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Category: Writing Songs

The Illusion Of Songwriting Perfection

Recently, I was chatting to a songwriter friend of mine about the pain he experiences while writing songs.

He said that he’s great at starting songs but lousy at finishing them (well, aren’t we all).

He also told me the main philosophy for his songwriting process is, “if the song is not perfect then the song isn’t worth finishing.”

WTF! No wonder he’s experiencing the pain of songwriters block.

I think that the concept of “if the song is not perfect then the song isn’t worth finishing” is something that’s more common among songwriters than we care to admit.

So, allow me to be a little blunt here. This struggle for songwriting perfection kills people.

It kills their creativity, kills their inspiration and sometimes (in extreme circumstances) the drive to perfection can kill a person physically.

There is a huge difference between being driven to write great songs and being driven to write perfect songs.

In my reply to his statement I said “…why don’t you try not to see songwriting as a means to an end (the hit song) but as a way of letting yourself go?”

As songwriters, how much pressure do we put yourselves under? A lot!

Is it worth it? NO!

The notion of songwriting perfection in anything is but a mere illusion. It’s created by the ego and massaged into existence by insecurity, jealousy, doubt, low self esteem and shame.

Songwriting should be a celebration of life, of letting yourself go, setting yourself free and playing around with your creativity. It’s not about reminding yourself how inadequate you are because you compare yourself needlessly to other songwriters.

Always remember that there’s not another one of you on this planet so therefore your experiences, your thoughts, your insights, your feelings, your dreams, your desires, your observations and the way that you question life, universe and everything around it are uniquely yours, and yours alone.

What does that mean? It means that…

1. There is no point in comparing yourself to others as there is no one else but you to compare yourself to in the first place

2. Being the unique creature that you are whatever you say is always very, very important.

The concept of perfection would only exist if there was something perfect to aspire to in the first place.

Now granted, there have been some amazing songs written in the past and there will be amazing songs that have not yet been written in the future, but none of those songs are “perfect” and they never, ever will be.

We, like our songwriting, are all works in progress.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Let Writing Songs Flow Naturally, Don’t Force It!

Okay, let’s clarify something here. Having a songwriting process does not mean that you have to force yourself to write songs.

Nothing gets done if you force things. It goes against nature itself.

In nature, changes happen in their own time and at their own pace. Things grow, evolve, breathe and become whatever they are supposed to be.

The problem with us human beings is that we try to hurry things along because we feel that nature moves too slow for us and it’s the same with songwriting.

With a songwriting process, all we’re trying to do is facilitating a set of activities with the end result being a constant flow of songwriting ideas. We achieve this flow by writing without concentrating on the end result.

When we engage ourselves in our songwriting process we are already moving towards the completion of a song. This is automatic.

Have you noticed that when you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and say to yourself “I am going to write a song now” you immediately put yourself under pressure to do just that.

The pressure you’ve placed yourself under then triggers off your inner voice to say things like “ok then, start writing but, it better be good” or “are you sure you have something to write about” or “don’t you have something more important to do right now?”

More often than not we give into our inner voices and we find the reasons NOT to write. This is where the songwriters block cycle starts.

If you look at each day of your life as a means of creating possible songwriting ideas you’ll more easily incorporate writing songs as a part of what you do in life, just like getting up in the morning.

If, in your day to day songwriting activity you become inspired to finish a song then great. If nothing comes from the activity then, great. You’re still doing what you love.

Can you see where I am going with this?

Don’t force your songs to come out, get out of your own way and let them happen and they will appear soon enough.

It doesn’t matter WHAT you write, what matters is THAT you write. Doing this will allow your songs to breathe, grow and evolve from the songwriting ideas that you initially come up with.

Remember, you are a songwriter and writing songs is in your nature so do it, live it, breathe it and BE IT.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Give Yourself Permission To Write Songs, Especially The So Called “Bad” Ones

I remember a few years ago where my songwriting was at a very, very low point. The problem was that I wasn’t writing anything at all.

I found myself with a huge case of songwriters block and it was stopping any and every form of creativity coming out of me. I became scared of writing, just in case I wrote a “bad” song and this made me very sad indeed.

Sad to the point of being depressed about the situation.

I eventually realised that not every song I write is going to be something I perform live and that I’m 100% in charge of everything that I do, so with that in mind I started to give myself permission to start creating again regardless of how I felt about the outcome.

Once I did that, the songs started to appear to me again. All I had to do was get out of my own way and write them.

Let me ask you this… How many times have you sat down to write a song, only to have your inner critic talk yourself out of it? All of a sudden doing the housework or putting out the rubbish seems to be a better thing to do with your songwriting time?

It seems that we would rather not write at all than write a so called “bad” song.

If this has happened to you, then take comfort in the fact that you are definitely not alone. I have been there many times and I’d personally would love a dollar for every other songwriter in the world that has experienced the very same thing.

Julia Cameron in her book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity says that in life we need to “always be willing to be a beginner.” What this means is that we need to be able to be venerable enough to make mistakes, to be willing to learn again and again.

Just remember, every song that you write has the potential to be a powerful learning experience about yourself and the world around you. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to learn just because the end result might be not what you expect it to be.

You do have something to say, your opinions are important and you certainly deserve to be a creative being, a SONGWRITER.

So, get out of your own way, tell your inner critic to take a well earned rest and give yourself permission to write songs whether they end up being good one or bad ones.

Learn from every song you write and be prepared for some mistakes along the way because YOU, and you alone are in control of your songwriting process, not your inner critic.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Don’t Worry About Writing “Hits,” Just Concentrate On Writing “Songs”

I reckon I’m going to open a can of worms with this next statement but, I think that as songwriters we can’t really determine with 100% accuracy whether a song we write is a hit or not.

I mean, isn’t determining whether a song is a hit or not the job of the listening public?

We can have all of the right components in place, a catchy melody, a good story, a tasteful musical arrangement, a flowing rhythm and a song form that makes sense but, if there’s no-one around to listen to your song…

As songwriters, our job is to keep on writing songs and that we are true to ourselves and our songwriting process at the same time. No matter what happens around us.

A song, like the human soul, is an intangible commodity. You can’t see it and you can’t touch it, so how then can anyone say that they can manipulate their songwriting process to achieve a predetermined result, such as reaching the top ten for example?

No-one can predict an outcome like that.

Personally, I think that any songwriter has the opportunity to get their song out into the real world however, some songwriters are more skilled at getting their songs noticed than others.

There are songwriters that seem to have the Midas touch such as Diane Warren for example, but I reckon that for every hit that she has written there are many, many other songs that haven’t seen the light of day.

For songwriters like Diane Warren, writing songs is a numbers game. The more songs she writes, the more songs of hers get picked up by other artists or placed in films and TV..

Think about it, for a song to be heard on radio or put onto CD there are so many other steps in the song marketing process that need to take place. As a songwriter, our sphere of influence is pretty much limited to the beginning of the song marketing process.

Granted, Ms Warren has an amazing reputation so her influence is much, much greater however, she still writes every day with the knowledge that the process of writing songs is more important than anything else.

The next song that you write maybe the best song ever written, but if your song is not recorded, picked up by an artist, packaged and marketed, played on the radio, distributed in a retail environment, advertised through the media and purchased by the general public then how can you or anyone else claim that your song is a hit?

Forget about writing hits and just concentrate on writing songs. If you want to write for the commercial environment make it your goal to learn as much as you possibly can about it.

Another thing to remember, Diane Warren, for all of her successes had to start somewhere.

Where you are now is where she was at one stage in her life. Therefore, where you go from here is up to you and you can be 100% certain of that.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Writing Songs – It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start, As Long As You Start Somewhere

Sometimes writing songs is 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.

Sometimes writing songs is 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.

Sometimes writing songs is 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 from the beginning and work forwards, sometimes you start from the middle and work outwards and sometimes you start at the end and work backwards.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start somewhere.

What do you think?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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 word processor instead of pen and paper to jot down my songwriting ideas and I’ve found that 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 my laptop via 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? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

YOU Are The Uniqueness And Originality In Your Songwriting

Here’s a can of worms I choose to open today (and this is personal opinion of course)…

I reckon that we are coming to the point where everything in western contemporary music has been done before, so why are songwriters so concerned with trying to sound totally 100% original to the point where it becomes an excuse to not write/finish a song (read on for an example of this thinking)?

Look at the music industry at the moment. There are genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres all trying to find some elusive niche in the music business and therefore some originality in the music as a whole.

Now, while there are lots and lots of interesting stuff being released all the time, what makes the music interesting are the different layers, production values, dynamics and textures on offer to the listener.

I mean, two unrelated genres colliding together to form a piece of music doesn’t necessarily make the song a totally 100% original idea. Does it?

All I’m trying to point out here is that the chances of doing something completely new and never heard before are very, very, very small so don’t waste your creative energy worrying about it (if however, you do come up with something completely original, I will be the first one to congratulate you).

Always remember that even though a song may not be totally original in its sound, it’s uniqueness does come from you, the songwriter and you alone.

Always remember… You are the uniqueness and therefore, the originality behind every song you write.

Some time ago I remember a friend of mine played to me a first draft of a song he just written. It was a really, really good effort and in my enjoyment of it, I unconsciously started singing another song over the top of it because it sounded familiar.

He stopped what he was doing and then got very upset with me for singing the other song over the top of his work. He then mentioned that he was going to throw the song away and abandon any attempts to finish it.

“I am never, ever going to write a song that has never been heard before” he lamented, to which I replied, “Does it really matter? What matters is that you wrote it, not anyone else.”

He thought about it a little more and decided to finish the song. Once he started working on his song again his whole perspective shifted to the point that the song took a whole new life.

It’s amazing that the smallest of changes of thinking can make the biggest of differences to an outcome.

Once you realise that it’s you that makes your song unique then you’ll finally get off of the “my song must be totally original to really matter” trip that stops so many of us songwriters from writing.

I mean, that excuse is right up there with “my songs must be perfect” and that old favourite, “I have nothing to write about.” All this thinking does is stops you, from doing what you absolutely love… Writing songs.

Do you believe that there are uncharted elements of originality that contemporary western music has not uncovered yet or, does my statement that everything has been done before ring true for you? Let me know what you think as I reckon this would be a great discussion topic 🙂

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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. 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