All About Songwriting

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Month: December 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Miles Copeland – The Importance Of Hooks In Songwriting

Well, it’s the last day of 2013 and I just want to say a big THANKYOU for all of you who have supported, tuned in and frequented this young but up-and-coming songwriting blog of mine.

I sincerely hope you all have wonderful New Years celebrations and that 2013 will be the year you want it to be. I know it will be for me as big plans are afoot.

Watch this space…

I think the last word on writing songs for 2012 should go to Miles Copeland, founder of IRS Records, Stewart Copeland’s brother, Sting‘s manager for a time and fearless music industry executive who, when it comes to having an opinion on anything, is not backwards in coming forwards.

In this video Miles makes a number of good points about the importance of hooks in songwriting, how dealing with Sting can be difficult and he eloquently explains what a good hook/chorus means from a listener’s point of view.

I love the quote at the end of the video which sums up the whole premise of what this video is all about.

“Don’t let the chorus be a mystery, make sure it comes in like a GARLIC MILKSHAKE

Mmmm, yummy… I’ll see if I can find the recipe for you all.

Until next year, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Exercise – The Benefits Of Reverse Engineering Songs

In my previous post Songwriting Tip – Learn Your Craft By Studying The Songs Of Others, I outlined the importance of studying songs that you have an affinity to or, have been proven in the marketplace to further your own songwriting craft.

This video featuring well known songwriter and author of Shortcuts to Hit SongwritingRobin Frederick explaining the importance of “Reverse Engineering” songs to study them.

For me, this is a great way to study the songwriting craft of other songwriters. Find the lyrics on the internet, print them out, get out the pen and paper and go for it

Reverse engineering a song is not copying a song or plagiarizing the lyrics, what you’re doing is learning the song-craft behind the song. It gives you, the songwriter another point of reference to use in your own songwriting.

Robin gives the example of the One Republic song “Apologize” to illustrate how she had deconstructed and reverse engineered the song and what she had learnt about it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oidqsw6gOs

She also cannot stress the importance of reverse engineering songs by saying “how else would you grow as a songwriter?” Robin goes on by saying that reverse engineering a songs establishes new habits into your songwriting process.

So get out and study some new songs, create some new habits and embrace the concept of studying songs that work by reverse engineering. You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Learn Your Craft By Studying The Songs Of Others

Let me make one thing very clear… By saying that, as songwriters, we should be learning our craft by studying the songs of other songwriters, I’m not saying that you should be copying another peoples song and calling them your own.

What I am saying is that, by asking yourself what songs you like to hear and then studying those songs to define why you like them and what unique voice you can give to it is a great start towards improving your own songwriting.

Just as a painter goes through a number of drafts from rough sketches to a finished painting, we as songwriters can do the same thing with our songs.

Sometimes its good to play around with other peoples songs just to see what happens. I mean, isn’t the ultimate goal of a songwriter (or any creative person for that matter) is to find their own voice and to share that voice with the rest of the world?

One of the best ways in which a songwriter can find their own voice is through the process of imitation. Imitation is how we developed our own personalities in the first place.

As children growing up, we initially got our cues in life by copying what everybody else was doing. At this time in our lives we were doing everything for the first time.

We had no point of reference of our own to compare with back then so we had to utilise someone else’s.

We were imitating the people closest to us… Our parents.

It’s the same with songwriting. How do we know how special and unique our voices are if we don’t first compare it with others?

Ask yourself three simple questions and you’ll be well on your way to starting your own songwriting study project:

1. Who are my favourite artists/bands?
2. What are my favourite songs?
3. Which artist, band or song is popular at the moment?

With your favourite artists or bands, list the reasons why you are so attracted to them. Is it the emotional content of their songs? Is it the way they play live? Is it their philosophy on life?

By doing this you are finding out what makes you tick on an emotional level.

Your favourite songs might be from your list of artists and bands but then again they might be from others.

Songs are sometimes really funny things. They can get into your psyche and wreak complete havoc or they can allow wonderful memories to never be forgotten. The list of songs that you’ll have in front of you will be the physical and tangible benchmark of where your own songs will be based from.

By looking at what is popular at the moment you’ll have an idea as to what the listening public are tuning into right now!

Your own taste in artists, bands and songs may not be the same but it is still good to put all of your preferences aside and study what is happening now as well as what you like.

Immerse yourself in this exercise, start listening and researching lots of music and keep writing along the way.

