All About Songwriting

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Category: Creation

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

Songwriting Tip – Mind Mapping Your Songwriting Ideas

You know what… I love mind maps.

I love them because I’m a visual person, and developing a songwriting idea by using a mind map really helps me write my song lyrics more clearly and effectively.

Right now though you’re probably asking “what the hell is this mind map?” Well, according to Wikipedia a mind map is:

“…a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing”.

This mind mapping exercise is a simple, but a very effective way of fleshing out the body of a song from a single idea, phrase or a word. It shows that from one single idea, many ideas will form.

Here’s how I do it.

1. I take my idea, phrase or word and write it in the middle of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it.

2. From that circle, I branch out five lines in different directions. At the end of those lines I write a word that is associated with the central word or phrase. These words could be the basis for your verses and choruses.

3. From each of those five words I start writing five other words that relate to it.

4. I then rinse and repeat the process as many times as I need to.

If you follow the above steps, by the time you have had enough (or you run out of paper), you will have a whole song laid out in front of you. Start from the central theme and work outwards, following the word paths you’ve created.

Can you see what phrases you can come up with from doing that. All you then have to do is collate that information into a song format.

Be careful not to have too many initial branches springing out from your central theme. This will turn your mind map into a complicated mess of too many ideas pulling against each other.

Up to five branches is plenty to work with.

You dont have to use all (or any) of the words you have written down, this is another way of opening your mind to new ways of generating songwriting ideas.

Most of us are visual people. As mentioned before, I personally access information the best this way. I can tell you having a whole song mapped out in front of me makes the job of formulating a song so much easier.

Give it a go and see what happens, you’ll be amazed at some of the paths and tangents you create.

Let me know how it works for you…

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Inspiration Can Come From Self Imposed Limitations

One of my favourite songwriters is Paul McCartney and I found a video of him on the Parkinson show describing how he wrote a song after being inspired from a Picasso print hanging up at the hospital where his first child was born.

The painting by Pablo Picasso is called The Old Guitarist which depicts an old man playing a classical guitar by a window.

Paul mentions in the interview that after a week of staring at this picture while waiting for his wife Linda to recover, he had the urge to try and work out what two fingered chord the old man in the painting was playing.

From that idea he decided to see if he could write a song by limiting himself to using only two fingers on the guitar at all times.

Here is the video of his interview with Michael Parkinson…

This really shows the genius of Paul McCartney at work and how through setting your own limitations, you can create your own inspiration.

On further research I discovered that the song in question became When the Wind Is Blowing an unreleased song from around the time Paul McCartney’s RAM album was recorded in 1970…

Have you ever set up some self imposed limitations as a way to write a song?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

YOU Are The Uniqueness And Originality In Your Songwriting

Here’s another can of worms I choose to open today (and this is personal opinion of course)…

I reckon that everything in western contemporary music has been done before, so why are songwriters so concerned with trying to sound totally 100% original to the point where it becomes an excuse to not write/finish a song (read on for an example of this thinking)?

Look at the music industry at the moment. There are genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres all trying to find some elusive niche in the music business and therefore some originality in the music.

Now, while there are lots and lots of interesting stuff being released all the time, what makes the music interesting are the different layers, production values, dynamics and textures on offer to the listener.

I mean, two unrelated genres colliding together to form a piece of music doesn’t necessarily make the song a totally 100% original idea. Does it?

All I’m trying to point out here is that the chances of doing something completely new and never heard before are very, very, very small so don’t waste your creative energy worrying about it (if however, you do come up with something completely original, I will be the first one to congratulate you).

Always remember that even though a song may not be totally original in its sound, it’s uniqueness does come from you, the songwriter and you alone.

Always remember… You are the uniqueness and the originality behind every song you write.

Some time ago I remember a friend of mine played to me a first draft of a song he just written. It was a really, really good effort and in my enjoyment of it, I unconsciously started singing another song over the top of it because it sounded familiar.

He stopped what he was doing and then got very upset with me for singing the other song over the top of his work. He then mentioned that he was going to throw the song away and abandon any attempts to finish it.

“I am never, ever going to write a song that has never been heard before” he lamented, to which I replied, “Does it really matter? What matters is that you wrote it, not anyone else.”

He thought about it a little more and decided to finish the song. Once he started working on his song again his whole perspective shifted to the point that the song took a whole new life.

It’s amazing that the smallest of changes of thinking can make the biggest of differences to an outcome.

