All About Songwriting

Your #1 Songwriting Resource

Category: Revision

One Songwriter’s Trash Is Another Songwriter’s Treasure

You would’ve guessed by now through reading this blog that I’m a real fan of the songwriting process and the many ways that a song can be created.

You would’ve also guessed that when it comes to the creation and organisation of songwriting ideas, I’m a great believer in not throwing anything away, no matter how small, bland, banal, silly or trivial you might think your ideas are.

Now I know of songwriters who, like me, are pretty good at organising their ideas for future reference and that’s a great thing.

However, I know of others who have indiscriminately thrown away reams of paper and piles of notebooks filled with potential song fragments, possible song titles and bits and pieces of hurriedly scribbled phrases and sentences.

This really breaks my heart.

If you’re one of those songwriters who would rather clear the slate than organise your song snippets for later use, listen up, I have a deal for you.

Next time you’re feeling the need to sort out and purge or, if the temptation to chuck away all of your stuff you’ve held on for so long has become far too much to bear… Just give them to me.

That’s right, give them to me. I’ll gladly take your songwriting ideas off your hands and out of your life.

Think of me as a retirement home for all your old song snippets that you feel have stifled your creativity and have gotten you nowhere. I’ll give your stuff a new home and in the process, I might just develop some of them into songs of my own.

But here’s the thing…

Even though I’ll be in possession of your old ideas, I’m still very mindful of where these ideas have come from and will definitely give you credit where credit is due.

So, the deal is…

If I create a song from anything that you’ve sent me, I’ll give you between 10% and 50% songwriting credit depending on how much of your idea I’ve used.

I think that’s a pretty good deal considering you were going to throw them away in the first place.

This is proof of how much value I personally put on songwriting ideas, no matter how large or small they are or, where they came from.

So before you throw your old stuff away and before you succumb to the urge to bin all of your old song fragments, think about my offer. Contact me and we’ll work out how I can offload these ideas from you.

I’m serious.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Keeping Your Songwriting Simple – One Song, One Idea

As songwriters we should always be looking for ways to express what’s inside our minds and our hearts plus, what we observe externally from ourselves.

We also have to balance this need to express ourselves with the fact that we also want others to listen to our songs and relate to, embrace and make those songs a part of their lives.

Right?

So, in saying that, why do we then have the tendency to complicate the messages or statements that we’re trying to convey in our songwriting?

It should be obvious to anyone that by making things too complicated in our songs, how should we expect our listeners, our audience to relate to them?

Songs are generally between three to five minutes in length so there’s only a small window of opportunity to create a lasting impression with your listener.

The best thing that you as a songwriter can do is:

1. Create an environment in which the listener can immediately understand and relate to what you are trying to say.

Use this as your songwriting mantra…

One song, one idea
One song, one story.
One song, one point of view.
One song, one image.

2. Allow the listener to focus on your song, not be bamboozled by it.

If you try to introduce more than one idea into the song you start creating mixed messages for the listener. The last thing you want to is to confuse your listener into turning off from your song.

We live in a world in which information is instant. People today demand the information that they receive to be concise, to the point and easy to understand.

Songs, as a medium to convey information and concepts are no different.

3. Hold the listeners hand through your song and take them on the journey.

Once you have established the point/story/message of the song you have a certain amount of time to really explore that with the listener. This is where the fun begins, this is where your creativity as a songwriter comes into play.

The balance between words and rhythm becomes very important here otherwise the song becomes clumsy and hard to understand.

Here is a songwriting tip for you. Go through your songs and for each one, write down all of the points you are trying to make.

Really analyse your songs to see if you are putting too many messages in them.

If for instance you have a song in which there are three distinct message that you are trying to convey, separate the messages and write three songs about each of them.

For me, if there’s a song in which for some reason I can’t finish, it’s normally because I’m trying to say too much in it. Once I strip it back, the path which completes the song magically appears before me.

Lets see if that happens for you. If it does, let me know.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tools – The Rhyming Dictionary And Thesaurus

It’s a known fact that the world is full of words and for me, writing lyrics can be a challenge in itself and I reckon that any tools that make it easier for me to put down my songwriting ideas from head to paper need to be adapted into my songwriting process.

The two online tools I use when I need a bit of help with my lyrics are a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus.

These tools enable me to expand my vocabulary and put down my ideas in a much more original and descriptive fashion.

Writing lyrics is all about making sure that the story I’m trying to tell or the concept that I’m trying to describe is told in a way that is totally, 100% me.

To do this requires a broad understanding of the language at my disposal, hence the importance of the rhyming dictionary and thesaurus

If you go into a good bookshop you’ll be able to purchase these important songwriting tools but there are also some really good online versions available for you to use for free.

I have chosen the most popular of each version for a brief discussion.

Rhyming Dictionary

Of course when you spot a tool like this for free, it normally means that it’s a demo or sample of the commercial version. This is not like that.

This tool is an amazing database of…

  • End rhymes
  • Last syllable rhymes
  • Double rhymes
  • Triple rhymes
  • Beginning rhymes
  • First syllable rhymes

All you need to do is type in the word you want to find rhymes for and off you go. It gives you a fantastic list of results.

The way I find a rhyming dictionary useful is that I see words that I probably would not have thought of as words to end a line with.

When I spot one of these words I immediately see a whole new line flash before me and that is all I need to start writing again. I am always amazed how just one new word can launch a whole new tangent.

Of course you need to be open to the possibilities in the first place.

Thesaurus

This tool is so valuable to a songwriter no matter how experienced they are. This site is both a thesaurus and a dictionary in one so you are getting double the value from the site.

Quite simply a thesaurus is a book of synonyms. These are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another word.

For example, if I type the word SONG into the thesaurus I would get these results:

  • Anthem
  • Ballad
  • Chant
  • Chorus
  • Lullaby
  • Lyric
  • Melody
  • Tune

The thesaurus enables me to describe stories, concepts and situations much better. It allows me to put a new twist onto the same old phrases and cliches that I tend to fall back on when I get a stuck on something.

My challenge to you is this. Adopt both of these tools into your songwriting process and see what happens.

If you are stuck, use the tools to brainstorm ideas and let your mind become open to whatever possibility appears before you. Once the possibility is realised then run with it.

Sometimes not knowing where you are going can be a really fun thing to do.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

10 Tips To Improving Your Songwriting Process

You might have gathered by now that I am a huge believer that the ongoing and never-ending improvement of your songwriting process will enable you to write better songs regularly and consistently.

By evolving your songwriting process (through constant practise) into something that works for you and your way of doing things, gathering ideas for your next song will, in time become an automatic thing, leaving you more time to actually write.

Personally, I’m obsessive about having to get what is in my head out onto paper so for me, improving my own songwriting process is a very important part of my creative life.

Based on my own experiences and some good old fashioned research, here are 10 tips that can improve your own songwriting process:


1. Have the right tools available
You can use the latest computer technology and software to gather your songwriting ideas but at the end of the day, nothing beats a beat-up tape recorder and an A4 writing pad and pen. The simplest songwriting tools around.

2. Make a regular time to write
Even if it’s 15 minutes a day between finishing breakfast and going to work. Make the time!!

3. Have an open mind
Be open to anything that comes your way. You don’t know where the next songwriting idea will come from.

4. Let yourself go
Don’t become preoccupied with past or future. For the amount of time you have set for yourself to write you will need to be totally “in the now.”

5. Develop a single-minded focus
If you decide that an idea is worth developing into a song and you’re happy with it so far, then focus your attention on creating a song from the idea.

6. Remember, perfection does not exist
It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you need to re-write the draft then do it because it needs it not because you have to.

7. Ask lots of questions
Writing lyrics is all about exploring a story or a concept. Asking lots of questions like “does this new idea need to be in this song?” will keep you on track.

8. Walk away if need be
If it’s not flowing, just walk away and come back to the song at a later time. There is no rule that says a song needs to be finished in one sitting.

9. Practise, practise, practise and then practise some more
Any process needs to be repeated to be made automatic. Practise often.

10. Have fun
Go off into tangents, run with a songwriting idea to see where it leads you. If it leads nowhere then reflect on the journey anyway.

Either way, have fun doing what it is you love doing… Writing songs


Your songwriting process can be whatever you want it to be however, if you’re serious about having the ability to write good songs regularly and consistently, you need to start looking at how you organise yourself and your time.

I hope these ten tips have been helpful to you. Is there anything that you’d like to add to the list? If so, let me know because I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my own songwriting better.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

The Joys Of Rewriting Your Songs

Nile Rogers once said “…I know how to write and rewrite songs, and the genius is really in the rewriting.” This statement is something that I totally agree with.

I reckon, if you’re at the stage with writing your song where you need to go through it and start revisiting parts to ensure that you’re happy with it, then you’re almost at the end of the songwriting process and your song will be the better for the rewriting.

However, I didn’t always think of the rewriting part of the songwriting process in such high regard. When I was starting out on my songwriting journey, I was one of those songwriters that didn’t really like the idea of rewriting my songs.

I had heard stories of great songs that “almost wrote themselves,” and hit songs that were written in ten minutes and in one sitting and because of these stories I was under the impression that all great songs must be divinely inspired and that songs which needed to be rewritten and are hard work to complete must be doomed to failure.

I used to think that once a song is completed, that was it. To me, the concept of rewriting something that came from my heart and my soul somehow meant that I had failed in getting my message across as a songwriter.

Not so.

I was introduced to the concept of rewriting songs a while back through a writer friend of mine while having a conversation comparing the creative activities of songwriters and authors.

I told him my philosophy that once a song was completed I would just leave it and go on to the next song.

My friend then proceeded to tell me that in his world, the average word-count for a novel is between 60 and 100 thousand words. Plus, add to the mix the fact that normally he would need to complete at least three drafts of a manuscript before submitting it to a publisher.

Compared to what I did as a songwriter, there was a lot of work involved in creating the end result and I was resisting the concept of rewriting a four minute song.

What I got from the conversation was that there should be an extra step in my songwriting process. The editing/rewriting stage.

He then continued to make the point that songwriters, like authors, should look at their creations as a series of drafts. Some songs will need less editing and some will need more.

This started to make a lot of sense to me.

That conversation was a few years ago now but since then, I’ve pulled out all of my old songbooks and unreleased demo recordings I’ve made and started to go through every song I’ve ever (half) written, looking for ways in which these songs can be improved upon.

Through doing this exercise I’ve discovered that:

1. There’s always one or two lines of a song that can be strengthened. When I read through an old song and notice myself cringing at a line, that’s the time to change it for something better.

2. Older songs that I’ve written where my musical knowledge was much more limited benefit greatly with the musical knowledge I have now

3. Some of my songs were crying out for a bridge or a pre-chorus that I had not even considered before.

4. Some of my songs needed to be simplified and in doing so other songs were written from that.

When you think about it, your songbook is the aural version of a photographers portfolio. It’s always good songwriting practise to look over your completed songs from time to time with a new set of ears and edit and adjust as necessary.

It’s done wonders for my songs.

This exercise is still something that I continue to do to this day. When I’m feeling a little stuck on something I go through my old stuff to find new inspiration.

So, what do you think is the purpose of a songwriting process? Is it a competition to write a song in the shortest space of time and on the first attempt? Or, does it exist to facilitate the creation of the best song possible at the time with all of the information and tools at your disposal?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

30 Ways To Overcome (Song) Writers Block

If you know where to look there’s literally tons of great songwriting tips, songwriting articles and general songwriting advice online.

One such example of this comes in the form of an article I found recently titled 30 Songwriting Tips To Overcome Writer’s Block by Sam Wilson from The Pro Audio Files website.

As the title suggests, the article lists 30 ways in which a songwriter can overcome the dreaded block. It is written with a (home) recording studio edge to it but as a songwriter, you’ll be able to glean some gold from the list.

The goal of the article is very simple. Sam writes…

“… whether you’re an electronic producer or more traditional singer/songwriter, you can use this list as a resource to spark new songwriting ideas.”

Reading through the list did give me some things to think about regarding my own songwriting process. The ideas that stood out for me were the following…

  • Idea 04 – Build A World In Your Head
  • Idea 06 – Tap Into Your Own Feelings
  • Idea 09 – Play With Some Samples (this is where the audio recording slant comes into play)
  • Idea 20 – Open Old Projects (you can also reinterpret this as “Revisit Your Old Songs”)
  • Idea 26 – Keep It Simple

No matter how long you’ve been on the songwriting path there will always be days where writing a song can be like pulling teeth and this article would be a very handy thing to have for just those times.

Have a read of the article 30 Songwriting Tips To Overcome Writer’s Block and let me know if there’s anything that you would add to the list.

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 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

How To Finish That Song That You’ve Been Working On Forever

I must say that I’m one of those songwriters that is an expert at starting off songwriting ideas but really ordinary at finishing them off into completed songs. It’s one of those things that I personally need help with in my own songwriting process.

Here is an article by well known producer, author and songwriter Cliff Goldmacher outlining five different approaches that you can take to finish off those songs that you’ve been working on forever.

It certainly gave me some food for thought…


How To Finish That Song You’ve Been Working On Forever
By Cliff Goldmacher

Sometimes songs come easy. You sit down and the whole thing pours out of you almost as if you’re simply transcribing it as it’s handed down to you from the heavens. Those songs are great but I’ve learned you can’t always count on it working that way.

The other side of the coin is when songwriting more closely resembles the extraction of a particularly reluctant wisdom tooth, without an anaesthetic. This article is about how to deal with those songs. I’m going to offer five different approaches to get you un-stuck and get your song finished one way or the other.

1. Make a Rough Recording of Your Song

Sometimes all you need is a little perspective. Often when we’re writing a song, we’ll go around and around singing it to ourselves sometimes playing an instrument as we do it. This is a necessary and essential part of the writing process and although it’s helpful while we’re writing, it doesn’t provide us with the listener’s perspective.

Whether it’s a song you’ve just been working on or one you’ve played live hundreds of times, if you’re not sure it’s finished, then do a rough recording. By a rough recording, I mean simply sing (and play if you’re also an instrumentalist) the song into your computer, hand-held recorder or even your cell phone and listen to the playback of the recording without playing your instrument or singing along.

This simple act of putting yourself in the audience, so to speak, will give you perspective on what is and isn’t working in a way that is impossible while you’re actually singing the song yourself. I’d also suggest printing out a lyric sheet and keeping it in front of you to make notes on as you get ideas from listening to the rough.

Finally, I’d recommend the process of making a rough recording, tweaking the song and then making a new rough recording, until you end up with a version of the song that you feel good about. This final rough recording can then do double duty as the version of the song you’ll provide the session musicians and singers so that they can learn your song for the demo session.

2. Play It For Your Songwriting Group

Still stuck? Sometimes it takes another set of experienced ears to hear the things you’ve been missing. Songwriting groups can be great for this but if you don’t have a songwriting group, not to worry, most cities have songwriting organizations, open mics and even local coffee houses with live music where you can meet other songwriters.

Once you’ve found a few other songwriters whose work you respect, you might suggest getting together once every week or two and showing each other what you’ve been working on. This is a great way to get suggestions on how to refine your material.

I’d recommend making a pact to stay constructive. There’s never a point in being unduly negative. You’re all trusting each other with songs that are still in their vulnerable early and unfinished stages. Mean-spirited comments or unnecessarily harsh criticism can cause a potentially superb song to be abandoned on the spot.

It’s important to remember that songwriting is still a subjective process and not every suggestion you get will feel right to you. That’s fine. If you get a single suggestion that makes your song better, then the process is working. By the way, if you’re looking for a songwriting organization in your area, the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) has chapters all over the country and even overseas.

3. Submit Your Rough Recording to a Critiquing Service

Songwriting organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association, The Songwriters Guild of America and Taxi.com offer song critiques to their members. This can be a safe, entry-level way to try out new material on experienced industry ears without risking poisoning the well if the song comes back with a less than glowing set of comments.

These same organizations also offer “Play for Publisher” or “Play for A&R” song screenings. I’d highly recommend waiting to submit to these events until you have a song (and, just as importantly, a recording) you feel confident is completely polished. You only have one chance to make a first impression with a publisher or record executive so I’d suggest taking your time, making sure your song is finished and that you have a totally professional demo before you head down that road.

While a pro critique can yield some terrific insights, it’s important to remember that songwriting is a subjective process. In other words, take all comments (good and bad) with a grain of salt.

4. Bring in a Co-Writer

If you feel you’ve got an exceptional idea but truly can’t seem to figure out how to finish it, then maybe it’s time to bring in a co-writer. Many co-writes begin from scratch which is a great way to share the effort of creating a new song but, sometimes, co-writes happen when one writer brings a partially finished idea to another.

For example, if it’s the melody that’s got you stuck, then I’d recommend working with a co-writer who has a melodic gift. If it’s the lyric, look for a strong lyricist. The key to co-writing is to find someone who’s strong where you aren’t (and vice versa) so, together, you can come up with something better than either one of you could have created on your own.

5. Put It Away (maybe forever)

If you’ve tried everything and your song still just kind of lies there, then it’s time to put it away, maybe even forever.

The key to staying productive as a songwriter is not getting too bogged down on any one song. Sometimes songs are meant to be started simply to get you to the next song. Don’t be afraid to leave a song behind and start on something new.

Sometimes you’ll come back to it months or even years later and sometimes you won’t. The more songs you write the easier this will become. Promise. While songwriting can certainly be a challenge at times, it shouldn’t have to hurt. It’s up to you to decide whether a song needs one more good effort or an express trip to the circular file.

I’ll leave you with a final random thought. Often the days you’re dreading working on a song are the days when you make the biggest gains. Always give yourself the benefit of the doubt and sit down and try. If it isn’t happening pretty quickly, then let it go, but if it is, you’ll be doubly glad you made the effort.

Good luck!


About The Author

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter/engineer/producer/author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” is available as a free download from his site at http://www.cliffgoldmacher.com/ebook

Cliff is also the owner/founder of http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, a website that provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.


One of the things that struck me about Cliff’s article is how he mentions playing your half finished song to a songwriting group and putting up your work in progress to a song critiquing service.

These are things that I’m interested in setting up on this site in the very near future and maybe then I’ll be able to finish off my own (ever growing) list of incomplete song ideas.

In the meantime, how do you finish off your songs?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting