All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tips, Ideas & Help In One Songwriting Resource

Category: Foundation (page 2 of 4)

Learn The Rules Of Songwriting In Order To Break Them

When I was studying music in High School some years ago, I remember having one of my many intense conversations with my music teacher Mr Morgan about the so-called “rules” of music  and why I had to learn them.

I remember saying to my Mr Morgan defiantly, “well, if anything goes in music, why are we having to learn all these rules and structures?”

Now, being a very knowledgeable and insightful chap his answer was simple and straight to the point. He said to me in the calm and measured voice of a Zen Master that I must “first learn the rules in order to break them.”

I was blown away by the answer and from then on, everything just made sense. My insatiable appetite for learning all about music suddenly doubled (no, tripled) right there and then.

What I’m outlining here is that even though the music industry seems to be only wanting young, good looking pop singers who can sing songs of little or no substance, someone will always come along and break the rules.

The music industry is indeed a constantly changing and dynamic beast with a voracious appetite for great songs. It’s always good to remember that the music industry would die a slow and horrible death if there were no more songs to be written.

Just think about it… The songs we write today could potentially shape the music industry of tomorrow so learn all the rules you can so you can then be that songwriter that makes a difference by breaking those rules.

When you’re honing your craft, perfecting your process, increasing your songwriting activity and researching your art, you’re not doing this to find some magic formula that will make you millions upon millions of dollars.

You’re doing all this work to exponentially multiply the amount of sonic colours that you can paint with.

Don’t use the songwriting tips, ideas, techniques and rules that you pick up along your creative journey as a means of corralling your songwriting output in a certain way under the misguided promise of finding some sort of songwriting holy grail.

Use that information as some sort of point of reference so you know how you’ll do things differently next time. Change your direction from time to time, challenge yourself and don’t ever be just content with where you’re at right now.

Nurture your desire to keep learning because in a world full of similarities, it’s the little differences that make you and the songs that you write, stand out the most.

I hope that in some small way All About Songwriting helps you to learn all the rules you’ll need so you then know which ones to break first.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Smashing Songwriters Block, One (Bad) Song At A Time

Songwriting is the creative process of joining together lyrics, melody and music, and this process requires focus, time and patience.

However, all creative people have their own personal nemesis buried deep inside them waiting to wreak some havoc and put a spanner in the works.

It’s called your inner critic but really, it’s another name for your ego.

You know what I’m talking about, we’ve all been there, it’s that little critic inside your head that tells you that you have “nothing to write about” or that you’re “not good enough” or that you’ve got “no time to write” and so on.

If writing songs requires a certain level of activity then to write more songs we need to increase that activity, and one of those ways is to consistently win the battle with your inner critic.

As songwriters we need to be open to fresh new ideas, thoughts, feelings, experiences and observations and keeping that momentum going requires a steady flow of words from brain to paper.

If we lose the daily battle with our inner critic then the songwriting idea valve gets shut off by our own negativity, reasons and excuses and we simply dry up.

Hence the songwriters block.

Songwriters stop writing songs not because of their reasons and excuses but because they have let their inner critic talk them into believing that those reasons and excuses are the truth.

We need to find ways to distract, pacify or perhaps make friends with our inner critic and make it work for our songwriting, not against it.

I’ve always found that the best and most direct way to cure a dose of songwriters block is to just write anything no matter how corny and cliche the outcome may turn out to be.

Hell, I’ve written a lot of “bad” songs in my time from doing this very thing, but I don’t see anything in the rulebook that says that every song you write has to be heard by other people.

The next time you’re sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper and nothing seems to be coming out try this songwriting exercise, just write whatever comes to you and keep going until you fill the paper with words.

As you’re doing this really listen out to what your inner critic is telling you, accept that it’s not the truth and keep on writing and maybe, just maybe you’ll write a song about how you defeat your nemesis.

Hey! It might even be a good one 🙂

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Ideas Are Infinite And Sacred

My first piece of advice that I would give to any beginning songwriter is… “Never throw anything away, EVER!”

Just think, that piece of paper that you’ve thrown in the bin with some half finished lyrics penned the night before might have contained the ideas for THE song that defines you as a performer, artist or songwriter.

All it might’ve needed was a few re-writes either by yourself or, maybe with a collaborator (or two).

As a songwriter you must keep all of your scraps of paper, nonsensical ramblings on your phone and your audio snippets on your computer because songwriting ideas are infinite and sacred all at the same time.

Just hear me out here…

First of all, songwriting ideas are infinite because they are absolutely everywhere. You just have to allow yourself to be open and perceptive to them.

One songwriter may see a falling leaf and not think twice about it while another songwriter may see that same leaf as a metaphor for freedom and write a song about it.

If you take the view that songwriting ideas are infinite then you cease being protective of the songs you have already written. You then allow your songs to truly breathe, and come into being which will then lead to those songs being listened to and performed.

It also stops yourself having the view that everything that you write has to be perfect.

Remember, if you write a song that you are not sure of, don’t throw it away, just leave it and go onto something else because you’ll always think of another songwriting idea (if you allow yourself that is).

Secondly, songwriting ideas are sacred because they come from you and only you.

That alone is a reason to keep everything you write because, when you think about it, throwing away a songwriting idea is throwing away a part of you.

You should always be proud of what you create whether you feel they are good, bad or indifferent.

The good songs are the ones you perform as they are a gift from yourself to yourself.

The not so good songs should be acknowledged as the stepping stones that they are and besides, you can always go back to them later. Maybe with some more life experience under your belt plus a fresher set of eyes and ears (or maybe a collaborator) a song you’ll be proud of, will come from it.

It’s okay to write a song about world peace. It’s okay to write a song about love and it’s also okay to write a song about a falling leaf.

As long as it comes from you that’s all that matters.

Besides, if you allow yourself to be truly receptive of the world around you, you’re never going to run out of songwriting ideas.

Exciting isn’t it?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Exercise – Brainstorming Possible Song Titles

A good song title is a songwriter’s best friend because it can encapsulate the whole song in a few well chosen words and one of the best ways I’ve found to get my own songwriting process going is to brainstorm lists of possible song titles and see what comes from that.

For those who aren’t sure what “brainstorming” means, it’s the process of spontaneously coming up with ideas on a given topic, problem or task at hand.

Now in this songwriting exercise the task is not to write a complete song but to come up with at least one A4 page of possible titles for a song. Personally, I try to do this exact songwriting exercise at least twice a week and through doing this on a regular basis I now have pages and pages of songwriting ideas for me to look back on if I find myself not knowing where to go next.

Start off this exercise, by writing down the first thing that comes into your head at the top of your page and from there start writing down your possible song titles, making sure that the next phrase is either tightly or loosely derived from the first phrase.

Here’s a short example starting off with the phrase Cry Baby:

  • Cry Baby
  • Baby Don’t Cry
  • Don’t Cry For Me Baby
  • Don’t Cry
  • Why So Sad?
  • I’m So Sad
  • I’m Leaving Today

Just remember, because you are brainstorming there’s no right or wrong way of doing this exercise. You can write anything down, go off onto any tangent you like and not worry about whether you are going to use it in the future or not. It’s also important to not think about what you are writing, just be automatic, spontaneous and most importantly, have some fun with it.

Set a target of doing this for 30 minutes, two to three times a week so you can build up a comprehensive body of possible song titles to choose from.

Once you’ve been doing this exercise for a couple of weeks of doing this, have a look at what you’ve written and start to pay close attention to the phrasing and the rhythm of the possible song titles and wait for something to jump out at you. Once this happens you have the beginnings of a brand new song.

For me, looking back on what I’ve written in the past is an interesting experience in itself. It always amazes me what I’ve written once I stop second guessing my own songwriting process.

In the meantime, give this songwriting exercise a try and see what happens. Let me know how you go with it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Words First Or Music First? Does It Really Matter?

In my experience, one of the first questions a songwriter will ask about the songwriting process is “What should come first? Words or music?”

Well, there’s really no right or wrong answer to that question but I’m sure that if you asked 100 songwriters you’d definitely get 100 (slightly) different answers.

First of all let’s look at the definition of what makes up a song.

I’m an Australian songwriter so my songs are registered with an organisation called APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) and the definition that I use is loosely adapted from theirs.

