you write in that time?

Or, let’s be even more generous. Even if you devoted just 30 minutes everyday, you’d still have a little over five days of continuous songwriting time at your fingertips.

Making time to do anything requires some sort of an evaluation of what you’re doing with your time right now. Ask yourself the question “What am I doing now that can be let go of or, made more efficient so I can fit in my songwriting?” 

Now, the answer to that question is going to be different for everyone but the way you come to that answer is pretty much the same for everybody.

Try this exercise, do a time audit.

For the next seven days (say, start on a Monday), write down everything that you do plus the times you do them. I’m talking about when you get up, when you go to work, go to sleep, have meals, watch television and everything else in-between.

To make this time audit work it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself here.

By the end of the seven days, you should be able to see some activity patterns emerge. Maybe you need to stop watching TV so much or get up an hour earlier to fit some songwriting into your day.

Once you can see your life from a different perspective, it’s easier to make the changes needed. If you start making the time to write now, the rewards will become self evident down the track.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

What I’ve Learnt About Writing Songs By Playing Covers

Personally, I love learning covers in my own unique way almost as much as writing and playing my own music and the main reason for this is that by learning to play covers that have been proven to be hit songs themselves, I know I’ll learn how to write my own songs better.

Here are some ways I reckon that learning covers has helped my own songwriting process:

  • I learn different song formats, song structures and chord patterns.
  • I expose myself to singing different melodies, and lyrical ideas.
  • I spice up my guitar practice regimen.
  • I maintain my musical theory knowledge by learning a song by ear.
  • I get to know my favourite songwriters more by learning their songs.
  • For every song I learn other ideas come up for my own material later on.
  • The trick with playing covers is that you don’t do them like the original.

Now, I don’t like hearing a cover done in exactly the same way however, if I hear someone do a cover in their own way and in their own style, I get hooked into their version every single time.

Some performing songwriters I know feel that playing covers is just selling out but, I don’t agree. I mean who is going to say that Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen was a sell out on his part? I mean, it’s one of the most beautiful performances of any song I have ever heard.

Of course, your goal as a performing songwriter is to play your own songs as much as you can because there’s nothing more satisfying than people actually being touched, moved and inspired by what you are playing and singing that has come from inside you however, an amazing thing happens when you add the occasional cover song into your repertoire.

The audience becomes much closer to you.

I cant tell you how many times a quiet gig became a much greater gig after I play a well chosen cover (in my own style of course). Every other song I play afterwards becomes music to their ears.

For me, the term “selling out” is generally used by people who wish they were in the same position as the other musicians they were commenting on. Jealousy rears up its ugly head in the music industry all the time.

If you keep focused on writing your own music and at the same time learn a few covers (at the very least for research purposes) to break up your songwriting process from time to time, you will have better gigs, become a more well rounded instrumentalist and (most importantly) you will be a real hit around the odd campfire or two 😉

I believe playing covers affects your ability to write your own songs only if you allow it to.

Have you had any experiences where learning the odd cover or two has enhanced your own songwriting? Let me know about it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

12 Ways To Enhance Your Songwriting Process

I realised a long time ago that when it comes to the songwriting process there’s no such thing as the perfect way of writing songs, it can always be improved upon.

Listed below are twelve ways in which I think you can enhance, improve and eventually master your songwriting process.

Even if you implement just one of these suggestions you will be well on your way to writing more songs and generally being more creative with your life.

Here they are in no particular order of importance:

1. Always keep a journal
I cannot stress enough the importance of documenting what happens in your life and how you think and feel about it. This always creates the foundations of some great songs

2. Always make time for you
If I ask a songwriter why they haven’t written as much as they would like, the reason of not having enough time almost always comes up.

True, to get a song down from mind to paper requires a certain amount of “free” time however, if you make that time every day to write something or play something you are going to feel much better about yourself.

3. Use all of your senses in your song lyrics
We have five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell) which we use to experience anything that happens in our lives. Why don’t we use them in our writing as well.

Pay close attention to your senses, be mindful of them in your writing.

4. Become perpetually curious with the world
I have a theory that songwriting is life. Songwriting is our way of making sense of the world around us. If we become perpetually curious with the world around us we will have more to write about. Some ways in which you can do this:

    • Always ask ‘why’ either out loud or in your own mind
    • Go out of your way to experience life to the fullest
    • Take some risks
    • Do something different every day
    • Become open to learn new things

Life is about experiences, so go and find new ones and write them down in song.

5. Tame your inner voice
Most of the time your inner voice attempts to prevent you from doing what you know you should do as a songwriter. This is your ego talking and even though it has good intentions (to ‘protect’ you) what it says to you does not further your cause.

Next time you hear your inner voice mumbling inside your head as your about to do something, try to ignore it and do it anyway.

6. Don’t be afraid of your own writing
Remember, it’s okay to write a ‘bad’ song (whatever that means) and the more ‘bad’ songs you write the closer you are to writing a ‘good’ song. Don’t be afraid of the outcome, just immerse yourself into the songwriting process and marvel at whatever come from it.

7. Listen to lots of music/read lots of books
This is another exercise in making time for yourself. Listening to music attunes your mind to different musical structures and melody combinations and reading books exposes your mind to different word phrases and lyrical snippets that you can use in your own songs.

8. Learn other peoples songs
I am not asking you to become a cover musician however if you learn songs that you have a real affinity with you will begin to really understand why you love that song so much and with that knowledge you can then apply that to your own writing.

If you don’t play an instrument at least know the lyrics and melody of your favourite songs.

9. Find and know thyself
Commit to the concept of finding out who you really are. When you know this you’ll be able to write a love song for instance, and not have it sound like one big cliche because the lyrics will come from you and not an interpretation of what every other songwriter has said.

10. Don’t throw anything away… EVER!
Whether it be on paper or on your computer, don’t throw anything away, don’t delete anything from your hard-drive that pertains to your songwriting process. What you may think is rubbish now could be treasure later on. Our moods change day by day and so does our outlook on what we write.

11. Join a songwriting organisation (or two)
The best way to learn more and to gain confidence in a skill is to experience the input of others. At the very least you will not feel so alone in your songwriting endeavours. Seek out and join one (or more).

12. Find a songwriting collaborator
Two heads are better than one at times. A good collaborator makes you write better, will inspire you to come up with more ideas, will allow you to ask questions, bounce ideas and share ideas much more freely.

Every songwriter should have at least one collaborator in their contacts list.

Phew! There you go. If you have any experiences after applying any of these suggestions (positive or negative) or, you have other suggestions that need to be added to this list, let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Keeping Your Songwriting Simple – One Song, One Idea

As songwriters we should always be looking for ways to express what’s inside our minds and our hearts plus, what we observe externally from ourselves.

We also have to balance this need to express ourselves with the fact that we also want others to listen to our songs and relate to, embrace and make those songs a part of their lives.

Right?

So, in saying that, why do we then have the tendency to complicate the messages or statements that we’re trying to convey in our songwriting?

It should be obvious to anyone that by making things too complicated in our songs, how should we expect our listeners, our audience to relate to them?

Songs are generally between three to five minutes in length so there’s only a small window of opportunity to create a lasting impression with your listener.

The best thing that you as a songwriter can do is:

1. Create an environment in which the listener can immediately understand and relate to what you are trying to say.

Use this as your songwriting mantra…

One song, one idea
One song, one story.
One song, one point of view.
One song, one image.

2. Allow the listener to focus on your song, not be bamboozled by it.

If you try to introduce more than one idea into the song you start creating mixed messages for the listener. The last thing you want to is to confuse your listener into turning off from your song.

We live in a world in which information is instant. People today demand the information that they receive to be concise, to the point and easy to understand.

Songs, as a medium to convey information and concepts are no different.

3. Hold the listeners hand through your song and take them on the journey.

Once you have established the point/story/message of the song you have a certain amount of time to really explore that with the listener. This is where the fun begins, this is where your creativity as a songwriter comes into play.

The balance between words and rhythm becomes very important here otherwise the song becomes clumsy and hard to understand.

Here is a songwriting tip for you. Go through your songs and for each one, write down all of the points you are trying to make.

Really analyse your songs to see if you are putting too many messages in them.

If for instance you have a song in which there are three distinct message that you are trying to convey, separate the messages and write three songs about each of them.

For me, if there’s a song in which for some reason I can’t finish, it’s normally because I’m trying to say too much in it. Once I strip it back, the path which completes the song magically appears before me.

Lets see if that happens for you. If it does, let me know.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tools – The Rhyming Dictionary And Thesaurus

It’s a known fact that the world is full of words and for me, writing lyrics can be a challenge in itself and I reckon that any tools that make it easier for me to put down my songwriting ideas from head to paper need to be adapted into my songwriting process.

The two online tools I use when I need a bit of help with my lyrics are a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus.

These tools enable me to expand my vocabulary and put down my ideas in a much more original and descriptive fashion.

Writing lyrics is all about making sure that the story I’m trying to tell or the concept that I’m trying to describe is told in a way that is totally, 100% me.

To do this requires a broad understanding of the language at my disposal, hence the importance of the rhyming dictionary and thesaurus

If you go into a good bookshop you’ll be able to purchase these important songwriting tools but there are also some really good online versions available for you to use for free.

I have chosen the most popular of each version for a brief discussion.

Rhyming Dictionary

Of course when you spot a tool like this for free, it normally means that it’s a demo or sample of the commercial version. This is not like that.

This tool is an amazing database of…

  • End rhymes
  • Last syllable rhymes
  • Double rhymes
  • Triple rhymes
  • Beginning rhymes
  • First syllable rhymes

All you need to do is type in the word you want to find rhymes for and off you go. It gives you a fantastic list of results.

The way I find a rhyming dictionary useful is that I see words that I probably would not have thought of as words to end a line with.

When I spot one of these words I immediately see a whole new line flash before me and that is all I need to start writing again. I am always amazed how just one new word can launch a whole new tangent.

Of course you need to be open to the possibilities in the first place.

Thesaurus

This tool is so valuable to a songwriter no matter how experienced they are. This site is both a thesaurus and a dictionary in one so you are getting double the value from the site.

Quite simply a thesaurus is a book of synonyms. These are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another word.

For example, if I type the word SONG into the thesaurus I would get these results:

  • Anthem
  • Ballad
  • Chant
  • Chorus
  • Lullaby
  • Lyric
  • Melody
  • Tune

The thesaurus enables me to describe stories, concepts and situations much better. It allows me to put a new twist onto the same old phrases and cliches that I tend to fall back on when I get a stuck on something.

My challenge to you is this. Adopt both of these tools into your songwriting process and see what happens.

If you are stuck, use the tools to brainstorm ideas and let your mind become open to whatever possibility appears before you. Once the possibility is realised then run with it.

Sometimes not knowing where you are going can be a really fun thing to do.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tips – 10 Of The Best From David Foster

When accepting his BMI Icon award in 2010, songwriter David Foster gave a speech which was more like a ten commandments for all songwriters to live by.

Here are those ten tips in a nutshell:

  1. Save your money
  2. Don’t get married
  3. Learn an instrument
  4. Don’t be too precious about your songs
  5. Be genuinely happy for someone else’s success
  6. Phone people back
  7. Give your career everything that you have
  8. Be on time
  9. Make every creative decision as if you have a million dollars in the bank
  10. Save your money

Enjoy 🙂

I especially liked numbers 3, 4 and 9 on the list. Which one(s) resonated with you?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

10 Tips To Improving Your Songwriting Process

You might have gathered by now that I am a huge believer that the ongoing and never-ending improvement of your songwriting process will enable you to write better songs regularly and consistently.

By evolving your songwriting process (through constant practise) into something that works for you and your way of doing things, gathering ideas for your next song will, in time become an automatic thing, leaving you more time to actually write.

Personally, I’m obsessive about having to get what is in my head out onto paper so for me, improving my own songwriting process is a very important part of my creative life.

Based on my own experiences and some good old fashioned research, here are 10 tips that can improve your own songwriting process:


1. Have the right tools available
You can use the latest computer technology and software to gather your songwriting ideas but at the end of the day, nothing beats a beat-up tape recorder and an A4 writing pad and pen. The simplest songwriting tools around.

2. Make a regular time to write
Even if it’s 15 minutes a day between finishing breakfast and going to work. Make the time!!

3. Have an open mind
Be open to anything that comes your way. You don’t know where the next songwriting idea will come from.

4. Let yourself go
Don’t become preoccupied with past or future. For the amount of time you have set for yourself to write you will need to be totally “in the now.”

5. Develop a single-minded focus
If you decide that an idea is worth developing into a song and you’re happy with it so far, then focus your attention on creating a song from the idea.

6. Remember, perfection does not exist
It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you need to re-write the draft then do it because it needs it not because you have to.

7. Ask lots of questions
Writing lyrics is all about exploring a story or a concept. Asking lots of questions like “does this new idea need to be in this song?” will keep you on track.

8. Walk away if need be
If it’s not flowing, just walk away and come back to the song at a later time. There is no rule that says a song needs to be finished in one sitting.

9. Practise, practise, practise and then practise some more
Any process needs to be repeated to be made automatic. Practise often.

10. Have fun
Go off into tangents, run with a songwriting idea to see where it leads you. If it leads nowhere then reflect on the journey anyway.

Either way, have fun doing what it is you love doing… Writing songs


Your songwriting process can be whatever you want it to be however, if you’re serious about having the ability to write good songs regularly and consistently, you need to start looking at how you organise yourself and your time.

I hope these ten tips have been helpful to you. Is there anything that you’d like to add to the list? If so, let me know because I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my own songwriting better.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Performing Songwriters: Rule #1 – Never Apologise

One of the first pieces of advice that I received after my very first solo performance was this…

“Never, ever say sorry. If you have to apologise for what you have done on stage then you shouldn’t be up there in the first place.”

I can’t remember who said it to me now but whoever you are, I am forever in your debt.

Performing songwriters who say sorry about their performance while they’re on stage is a real pet hate of mine (the saying sorry part, not the songwriter themselves).

I mean, I’m in the audience listening to a songwriter give their all and at the end of their performance they say something like “oh, sorry about that.” By saying sorry about their performance they’ve just ruined a special moment for me.

Unfortunately this happens a lot, even with experienced performers who should know better.

I really don’t know why I feel that way when it happens but, I do know that apologising for what you’ve done on stage is an unnecessary and unprofessional thing to be do.

We have all heard the phrase “you only get one chance at a first impression” before but it’s so very true. The last thing you want to do is put off your audience by proving to them that you’ve no confidence in your performance.

Here are three reasons why you never apologise on stage:

1. It’s not the mistake you make but how you get out of it that matters.

I have made some gigantic mistakes in my time as a performing songwriter but the greatest test of a true professional is the way you recover from your mistake. Audiences genuinely love it when a performer takes a mistake and turns it around to their advantage.

2. More often than not, the audience wouldn’t have noticed the mistake anyway.

As a performing songwriter, you are playing your own music so the audience has no point of reference as to how your song should sound. Any mistake that you make could sound like part of the song to someone who has never heard it before. Unless you are playing to an audience of anally retentive musicians you don’t have anything to worry about. By saying sorry you have bought the potentially unnoticable mistake to the audiences attention.

How silly is that?

3. It doesn’t promote a healthy attitude towards making a mistake.

We are human beings and therefore we will make mistakes. A lot of great ideas come from mistakes and little glitches here and there. Embrace your mistakes, learn from them and laugh it off, or at least smile. The audience will be right there supporting you every step of the way and besides, awkwardness is not a feeling that you want to leave your audience with at the end of the night.

So remember, embrace your mistakes, learn from them and keep the performance going.

Until next time, happy writing (and performing),

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Process – When Doing Nothing Is Still Doing Something

Writing songs is a cyclic process.

Sometimes a song will appear to you  and you can get it down with the greatest of ease and sometimes writing songs is like trying to pull teeth out of the mouth of an angry crocodile.

I know that this piece of advice is going to sound counter-intuitive but if you find yourself in the middle of a period where nothing is coming out and because of that, your motivation is very low, the first thing you should do is to stop worrying about it.

We have all been in that same situation (I know I have).

No matter how hard you try there’s still a blank piece of paper staring at you. It makes you feel all angry and stressed inside because you think you should be writing SOMETHING.

Someone said to me early on in my music career that instead of forcing a song that doesn’t want to come out, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all so that’s what I do when I find myself in these situations.

I do NOTHING.

I just find something else to do. I go for a walk, visit a friend, clean the house, read a book, anything that will take me away from the process of writing songs.

The last thing I would want to do is to get all frustrated and upset that nothing is coming out. Doing that will just make the problem worse I mean, how can you be motivated if you’re stressed out all the time?

My advice to you is that in times such as these you need to give yourself a break.

Cut yourself some slack, take some time out to do other things and please, don’t set a time limit on it because the last thing you want to be doing is putting more pressure on yourself to get back into your songwriting.

If writing songs is your passion, you will eventually come back to what you love doing the most. All roads eventually lead to the next song to write

Sometimes the other things in your life need your attention and taking a break to sort those things out is probably just what you need to do at that time.

As John Lennon so eloquently put it “…life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

So, if life does get in the way, don’t try to resist it. Just let it pass by and go with the flow of it because once you are clear to write again, you will do it with a renewed sense of vigour and gusto. I guarantee it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Give Yourself Permission To Write Songs, Especially The So Called “Bad” Ones

I remember a few years ago where my songwriting was at a very, very low point. The problem was that I wasn’t writing anything at all.

I found myself with a huge case of songwriters block and it was stopping any and every form of creativity coming out of me. I became scared of writing, just in case I wrote a “bad” song and this made me very sad indeed.

Sad to the point of being depressed about the situation.

I eventually realised that not every song I write is going to be something I perform live and that I’m 100% in charge of everything that I do, so with that in mind I started to give myself permission to start creating again regardless of how I felt about the outcome.

Once I did that, the songs started to appear to me again. All I had to do was get out of my own way and write them.

Let me ask you this… How many times have you sat down to write a song, only to have your inner critic talk yourself out of it? All of a sudden doing the housework or putting out the rubbish seems to be a better thing to do with your songwriting time?

It seems that we would rather not write at all than write a so called “bad” song.

If this has happened to you, then take comfort in the fact that you are definitely not alone. I have been there many times and I’d personally would love a dollar for every other songwriter in the world that has experienced the very same thing.

Julia Cameron in her book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity says that in life we need to “always be willing to be a beginner.” What this means is that we need to be able to be venerable enough to make mistakes, to be willing to learn again and again.

Just remember, every song that you write has the potential to be a powerful learning experience about yourself and the world around you. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to learn just because the end result might be not what you expect it to be.

You do have something to say, your opinions are important and you certainly deserve to be a creative being, a SONGWRITER.

So, get out of your own way, tell your inner critic to take a well earned rest and give yourself permission to write songs whether they end up being good one or bad ones.

Learn from every song you write and be prepared for some mistakes along the way because YOU, and you alone are in control of your songwriting process, not your inner critic.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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