Once you realise that it’s you that makes your song unique then you’ll finally get off of the “my song must be totally original to really matter” trip that stops so many of us songwriters from writing.

I mean, that excuse is right up there with “my songs must be perfect” and that old favourite, “I have nothing to write about.” All this thinking does is stops you, from doing what you absolutely love…

Writing songs.

Do you believe that there are uncharted elements of originality that contemporary western music has not uncovered yet or, does my statement that everything has been done before ring true for you? Let me know what you think as I reckon this would be a great discussion topic 🙂

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Process: Oblique Strategies With Brian Eno

Here is a very interesting video I found recently of one of my favourite musicians and sound artists of all time, Brian Eno being interviewed by Jools Holland in 2001.

In the video, Eno talks about the concept of his Oblique Strategies cards and how they can be of immense help to songwriters, performers, studio musicians and even brain surgeons.

Speaking about brain surgeons check out what happens at around the two minute mark. It’s very, very funny and a great example of how Oblique Strategies works.

Would you use these cards as part of your songwriting process? I would give them a go.

I did a quick Google search and here are some places online where you can find and use Eno’s oblique strategies…

Enjoy the video…

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

The Importance Of Always Recording Your Songwriting Ideas

As a songwriter, there are going to be times in your career where you’ll be so inspired, writing a complete song from start to finish in one go will seem like the easiest thing in the world.

For the rest of the time however, it’ll seem like that all you’re doing is constantly finding that next songwriting idea.

You don’t necessarily need to have a fully set up home recording studio to capture your ideas (although I do suggest you seriously consider moving in that direction) but having access to some sort of basic audio recording device is essential.

Personally, I always like to give the voice recording function on my smartphone a really good workout.

It never ceases to amaze me though, how many songwriters out there are still relying on their memory alone and not recording their songwriting ideas.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all of my years of writing songs it’s this… When it comes to your song ideas, never, ever trust your memory.

A good songwriting exercise and an example of how I record my ideas is this…

If you’re like me and writing songs on guitar is your thing, I imagine you try to set aside some time each day to pick up the guitar and play whatever comes to mind.

Next time you do this make sure you have some sort of recording device near by ready to go. When a hint of an idea develops simply press record and commit that idea to “tape” for future reference.

Once the idea is recorded you then have the choice of either developing the idea a bit more or, go on to finding where the next song idea will come from.

The beauty about this exercise is that you’re not under any pressure to remember the little snippets of possibility that you’ve seemingly conjured up from nowhere. It’s all down on “tape” ready to be referenced ion the future.

Just remember, the whole purpose of the exercise is to simply record what comes out of you.

Another thing I like to do while noodling on the guitar is make nonsensical sounds and rhythms with my voice at the same time, singing whatever comes into my head. It’s quite okay to babble rubbish into a voice recorder or smartphone and not feel bad about it.

When I’m lyrically noodling, I take particular interest in the melodies and the rhythms I produce at the time. The lyrics can come later.

When doing this exercise, don’t even look at finish a song, just gather ideas, phrases, riffs and melodies and get them recorded in some way. After a while you’ll develop quite a collection of them.

This will become your comprehensive songwriting ideas archive.

Be warned though, your inner critic is going to have a wonderful time telling you how bad all of your ideas sound and how awful all the lyrics are. You just have to ignore it and look at all of your ideas in your archive as works in progress that aren’t yet completed.

Once you’ve been doing this as consistently as you can for between two weeks to a month, it’s time to listen back on what you’ve done. You’ll be amazed at how many of the songwriting ideas you’ve forgotten.

This is the part of the process always makes me feel like I’m hearing my song ideas for the very first time and it’s from this perspective that my songs get finished.

Just think, with your ever growing list of possible song titles at your disposal and your musical and lyrical noodles committed to “tape,” imagine how many more songs you are going to write and complete.

Exciting isn’t it?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Writing Songs – It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start, As Long As You Start Somewhere

Sometimes writing songs is a linear experience.

You come across a possible song title that jumps out at you and after writing the first line of the first verse, a first draft is suddenly completed from start to finish.

Sometimes writing songs is a puzzle solving exercise.

You take a piece here, a song title there, a bit of a verse here and a half written phrase there and, after discovering the common thread that connects everything, a song is eventually completed.

Sometimes writing songs is like incubating an egg.

You finish writing a chorus but find you can’t go any further however, after leaving the half finished song for a period of time something triggers in your mind and the song magically completes itself.

Sometimes you start writing from the beginning and work forwards, sometimes you start from the middle and work outwards and sometimes you start at the end and work backwards.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start somewhere.

What do you think?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

FAWM 2018 Songwriting Challenge Starts Today – Are You In?

Today is February 1st which means that FAWM 2018 has kicked off for another year.

“What is FAWM 2018?” I hear you ask… Well, FAWM stands for February Album Writing Month and this songwriting challenge dares its participants to write 14 songs (an albums worth of material) in 28 days.

Personally, this is my 10th FAWM that I’ve been involved in but I’ve managed to fully complete the challenge only once, in 2017. It’s definitely a challenge even for an experienced songwriter like myself.

For me, FAWM is one of the best ways that I know to supercharge your songwriting process and to keep the creative momentum going.

By joining the FAWM community you tap into an extremely positive, interactive, vibrant and encouraging group of songwriters whose only goal is to help each other (as well as themselves) write as many songs as they can within the timeframe allowed.

I’m going to be tracking my FAWM progress on Corey Stewart Online (my personal website) however, on this blog, All About Songwriting, I’m going to be uploading relevant content designed to encourage, inspire and greatly help you in your quest to write songs. If you are thinking of joining FAWM for this year then click on this link.

Now, to kick things off, here is a link to an earlier post I made which is a essentially a BIG list of songwriting prompts and lyric generators.

Songwriting prompts and lyric generators are very handy tools for challenges like FAWM because they allow you to start things off without having to think about how to start things off and of course, overthinking things is one of the great ways to create a songwriters block for yourself.

Go to my previous post “The BIG List Of Songwriting Prompts And Lyric Generators” and check out the links provided to see if they do anything for you. If you have found them to be helpful to you please let me know… I’d love to hear about it.

I wish everyone who is participating in this years FAWM all the very best.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting On Guitar – 10 Tips For The Songwriting Guitarist

It would be safe to say that the most common instrument used in songwriting is the (acoustic) guitar and today I’m featuring an article that outlines 10 tips for the songwriting guitarist.

For me, songwriting and the guitar go hand in hand and I was finding myself nodding my head in agreement to all of the tips presented in the article.

10 Tips For The Songwriting Guitarist mentions that “for most accomplished guitar players, songwriting is the final frontier – far more difficult than getting up in front of an audience and wailing out solos or nailing down the hot rhythm that drives the band.”

The article covers topics such as:

  • Learning new chord voicings
  • Alternate tunings
  • The circle of fifths
  • Writing lyrics first before music
  • Song dynamics
  • Song hooks
  • Different sonic perspectives
  • Songwriting process
  • Collaborating with other writers

Even though the article was written in 2013, what’s mentioned is still very relevant to any songwriter/guitarist honing their craft today. Go here to read the article – 10 Tips For The Songwriting Guitarist. You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Song Lyrics – Making Mountains Out Of Molehills

If you’re like me, then part of your songwriting process is to be constantly on the lookout for more and more songwriting ideas because, it’s from these ideas that the next song is born.

However, in the process of doing this you’ll end up having a whole lot of song lyric snippets, possible song titles and miscellaneous lines and phrases floating around the place either in your head or loosely organised on pieces of paper or, files on your computer.

After a while you start to ask yourself the question “what do I do with all of these songwriting ideas?”

One songwriting technique that I use a lot is to write a short story using one of your collected random songwriting ideas as its inspiration and then, once finished, condensing the whole story down into a working song lyric.

All you need to do is to pick one of your random songwriting snippets and without thinking about it, start writing.

Make lists, use a mind map, do whatever you need to do to explore every conceivable angle that come to mind from that single songwriting idea.

It’s amazing how much you’re able to write if you let yourself go. From one line a sentence is formed, from a sentence a paragraph is formed and from a paragraph a short story is formed.

When I do this exercise, I try to fully exhaust all of my options in one sitting. If, at the end of the session I have ten pages of writing then so be it.

For me, I find it best to begin this editing and elimination process a day or two after I’ve written the story, to ensure I have fresh eyes and ears but nevertheless, this is where the fun begins.

Once you’ve finished writing your short story, have a look at what you’ve written and start eliminating all of the non essential bits of the story and with what’s left over, mould a song from that.

You’ll find that by doing this songwriting exercise it’s much easier to write down far too much information and then take things away, than to write too little and have to add things in afterwards.

It just goes to show that in songwriting, it pays to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting