All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tips, Ideas & Help In One Songwriting Resource

Category: Evaluation

10 Songwriting Resolutions for 2019

Now that we’re approaching the end of 2018, it’s the perfect time to start formulating your songwriting goals for the new year and beyond.

Personally, I love this time of year for that very reason.

Planning what I’m going to do always gives me a sense of excitement for what lies ahead and for me, 2019 is going to be a great year for my songwriting.

Will it be a great year for yours?

Even though this list of 10 songwriting resolutions mentioned in the SongTrust article dates back to 2012, every resolution is still relevant and current for each and every songwriter.

The 5 resolutions that resonate with me in the article are:

  • Producing one song per month (#2)
  • Set aside one more hour per week to write songs (#4)
  • Eat healthier (#6)
  • Read one new blog post on songwriting per week (#9)
  • Collaborate with (at least) one new songwriter (#10)

What are your songwriting goals for 2019? Are you excited with what the year ahead will bring to your songwriting? Let me know or comment below.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Original Link: Open Mic: The 2012 Songwriter’s List of New Year’s Resolutions

6 Reasons Why Failure Is Your Friend in Songwriting

For all of the triumphs that you will experience as a songwriter, there are going to be a lot more failures along your songwriting journey. It’s just a part of life and this is beautifully explained in Cliff Goldmacher’s article “Why Failure Is Your Friend In Songwriting.”

In his article he starts of by stating that baseball is sometimes describes as a “game of failure” but he goes on to say…

Well, using that same math, songwriting, too, is a game of failure where the greatest songwriters who have ever lived have had success with only a tiny, tiny proportion of the songs they write. Given that this is the case, it might be worth your while to make failure your friend since, as a songwriter, you’ll be keeping pretty steady company.

He also outlines the six reasons why as a songwriter, failure is your friend. Reasons such as…

  • It thickens your skin
  • You’re putting yourself out there
  • You’re learning
  • It strengthens your resolve
  • It keeps you humble
  • You appreciate success more

Read the article and let me know if you feel an affinity with the list. As for me, I really gravitate towards the appreciating success reason.

What other reason should songwriters be friends with failure? It’s an interesting topic of conversation.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Original Link: Why Failure Is Your Friend in Songwriting – Cliff Goldmacher

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

Songwriting Tip – Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Walk Away

The productivity of your songwriting process can be a very hard thing to predict at times. Some days it’s like writing songs is the easiest thing to do in the world while on other days it’s an impossible task just trying to put pen to paper.

When this happens, one of the best ways I’ve found to diffuse this creative stalemate is to simply walk away from the song, do something different and came back to it at a later date.

When I mean walk away, I mean take a complete break from your song. No more going over the song in your head, no more listening to draft recordings and no more playing your guitar or piano either.

Generally, this creative stalemate occurs when you’ve been doing things like over-thinking your songwriting process which will mentally exhaust you because you’re working harder and not smarter with your songwriting process.

This is why creating some distance between you and your song can be the best thing you can do for it because we all know that once your mind becomes stressed and fatigued nothing comes easy for you let alone the next line for your song.

You see, what taking a break does is that it resets your ears, your eyes, your senses, your headspace and your imagination so you can hear, look, feel, perceive and imagine your new song with a completely fresh perspective.

So what do you do in your time off from your song? Well, the short answer is… “Anything you want as long as it’s not songwriting related.”

You can go for a walk, read a book, have a bath, call up a friend, do some gardening, get on with some housework, go for a drive, anything to take your attention away from the creative stalemate you’ve found yourself in.

I can assure you, when you get back to your song (and only you will know when that time is), you’ll be experiencing your song like it was the first time which will make it easier to move your creativity forward towards completion.

Remember, if you’re finding it hard to finish your song, it might just pay to walk away and come back to it when you’re feeling much more relaxed and refreshed.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

The Relationship Between Polishing Silver Bowls And Writing Songs

You wouldn’t think that a story of polishing a silver bowl would have anything to do with the craft of writing songs but that is what Pat Pattison, a Professor at Berklee College Of Music, has done with his article titled “Songwriting Tip – Polishing The Silver Bowl.”

His mantra throughout the article is made of 12 words…

“Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.”

He tells the story of finding a silver bowl and while cleaning it he finds that the attention to detail becomes finer and finer the more he delved into cleaning it. He then compares this experience with writing songs.