If you play an instrument start learning your favourite songs and play them around the house. Notice the form of the song, the chords and arrangement used and the melody and how it fits with the rhythm.

If you don’t play an instrument, that’s fine. Get the lyrics and study how the words fall together to allow you to paint a picture in your mind or to follow a well told story. Sing or hum the melody and try to feel where it is going.

Does it take you on a journey or do you have to work with it to have the song make sense to you?

Once you’ve done that, write a song in the style of your favourite artist or take one of your favourite songs, write out the chords and invert them and see what happens. Play around, experiment with speed and pitch. If you have a capo for your guitar, use that.

But, no matter what happens… Don’t let your inner critic tell you that this exercise is a waste of time.

Always remember you don’t have to promote or perform every song that you write. Some songs will be a stepping stone to the next one. The song you write from this exercise today may be the first draft of another song that you might write tomorrow.

As you’re doing this you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually the sum total of what works plus your own experiences and emotional triggers will be the beginnings of your own songwriting voice.

Give it a go, creativity is supposed to be fun. Let me know how you go with it

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Develop A Sense Of Wonder About Everything

“Everyone has at least five great albums in them” – Chris Martin, Coldplay

I remember seeing an interview with Chris Martin and Will Champion from Coldplay on the TV some time ago and the thing that interested me most about that interview was the discussion about their songwriting process and philosophy behind it all.

Chris Martin said that “…the world is an amazing place for many different reasons and that he couldn’t understand why songwriters felt that they have nothing to write about.”

He also went on to say that “…everyone has a voice, and has a story to tell about something.”

Bravo Chris, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Developing a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around you is one of the keys to keeping your songwriting process fresh and inspiring.

Imagine what it would be like if everything that you perceived, inspired you enough to write down how you felt for the sole purpose of sharing your feelings with everyone else, without the pressure of having some sort of end result happening or, the need of approval from an external source to justify your existence.

It would be a feeling of liberation.

This is what happens when you develop a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around you. I know it’s a big ask but it’s not an impossible thing to do.

Have you noticed how young children look at the world. It’s like they are experiencing every moment for the first time.

That is the feeling I’m talking about.

In developing this skill, the first thing to do is to understand the notion of creativity.

Dictionary.com defines the word creativity as “…the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretation.”

To create something means that you cause something to exist or bring into being from nothing.

This is an amazing concept, what wonderful pieces of work we human beings are.

Did you know however that as human beings, this is a talent we all have?

Developing wonder and curiosity in your life takes a lot of mindfulness and practice. You can start by asking yourself the question “what am I feeling right now?” and start writing it down, all the feelings and their descriptions.

While you are doing listen to what is going on inside your mind and I bet you are hearing things like:

  • What a stupid question to ask
  • This is a waste of time
  • This doesn’t mean anything
  • You could be doing something else
  • This is not important

Stop! You are hearing the very reason there are less songs in the world than there could be.

The Inner Critic.

Now that you have acknowledged the existence of your inner critic keep going with the exercise and take note of the chatter getting more and more intense.

Once you feel you can’t stand the chatter any longer, stop what you’re doing and have a look at what’s in front of you. It might look like incoherent nonsense or, it might be the beginnings of a brand new songwriting idea.

Either way, you asked yourself a question and your own innate sense of wonderment and curiosity enabled you to find the answer.

By repeating this exercise in your everyday life, in this form of mindfulness you’ll be able to look at everything that you perceive as a creative possibility of existence from nothing.

If I try to put all this in some sort of formula it might look something like this.

(wonder + curiosity + questions) + action = creativity

There are an infinite amount of songwriting ideas in you and out there for you to write about, all you’ve got to do is to get out of your own way let yourself do it. You do have a story to tell.

What’s your story hiding deep inside of you, waiting to be unleashed into the world?

Write a song about it…

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Process – Starting With A Song Title

In my opinion, one of the best ways to kickstart your songwriting process is by using a possible song title as your foundation phrase to build your song from.

Gary Ewer in his article “Starting The Songwriting Process With The Title” reinforces the power that a song title has in the craft of song creation.

In his article, Gary writes…

“…Starting with the (song) title gives you a few distinct advantages. It makes it more likely that you’ll be able to develop a catchy hook which will help with the development of the rest of the song. It also helps lyric development by having a key line you can focus on.”

From that, it seems that by having some sort of point of reference such as the song title, filling in the lyrical blanks can become less of a challenge.

Read the article here and while you’re at it, think about starting a list of possible song titles of your own.

In fact, if you do feel free to share some of your possible titles, you never know there might a song or two waiting to be released into the world.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Is Music Theory Necessary For Writing Songs?

I heard from a lot of beginner songwriters bemoan the fact that they have little or no musical theory knowledge and therefore will not be able to write ‘good’ songs.

For me, songs come from the heart and mind not from some mathematical formula.

However, if you want to learn music theory, do it because you want to, not because you feel that you have to.

Some songwriters get really worked up over their musical theory while others write songs purely by feel. The funny thing is, the songs that come out at the end of the day all just as good as each other.

Let me tell you a little story.

From between the ages of 11 through to 16, I studied music through high school and learnt to play the clarinet in the process. It gave me a great opportunity to immerse myself in the complexities of musical theory.

I found the theoretical side of writing music fascinating although, I was probably the only person in my class that felt that way.

In that time I had dreams of being a composer and going to university to expand on my musical knowledge.

Thankfully I discovered the guitar!

When, at the age of 15 I decided to change my musical direction and get into playing in bands and writing songs I had an interesting dilemma. I had to unlearn my knowledge so I could play with ‘feel’.

That was an interesting thing to do.

It was in that unlearning process that I discovered that knowing music theory is not necessary in order to write a song. You see, a song is made up of two parts. The first part is the song lyrics and the second part is the melody.

Musical theory generally deals with the arrangement of the song (the chords, harmony, dynamics etc) which is determined by the melody and the rhythm of the lyrics anyway.

Even though I believe that music theory in songwriting is not really necessary I have found my own knowledge useful for the following reasons:

  • I use it for the purpose of ‘musical detective work’.
  • I call on my knowledge to lead me in directions I would never have thought of.
  • I can communicate my song ideas to other musicians more effectively.
  • I have a more intimate knowledge as to the “why” things work with each other.

I believe that it’s not the musical theory knowledge that’s important but the attitude that you have towards it. To someone that doesn’t feel this way having the theoretical knowledge can be a real hindrance.

This would be because:

  • You might feel that you are better than someone who don’t have the same knowledge (elitism)
  • You look at your songwriting through a finite and restrictive set of ‘rules’
  • You might try to show off your knowledge by overcomplicating your songs.
  • You forget that simplicity is often the best course of action.

To me, songwriting is about learning, un-learning, constructing, de-constructing and doing whatever you can to turn your songwriting ideas into a reality. Having the theoretical knowledge of music is a bonus but not an essential skill in writing a good song.

To be a good songwriter you must have the desire to be one. That’s it!

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

The Illusion Of Songwriting Perfection

Recently, I was chatting to a songwriter friend of mine about the pain he experiences while writing songs.

He said that he’s great at starting songs but lousy at finishing them (well, aren’t we all).

He also told me the main philosophy for his songwriting process is, “if the song is not perfect then the song isn’t worth finishing.”

WTF! No wonder he’s experiencing the pain of songwriters block.

I think that the concept of “if the song is not perfect then the song isn’t worth finishing” is something that’s more common among songwriters than we care to admit.

So, allow me to be a little blunt here. This struggle for songwriting perfection kills people.

It kills their creativity, kills their inspiration and sometimes (in extreme circumstances) the drive to perfection can kill a person physically.

There is a huge difference between being driven to write great songs and being driven to write perfect songs.

In my reply to his statement I said “…why don’t you try not to see songwriting as a means to an end (the hit song) but as a way of letting yourself go?”

As songwriters, how much pressure do we put yourselves under? A lot!

Is it worth it? NO!

The notion of songwriting perfection in anything is but a mere illusion. It’s created by the ego and massaged into existence by insecurity, jealousy, doubt, low self esteem and shame.

Songwriting should be a celebration of life, of letting yourself go, setting yourself free and playing around with your creativity. It’s not about reminding yourself how inadequate you are because you compare yourself needlessly to other songwriters.

Always remember that there’s not another one of you on this planet so therefore your experiences, your thoughts, your insights, your feelings, your dreams, your desires, your observations and the way that you question life, universe and everything around it are uniquely yours, and yours alone.

What does that mean? It means that…

1. There is no point in comparing yourself to others as there is no one else but you to compare yourself to in the first place

2. Being the unique creature that you are whatever you say is always very, very important.

The concept of perfection would only exist if there was something perfect to aspire to in the first place.

Now granted, there have been some amazing songs written in the past and there will be amazing songs that have not yet been written in the future, but none of those songs are “perfect” and they never, ever will be.

We, like our songwriting, are all works in progress.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Process – Jonathan Coulton And The “Pre-Song”

One songwriter who is a constant inspiration for me is Jonathan Coulton.

He’s the guy that in 2005, left his job as a software developer and launched himself into music by writing a song a week for a year and putting it on his website. This gained him the notoriety and profile needed to move his career forward.

To this day he is 100% DIY and his legions of fans all over the world love him for it.

While scanning through his website I came across one of his articles which describes the concept of recording songwriting ideas no matter how underdeveloped they might be.

Jonathan calls these snippets Pre-Songs

In the article he goes on by saying that “…they (his pre-songs) are extremely raw and not meant to be listened to, they’re recorded in Ableton Live through the laptop mic, and often I can’t actually play them correctly. But generally they’re the very beginning stages of my process, when I’ve got a line or two maybe, a guitar part I like, a chord change I want to use.”

The great thing about this article is that Coulton puts up a few examples of his pre-songs to show how they sound like and how it’s okay for them to be incomplete as no-one else is going to hear them except you.

I’m proud to say that recording “pre-songs” is an integral part of my songwriting process and it should be part of yours too.

Have a read of the full article here.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriters Block – 11 Tips On How To Get You Unstuck

Songwriters Block… Every songwriter gets it at least once in their career.

It’s easy to find yourself in the midst of it and very difficult to get yourself out of the grips of it however, freedom from it can be achieved.

Songwriter, producer and keyboard player Michael Gallant through his article “Songwriting and Writer’s Block: 11 tips to help the songwriter get unstuck” seems to think so.

About songwriters block Michael writes…

“Creating a memorable song is rarely as easy as just humming a pretty melody and writing down some lyrics, though. And just like writers of prose or non-fiction, even the most successful songwriters hit creative walls.”

In his article Michael lists 11 tips that he’s collected through his own experiences and from a range of experienced songwriters that will help songwriters overcome their creative block.

They are:

1. Start with a title
2. Look and listen everywhere
3. Carry a notebook, voice recorder, or both
4. Keep unfinished ideas
5. Write a lot
6. Identify your own clichés
7. Keep your inner critic at bay
8. Ask for help
9. Write on a secondary instrument
10. Take a break
11. Use your favourite artists for inspiration

Of course the full descriptions and definitions of these tips are spelt out in Michael’s article however, my favourite tip is number four “Keep unfinished ideas.”

Doing this one thing has been the cornerstone of my own songwriting process and it’s something that I feel very passionate about.

Have a read of the full article here and while you’re doing that, have a think about your own songwriting process and the ways that you can improve it. If you have anything to share please feel free to let me know.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Using Jam Sessions As A Songwriting Tool

Besides my wonderful wife and our respective families, music and writing songs defines my very existence and I find it hard to have room in my life for anything else.

Music also doubles as my social life and through my involvement with the music industry for over 30 years, I’ve come to know lots of songwriters and musicians and we have one thing in common.

We all love to JAM.

Getting together with others and playing music for its own sake is definitely a form of collaboration. Just because your jamming with no predetermined goal in mind (except to have a good time) doesn’t mean the interaction between the musician/songwriter is of any less value.

In my personal experience, the energy a good old fashioned jam session creates is amazing.

What’s also amazing is when musicians who’ve never played together miraculously synchronise their ideas to generate a song which becomes, in that moment of time, very much alive.

I love to jam and I look for any opportunity I can to play with other musicians and songwriters. It’s a great way for me to meet other people in a setting in which everyone shares the love of playing music in common.

To maximise the songwriting idea gathering benefits of jamming with others here are some suggestions:

1. Go into the jam with an open mind. Don’t have any pre-conceived ideas or notions as to the results of the jam.

2. Always record the jam sessions. Bring a tape recorder or, if you’re jamming in a studio, ask to have it recorded.

3. Keep the jam session as informal as possible. Any idea that leaps forward just run with it, explore and HAVE FUN.

4. Listen back to it after your done. You’ll be amazed by what all of you have created. I can guarantee you’ll be inspired.

I can’t stress enough however the importance recording your jam sessions. For me, many songs have been created using this method.

There’s no doubt that a good old fashioned jam is a fantastic way to collect songwriting ideas and enjoy playing music at the same time.

Who can you jam with today?

Until next time, keep on jamming,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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