According to APRA, a song is comprised of two main things:

  • Lyrics – The words in a song.
  • Melody – How the words of the song are sung.

Everything else that wraps around those two things such as the chords, format and dynamics, is  the arrangement of the song.

It took me many years to figure out that a song is not necessarily defined by the chords that are played, but by its lyrics and how it’s sung .

For instance, if a well known song is covered by another artist, more often than not the songs arrangement will have been changed but the integrity of the melody and the lyrics would still be intact.

The reason for this is that the covered song still needs to be recognised by the listener and if the listener sings the words and hums the tune then the song has a better chance of being remembered.

Generally the average listener doesn’t worry if there was a G chord or a G major 7 chord in the arrangement or not. In fact, they probably couldn’t tell the difference.

I use to write most of my songs by fitting lyrics and melody around a completed song arrangement but nowadays, I generally write the other way around. I fit my guitar arrangements around a melody inspired by a set of lyrics. I’m finding that by doing this I’m writing more songs than I used to.

You see, at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to write a song but the question of whether the music or words are written first should not concern us as songwriters.

It doesn’t matter whether words or music come first, what matters is that the words and/or music come at all and by immersing yourself into the activity of writing songs as they come to you, you’ll notice your songwriting process becoming more of a personal thing that eventually integrates itself into your day to day life

So what do you think? How do you start off writing your songs? Words first or music first… Does it really matter? Let me know what you think as I reckon this would make a very interesting discussion topic.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting – The Blank Page Is Your Friend

Every time we write a song we start off with a blank page.

It sits there and waits patiently for us to pick up our pen and pour out our songwriting ideas from our hearts and minds onto its surface however, a blank page can mean one of two things to a songwriter.

It can either be something to be fearful of, a scary journey into the unknown, the graveyard of yet another “bad” song or, it can be a doorway to infinite songwriting idea possibilities.

Let me ask you this.

Are you free to create whatever you want, whenever you want without second guessing, self-censorship or prejudice on your part? Or, are you a songwriter that feels shackled by the belief that you must obtain some sort of quantifiable result every time you put your pen to paper?

Which headspace would you rather be in?

I know that I’m asking a lot of questions here but as songwriters, this is something we face every time we sit down to write a song and as our answers to these questions are automatic and unconscious, we wonder why at times we don’t write anything.

This is when we start blaming things like songwriters block.

So, try this the next time you sit down to write a song. Look at that blank page in front of you as your friend and playmate.

You see, just the very thought of sitting down to write a song means that there is possibility that the muse will knock on your door and ask if you can come out to play.

Remind yourself that writing a song can be one or more of these three experiences:

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

When it comes to songwriting, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start somewhere.

Just remember, a blank page is not proof that you’ve not written a song. It’s merely the doorway to an infinite world of songwriting idea possibilities and all you need to do is have the courage to walk through it, regardless of the outcome.

So get out of your own way and allow yourself to be free to create.

Okay, how is that blank page looking now?

Until next time, just keep writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting – A Way To Experience Life

To increase your songwriting ability it’s necessary to increase your life experience, and that means getting out of your comfort zone and embracing what life has to offer you.

Imagine having the confidence to fully experience life with the knowledge that there could be a great song awaiting as a result of the risk being taken. That’s a mighty powerful way of looking at life.

A prime example of a situation that can benefit from this way of thinking is the awkward beginnings of falling in love. So many people don’t take the risk of falling in love for the fear of getting hurt.

My argument is that if you are committed to songwriting as a way to experience life then it is your duty as a songwriter to take the risk and just go with it.

If it works then you have some great songs to write, if it doesn’t work then you still have some great songs to write with perhaps a bit of therapy thrown in for good measure.

With an attitude like that how can you lose?

Going out of your way to fully experience life doesn’t mean having to endure mammoth changes or extreme tragedy. It’s the little things that you can do to break the habits and routines of our lives that make all the difference.

Here are some other examples of little things you can do to get more out of life and therefore get more out of your songwriting.

  • Go see a movie by yourself
  • Take a long walk on the beach
  • Go for a drive
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken too in ages
  • Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger
  • Catch public transport
  • Go to a cafe and write (or start writing) in your journal
  • Smile at people and watch their reactions
  • Meditate and listen
  • Go skydiving (Optional – I can understand if people find this a little extreme)

Generally, we try so hard to control everything in our life so we don’t experience anything that we would consider as bad. By choosing songwriting as a way to experience life, we can relax and allow our lives to unfold before our eyes, and then write a song about it.

If you look at your life this way you will never have to say “I don’t have anything to write about” ever again.

What do you think about songwriting as a way to experience more out of life?

What aspect of your life can you do different today? How would that change affect you? Can you write a song about it?

Just remember (even if it is for the sake of your songwriting process), don’t ever be afraid to fully experience your life, choose it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Using Peak Hour Traffic To Your Songwriting Advantage

This particularly works for me as I do a lot of driving with my day gig.

How about this for a songwriting exercise!

The next time you find yourself stuck in peak hour traffic, instead of feeling frustrated, stressed and angry about the situation, use the time at hand to manifest songwriting ideas in your head.

I do this all the time and some of my best songwriting ideas come from utilising my downtime effectively. It is a much better use of your time and energy than stressing out over events that you have no control over.

I would use the scenery around me as reference points to get my creative juices flowing. Some general things to focus on would be…

  • The weather – How does it make me feel?
  • People in cars – What were they thinking?
  • Buildings – Any landmarks nearby?
  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What am I doing this weekend?
  • What did I do last weekend?

In theory, once I’ve developed something I’m happy to record, I just use the voice recorder function on my smartphone to put down the songwriting idea for future reference.

Of course I don’t use my phone while I’m driving.

You could use this concept in any situation where you find yourself waiting for something. Examples that come to mind would include:

  • Bank queues
  • Train crossings
  • Doctors surgery
  • Public transport

If you any other suggestions? Let me know, I’d love to hear them.

Imagine what would happen if every songwriter used these particular times to their advantage rather than to their detriment?

There would be hardly any road rage, less stress and we would be more tolerant, patient and almost looking forward to these occasions just so we can give ourselves some time to spend with the muse.

We all have the time to write. We just have to be creative with how we find it.

Peace,

Corey 🙂

Writing Songs – Pen And Paper VS Keyboard And Computer

Call me old fashioned but I still prefer writing songs with a pen to paper rather than to use a computer.

There have been many times where I’ve attempted to use a computer keyboard and word processor instead of pen and paper to jot down my songwriting ideas and I’ve found that each time the special feeling of continuity I get between head, heart and computer screen is not as intense as the organic scrawling of a really good quality pen onto paper.

It’s like the act of putting pen to paper somehow allows me to become an integral part of what I’m writing whereas I feel an uncomfortable distance from my songwriting ideas if I just type it out.

Yes, I know that for this very post to exist I would’ve had to have typed the words into a word processor or directly into the WYSIWYG editor in my blogging platform of choice, WordPress however, this particular post was written on paper first.

I got the idea for this post from automatically and randomly writing on pieces of paper as a means of clearing my mind of the stuff that has collected in it over time. A bit of mental cleaning as it were and some indication that automatic writing works.

I’m a big fan of technology but at the same time I’d hate to see the art of writing a song with a pen and paper disappear for good.

What do you think? Which medium do you prefer to write songs with? Pen and paper or keyboard and computer?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Six Tips For Basic Songwriting – A Video

Here is a video that really impressed me with the directness of its message. It comes from a singer/songwriter named Kyle Erwin and it’s called “Six Tips For Basic Songwriting.”

Now I’ve been writing songs for a while now and most of the information that I come across online is stuff that I already know or have experienced however, there was something that I found in this video that I wasn’t aware of and now will incorporate into my own songwriting process.

It’s not often that this happens hence why I want to share this video with all of you.

On his blog, Kyle also has his “Six Tips For Basic Songwriting” as a post and cleverly links to it from his video to save you writing down notes on the information he imparts.

He also mentions about a product for the iPad called Music Memos. I’ve actually downloaded that and have been playing around with it. I’ll see if I can do a review of it in a future post.

Anyway, enjoy this video and remember, if there’s anything that you’d like to share with me regarding any of the information presented on the video just let me know.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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