Sort out the big picture first then refine, rewrite and refine again.

You can read the full article here and while you’re doing that, have a think about your songwriting experiences of late.

Are there any songs that you may need to dig a little deeper on to get the best out of them?

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

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

Songwriting Tip – Six Ways To Improve Your Song

This post was directly inspired by a recent Bobby Owsinski article called “Six Traits Of A Badly Written Song.”

The six traits that constitutes a “badly written song” that Bobby outlines in his article are as follows:

  • The song is too long
  • The song has no focus
  • The song has a weak chorus
  • The song has no bridge
  • The song suffers from a poor arrangement
  • The song has no intro/outro hook

Now, I wanted to do something a little different and write the opposite to what Bobby wrote about in his article and from that premise, “Six Ways To Improve Your Song” was born.

Here are my six ways to improve your song (based on Bobby Owsinski’s article):

1. Shorten your song
There is nothing worse for a listener than to have to sit through an extended intro, outro, guitar solo or, overly repeated choruses that go nowhere.

Unless the length of the song is part of the context or story of it, consider cutting some of the padding out.

2. Create some focus for your song
Nothing confuses a listener more than a song that tries to do far too much with the limited amount of time it has at its disposal.

If you can maintain a “one song, one idea” principle to your songwriting then you’re winning half the battle.

3. Enable your chorus to be strong and proud
The part of the song that underpins everything is the chorus. It’s what listeners remember most about your song and it’s almost always the part of the song that the listener relates to the most.

Your chorus needs to be as strong as it can be to maintain the listeners attention.

4. Consider adding a bridge to your song
This was probably the only point in Bobby Owsinski’s article that I didn’t agree with. Not all songs need a bridge in them however I do concede that there is a trend to include a bridge to facilitate some point of difference in the song.

If you feel that your song is sounding a little repetitive then perhaps a bridge is the answer. A really good example of a songwriter who uses the bridge to perfection is Sting.

5. Make your arrangement work for the song, not against it
When you take your song further from the simple demo stage you’ll need to take into consideration the overall “song arrangement” meaning the incorporation of other instruments and production layer to your song.

When recording a full song arrangement, don’t let lost in all of the technology and the temptation to include all of the bells and whistles in your recording.

Always keep the simple essence of your song in mind and work from that.

6. Include an intro/outro hook
A intro hook (whether it be a riff or a unique sound/chordal sequence) enables the listener to have something to grab onto.

A perfect example of this is “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. As soon as you hear the opening riff you know what song it is and this is what makes this song a timeless work of pop art.

What do you think improves or detracts from a song? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and while you’re at it, go to the original article “6 Traits Of A Badly Written Song.”

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

What Is The Definition Of A “Bad” Song Anyway?

I ask this question because it seems to me that we, as songwriters are real experts at naming which one of our creations are bad, so much in fact that for some songwriters, it stops them from creating altogether.

Here are some thoughts I have on this subject.

Call me strange, but I’ve never looked at any of my songs as being either good or bad. I just allow them to be.

At the end of the day, my songs can be put into one of two categories:

  • Songs I perform
  • Songs I don’t perform

Of course the songs that I perform are the songs I’m very comfortable with sharing with the listening public and/or other musicians

However, the songs I don’t perform go into one of two more categories:

  • Works in progress (for performance)
  • Archived songwriting ideas (for later)

You see, I never throw anything away. Everything that comes from my head is created into something straight away or recycled to be created into something else in the future.

Lets face it, the more songs you write, the more ‘good’ songs you’ll write and for every good song you write there are at least ten ‘bad’ ones lurking in the wings.

So, no matter how much you think your songwriting ideas are bad, write them down anyway. Besides, where does it say in the rules that you have to pitch or perform every song that you write anyway?

If you want to write good songs then writing the occasional bad songs is an inevitable outcome and besides, what really makes a song bad?

A bad song from one songwriter could be another performers treasure. What do you think?

There’ll be some songs you write that are meant to be performed and the other songs will just be the stepping stones towards even more songs.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

When you think about it, the concept of a song being bad is created from a subjective opinion and really, is proclaiming one of your songs as being bad your call anyway?

Here is a exercise to try on yourself. Try deliberately writing a bad song and see how you go. It’s like asking a seasoned musician to play like a beginner.

It’s harder to do than you think. What are your thoughts on this?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting