All About Songwriting

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Category: Performance

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

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

The Benefits Of Performing At An Open Mic For Songwriters

An Open Mic is a great example of a healthy grassroots independent music industry at work.

According to Wikipedia, an Open Mic is…

“…a live show where audience members may perform at the microphone. Usually, the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies.”

Some people love them and some people don’t, but there’s no denying that the open mic is an invaluable part of the music industry as a whole.

Personally I have the pleasure of running and Open Mic or two over the years in my hometown of Adelaide and in that time, I’ve realised that as a songwriter, an Open Mic is much, much more than just a place to play. In fact, performing regularly at Open Mics is a brilliant way of gaining new fans, selling more CD’s, expanding your mailing list and generally increasing your profile by getting in front of peoples faces more often without overtaxing the goodwill of your friends and family.

An Open Mic is like speed dating for songwriters. A three song audition in front of potential new fans

Here are some benefits to playing at an Open Mic if you’re a songwriter…

1. Networking – Open Mics are a great networking opportunity for songwriters, performers and musicians of all experience and skill levels. Everyone gets together in one place with music as a common bond and this allows magic to happen.

2. Fun – It’s a great night out in a relaxed, performer-friendly environment with performers and punters alike listening to music performed by anyone and everyone. A mixed bag of good and improving performances. You can feel comfort zones being shattered.

3. Road Test – You can road-test your new material as it is being written (even works in progress if you are daring) and get great feedback from your peers

4. Collaborate – As other singer/songwriters are present you can easily find a songwriting partner or two.

5. Showcase – It’s an opportunity to perform your songs in from of an attentive, respectful crowd in which you can promote other shows, get names on a mailing list and/or sell product.

(If you have a band that you are starting and you want to get the vibe happening before your first gig, an Open Mic is perfect for this)

6. Recruit – If you are looking for other band members to perform your songs with you then networking at an open mic should be one of the first things to do on your list.

7. Audition – Most open mic venues have music on other nights so consider your performance an audition for a gig on another night. You never know, you might get asked back to play on another night

Well, thats seven extra benefits of performing at an Open Mic for songwriters. Can you think of any more?

Until next time, keep on writing

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting