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Category: Songwriting Advice

Songwriting Process – Bruce Mau’s “An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth”

Below is the complete version of “An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth” as mentioned in my last blog post “Some Creative Suggestions For Your Songwriting.”

This manifesto was conceived in 1998 by Bruce Mau, the creative director of Bruce Mau Design. The purpose of the manifesto is explained on his website in the following way:

“Written in 1998, the Incomplete Manifesto is an articulation of statements exemplifying Bruce Mau’s beliefs, strategies and motivations. Collectively, they are how we approach every project.”

From what I have seen, Bruce Mau and his team certainly know what they’re talking about and from reading his manifesto below I can see how the creative process of design and writing songs can come from exactly the same place.

The muse is a multi-talented entity indeed…


An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth
By Bruce Mau

1. Allow events to change you.
You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it.

The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good.

Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

5. Go deep.
The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.

6. Capture accidents.
The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

7. Study.
A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.

8. Drift.
Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

10. Everyone is a leader.
Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

12. Keep moving.
The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.

13. Slow down.
Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.

14. Don’t be cool.
Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

15. Ask stupid questions.
Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.

16. Collaborate.
The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

17. ____________________.
Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.

18. Stay up late.
Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.

19. Work the metaphor.
Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

20. Be careful to take risks.
Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.

21. Repeat yourself.
If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.

22. Make your own tools.
Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.

24. Avoid software.
The problem with software is that everyone has it.

25. Don’t clean your desk.
You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.

26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
Just don’t. It’s not good for you.

27. Read only left-hand pages.
Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”

28. Make new words.
Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.

29. Think with your mind.
Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.

30. Organization = Liberty.
Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget.

The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’

31. Don’t borrow money.
Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.

32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

33. Take field trips.
The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.

34. Make mistakes faster.
This isn’t my idea – I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.

35. Imitate.
Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.

36. Scat.
When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.

37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

38. Explore the other edge.
Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.

39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces – what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference – the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.

40. Avoid fields.
Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

41. Laugh.
People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.

42. Remember.
Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect.

Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.

43. Power to the people.
Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.


Wow!

Even though Bruce Mau and his team approach every new design project using these strategies and philosophies, I truly believe that the process of songwriting (indeed every creative endeavour) can be looked at in the very same way.

I don’t know about you but right now, I’m feeling truly inspired. Are you? Which points in the manifesto resonate with you? Let me know about it.

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Some Creative Suggestions For Your Songwriting

One of my favourite songwriting websites that I visit regularly is called TAXI.

I really like the articles and helpful tips that they provide on the site as well as the songwriting A&R service that they’re so well known for.

Recently I came across an article by a songwriter named Michael Anderson called “Creative Suggestions”

The article is essentially a huge list of wisdom to help expand your songwriting process and at the same time, enrich you as a songwriter which is just the very thing that I’m trying to achieve with All About Songwriting.

I’ve included the article below for your enjoyment…


Creative Suggestions
By Michael Anderson

(Originally Published in TAXI – July 2008)

One of the great things I have found about teaching is how much you end up learning. The best way to learn about something is to help someone else do it.

As part of my teaching, recently I interviewed a guest, Paula McMath, who came in with amazing material prepared for the class.

I am going to share excerpts of one section here — it comes form a handout she gave the class called “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.”

I don’t know where it came from, or who wrote it — and I am editing it for focus and length here. If you are so motivated, I am sure you can find the whole thing on the Internet somewhere.

So here are some suggestions for your process in writing:

  • Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it.
  • The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  • Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on.
  • Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
  • Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been.
  • Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, trials, and errors.
  • Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  • Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question.
  • Study. A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study.
  • Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly Postpone criticism.
  • Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice – begin anywhere.
  • Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  • Harvest ideas – edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  • Keep moving. The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  • Slow down. Desynchronise from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  • Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  • Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence.
  • Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with strife, friction, exhilaration, delight, and creative potential.
  • Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
  • Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
  • Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
  • Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
  • Make your own tools. Hybridise your tools in order to build unique things.
  • Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
  • Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
  • Avoid software. The problem with software is that everyone has it.
  • Don’t clean your desk. You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
  • Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
  • Make new words. Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
  • Think with your mind. Forget technology. Creativity is not device dependent.
  • Organization = Liberty. Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise.
  • Don’t borrow money. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
  • Listen carefully. Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
  • Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic-simulated environment.
  • Make mistakes faster.
  • Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable.
  • Scat. When you forget the words, do what Ella did—make up something else.
  • Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

Excerpted from Michael Anderson’s Little Black Book of Songwriting available at: www.michaelanderson.com


WOW! What an amazing list of creative suggestions to think about.

Reading this article reaffirms my thoughts, feelings and theories of the importance of having a songwriting process. I’m certainly going to look up “An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth” and really get my head around what it means.

Incidentally, what points took your fancy? Let me know what you think.

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Advice – Too Many Ideas Will Spoil The Song

Let me ask you something… Have you heard of the KISS principle?

It stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid” and it’s a good rule of thumb for when you’re writing songs.

We human beings are really funny creatures, we get bored with simplicity really quickly, so we try to complicate things so we can remain interested in whatever it is we’re doing.

As songwriters, one of the main assumptions we make with our songs is that, how we feel about them is how everybody feels about them.

This is simply not the case.

Making a song more complicated may be of interest to you, but chances are it may lose your audience, so be very, very careful.

A great song is like a great soup. If you put too many flavours into the it, the soup becomes too overpowering for the palette and you become unsure of what type of soup you’re eating.

You see, a song is made up of two essential components:

1. Melody
2. Lyrics

Put simply, a song without words is an instrumental and a song without music is a lyric or a poem. All are just as important as each other however, as songwriters we need to make these distinctions clear in our own minds.

If you don’t pay close attention you’ll end up with a song that, while it might be great for you to listen to, it may have too many ideas in it for its own good.

Too many songwriting ideas in one song tends to do is overshadow the melody which restricts the listeners opportunity to be engaged in a musical journey through the songs lyrics.

Any hooks that the listener can grab onto become lost in the mess.

In keeping things simple, you’re allowing your songs to breathe and develop organically. A great song has just as much space as well as substance in it and as songwriters we are the scales that allow the balance between these two elements to exist.

Musical arrangement, counterpoint and harmony are very, very important in songwriting however, look at these components as things that you use mindfully, knowing full well that too many ideas can do to your song.

Always remember, never be afraid to keep things simple.

Simplicity is neither bad or boring, it’s the best way to get your message or intention across to the listener and besides, we could all do with a bit more simplicity in our lives don’t you think?

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

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 described as a “game of failure” but he also 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.

  • 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 anything on 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


Check out the original link: Why Failure Is Your Friend in Songwriting

Songwriting Tips – 10 Of The Best From David Foster

When accepting his BMI Icon award in 2010, songwriter David Foster gave a speech which was more like a ten commandments for all songwriters to live by.

Here are those ten tips in a nutshell:

  • Save your money
  • Don’t get married
  • Learn an instrument
  • Don’t be too precious about your songs
  • Be genuinely happy for someone else’s success
  • Phone people back
  • Give your career everything that you have
  • Be on time
  • Make every creative decision as if you have a million dollars in the bank
  • Save your money

Enjoy 🙂

I especially liked numbers 3, 4 and 9 on the list. Which one(s) resonated with you? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

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:

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.

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.

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