All About Songwriting

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Songwriting Tip – Learn Your Craft By Studying Other Peoples Songs

Let me make one thing very clear… By saying that, as songwriters, we should be learning our craft by studying the songs of other songwriters, I’m not saying that you should be copying another peoples song and calling them your own.

What I am saying is that, by asking yourself what songs you like to hear and then studying those songs to define why you like them and what unique voice you can give to it is a great start towards improving your own songwriting.

Just as a painter goes through a number of drafts from rough sketches to a finished painting, we as songwriters can do the same thing with our songs.

Sometimes its good to play around with other peoples songs just to see what happens. I mean, isn’t the ultimate goal of a songwriter (or any creative person for that matter) is to find their own voice and to share that voice with the rest of the world?

One of the best ways in which a songwriter can find their own voice is through the process of imitation. Imitation is how we developed our own personalities in the first place.

As children growing up, we initially got our cues in life by copying what everybody else was doing. At this time in our lives we were doing everything for the first time.

We had no point of reference of our own to compare with back then so we had to utilise someone else’s.

We were imitating the people closest to us… Our parents.

It’s the same with songwriting. How do we know how special and unique our voices are if we don’t first compare it with others?

Ask yourself three simple questions and you’ll be well on your way to starting your own songwriting study project:

1. Who are my favourite artists/bands?
2. What are my favourite songs?
3. Which artist, band or song is popular at the moment?

With your favourite artists or bands, list the reasons why you are so attracted to them. Is it the emotional content of their songs? Is it the way they play live? Is it their philosophy on life?

By doing this you are finding out what makes you tick on an emotional level.

Your favourite songs might be from your list of artists and bands but then again they might be from others.

Songs are sometimes really funny things. They can get into your psyche and wreak complete havoc or they can allow wonderful memories to never be forgotten. The list of songs that you’ll have in front of you will be the physical and tangible benchmark of where your own songs will be based from.

By looking at what is popular at the moment you’ll have an idea as to what the listening public are tuning into right now!

Your own taste in artists, bands and songs may not be the same but it is still good to put all of your preferences aside and study what is happening now as well as what you like.

Immerse yourself in this exercise, start listening and researching lots of music and keep writing along the way.

If you play an instrument start learning your favourite songs and play them around the house. Notice the form of the song, the chords and arrangement used and the melody and how it fits with the rhythm.

If you don’t play an instrument, that’s fine. Get the lyrics and study how the words fall together to allow you to paint a picture in your mind or to follow a well told story. Sing or hum the melody and try to feel where it is going.

Does it take you on a journey or do you have to work with it to have the song make sense to you?

Once you’ve done that, write a song in the style of your favourite artist or take one of your favourite songs, write out the chords and invert them and see what happens. Play around, experiment with speed and pitch. If you have a capo for your guitar, use that.

But, no matter what happens… Don’t let your inner critic tell you that this exercise is a waste of time.

Always remember you don’t have to promote or perform every song that you write. Some songs will be a stepping stone to the next one. The song you write from this exercise today may be the first draft of another song that you might write tomorrow.

As you’re doing this you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually the sum total of what works plus your own experiences and emotional triggers will be the beginnings of your own songwriting voice.

Give it a go, creativity is supposed to be fun. Let me know how you go with it

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

What Is The Definition Of A “Bad” Song Anyway?

I ask this question because it seems to me that we, as songwriters are real experts at naming which one of our creations are bad, so much in fact that for some songwriters, it stops them from creating altogether.

Here are some thoughts I have on this subject.

Now, call me strange, but I’ve never looked at any of my songs as being either good or bad. I just allow them to be.

At the end of the day, my songs can be put into one of two categories:

  • Songs I perform
  • Songs I don’t perform

Of course the songs that I perform are the songs I’m very comfortable with sharing with the listening public and/or other musicians

However, the songs I don’t perform go into one of two more categories:

  • Works in progress (for performance)
  • Archived songwriting ideas (for later)

You see, I never throw anything away. Everything that comes from my head is created into something straight away or recycled to be created into something else in the future.

Lets face it, the more songs you write, the more ‘good’ songs you’ll write and for every good song you write there are at least ten ‘bad’ ones lurking in the wings.

So, no matter how much you think your songwriting ideas are bad, write them down anyway. Besides, where does it say in the rules that you have to pitch or perform every song that you write anyway?

If you want to write good songs then writing the occasional bad songs is an inevitable outcome and besides, what really makes a song bad?

A bad song from one songwriter could be another performers treasure. What do you think?

There’ll be some songs you write that are meant to be performed and the other songs will just be the stepping stones towards even more songs.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

When you think about it, the concept of a song being bad is created from a subjective opinion and really, is proclaiming one of your songs as being bad your call anyway?

Here is a exercise to try on yourself. Try deliberately writing a bad song and see how you go. It’s like asking a seasoned musician to play like a beginner.

It’s harder to do than you think. What are your thoughts on this? Let me know what they are.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Process – Getting Out Of Your Own Way

At the end of the day, writing songs can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

One of the main reasons why songwriters find the songwriting process difficult is that they get in their own way by placing a pre-determined outcome to their process.

There are a lot of songwriters that have an inability to let go of the outcome and just allow themselves to write.

For example, while writing, a songwriter may say things to themselves like:

  • This song must be a good one
  • This song must be original
  • I can’t sound like anyone else
  • This song can’t be bad
  • I must be inspired when I write
  • I don’t have anything to write about

Let’s bring this back to you now.

If you were experiencing all of this negative dialogue while you were trying to write a song, do you think you would be able to finish it?

I don’t think so.

Creativity in any form exists because its creator, is free from all distraction. Learning to let go enables you, the songwriter to become free.

Allowing ourselves the freedom to create without any prejudice or pre-conceived notions is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to ourselves.

Next time you start writing a song try this.

As you start writing, think of nothing else but writing. Don’t worry if the result is going to be a good or bad. Better still, don’t think of any result at all.

Just write… Treat writing like it’s a meditation.

As you write you will hear your inner voice start to rant. When this happens, write down the rant on another piece of paper and allow it to pass through you rather than let it rattle around inside your head.

Treat these negative rantings as if you’re a matador allowing a feisty bull to run past your red cloth.

You never know, at the end of your songwriting session you might have finished a song plus have the beginnings of another and it’s all thanks to letting go and getting out of your own way.

What are the things that your inner critic says to you that creates a barrier between you and your songwriting?

Let me know what you do to break it down and set your songwriting free?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

12 Ways To Enhance Your Songwriting Process

I realised a long time ago that when it comes to the songwriting process there’s no such thing as the perfect way of writing songs, it can always be improved upon.

Listed below are twelve ways in which I think you can enhance, improve and eventually master your songwriting process.

Even if you implement just one of these suggestions you will be well on your way to writing more songs and generally being more creative with your life.

Here they are in no particular order of importance:

1. Always keep a journal
I cannot stress enough the importance of documenting what happens in your life and how you think and feel about it. This always creates the foundations of some great songs.

2. Always make time for you
If I ask a songwriter why they haven’t written as much as they would like, the reason of not having enough time almost always comes up.

True, to get a song down from mind to paper requires a certain amount of “free” time however, if you make that time every day to write something or play something you are going to feel much better about yourself.

3. Use all of your senses in your song lyrics
We have five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell) which we use to experience anything that happens in our lives. Why don’t we use them in our writing as well.

Pay close attention to your senses, be mindful of them in your writing.

4. Become perpetually curious with the world
I have a theory that songwriting is life. Songwriting is our way of making sense of the world around us. If we become perpetually curious with the world around us we will have more to write about. Some ways in which you can do this:

  • Always ask ‘why’ either out loud or in your own mind
  • Go out of your way to experience life to the fullest
  • Take some risks
  • Do something different every day
  • Become open to learn new things

Life is about experiences, so go and find new ones and write them down in song.

5. Tame your inner voice
Most of the time your inner voice attempts to prevent you from doing what you know you should do as a songwriter. This is your ego talking and even though it has good intentions (to ‘protect’ you) what it says to you does not further your cause.

Next time you hear your inner voice mumbling inside your head as your about to do something, try to ignore it and do it anyway.

6. Don’t be afraid of your own writing
Remember, it’s okay to write a ‘bad’ song (whatever that means) and the more ‘bad’ songs you write the closer you are to writing a ‘good’ song. Don’t be afraid of the outcome, just immerse yourself into the songwriting process and marvel at whatever come from it.

7. Listen to lots of music/read lots of books
This is another exercise in making time for yourself. Listening to music attunes your mind to different musical structures and melody combinations and reading books exposes your mind to different word phrases and lyrical snippets that you can use in your own songs.

8. Learn other peoples songs
I am not asking you to become a cover musician however if you learn songs that you have a real affinity with you will begin to really understand why you love that song so much and with that knowledge you can then apply that to your own writing.

If you don’t play an instrument at least know the lyrics and melody of your favourite songs.

9. Find and know thyself
Commit to the concept of finding out who you really are. When you know this you’ll be able to write a love song for instance, and not have it sound like one big cliche because the lyrics will come from you and not an interpretation of what every other songwriter has said.

10. Don’t throw anything away… EVER!
Whether it be on paper or on your computer, don’t throw anything away, don’t delete anything from your hard-drive that pertains to your songwriting process. What you may think is rubbish now could be treasure later on. Our moods change day by day and so does our outlook on what we write.

11. Join a songwriting organisation (or two)
The best way to learn more and to gain confidence in a skill is to experience the input of others. At the very least you will not feel so alone in your songwriting endeavours. Seek out and join one (or more).

12. Find a songwriting collaborator
Two heads are better than one at times. A good collaborator makes you write better, will inspire you to come up with more ideas, will allow you to ask questions, bounce ideas and share ideas much more freely.

Every songwriter should have at least one collaborator in their contacts list.

Phew! There you go. If you have any experiences after applying any of these suggestions (positive or negative) let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Creating Lyric Ideas By Journaling

It’s a known fact that winning the conversations that you have with your inner voice on a daily basis is one of the main keys to getting the most out of your songwriting process.

For me, writing down my thoughts by keeping a journal is one of the best strategies I’ve found to keep my inner voice in check.

I’ve also found that there needs to be some conditions attached to this exercise to enable it to work effectively and those conditions are:

1. A journal entry has to be done every day – Believe me, the appointment you make with yourself to write in your journal will be the most important one in your day.

2. Set a minimum word (or page) target – My minimum personal writing target is one A4 page and with practise, I achieve this goal easily. What’s one A4 page? You’ll be able to do that too.

3. Grab a coffee and start writing anything that comes to mind – Allow your writing to be good, bad or indifferent. Let go of any need for the writing to be perfect.

4. Pay attention to what your inner voice is saying to you as you write – I try to incorporate my inner voice in my journal entry which then enables me to look forward to these daily arguments with myself.

5. When you have reached your word (or page) target, STOP – You’ve achieved your goal… Well done.

6. Go onto something else – Get on with the rest of your day knowing that the most important thing you’ll do for the day is done.

You’ll find that as you start writing your inner voice will begin to chatter away in its attempt to distract you from the task at hand.

It’s amazing what it will say to stop you from being creative however, instead of succumbing to the temptation to stop what you’re doing, just keep going and plough through the noise.

Believe me, it will be very difficult at first but you will eventually free yourself of self doubt and in its place will become a flow of ideas, confidence and inspiration.

I should know because I’ve been doing this myself.

I have been journaling and now, blogging for years but it wasn’t until I started reading “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron (a must for any songwriter) that I realised the power of writing down my thoughts on a daily basis.

In the book the first thing she talks about is a concept called The Morning Pages.

The Morning Pages are three A4 pages of automatic writing that you do (preferably) first thing in the morning and boy, what a powerful tool it is for collecting lyrical ideas.

It is important to note that, to also gain the most benefit from this exercise, it must be done every day.

Writing songs is a craft, a discipline that require the songwriter to let go of any outcomes and become at one with the words that they write.

“So whats next?” I hear you ask.

Well, let’s start a little experiment shall we? My suggestion is to start writing down your thoughts today and keep writing them for a period of seven days. It can be on paper or on your computer, it doesn’t matter.

If you like, you can treat yourself by buying a really nice notebook for this experiment. You deserve it.

After a week of putting down your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations and inner conversations, have a look at what you have written.

Chances are you’ll see a lot of crap but I guarantee you, hidden away in all of that crap will be some amazing lyrical ideas that will jump out at you and demand your attention.

Sometimes you have have to dig through the dirt to find the diamonds in your own backyard. Let’s see how you go with the experiment.

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

How To Maintain The Flow Of Songwriting Ideas

Your goal as a songwriter is to keep your songwriting ideas alive at all times and at the same time, developing ways to capture those ideas at any given opportunity.

With that being said, my advice to you is to never trust your memory. If you do, you’ll lose more ideas than you gain and at the end of the day, your songwriting process is all about maintaining the flow of ideas.

Our brains are amazing things. They can soak up information and store things away however, as we get older, we start to forget. Our internal filing system starts to break down and it seems that we need to let some of the old stuff go so we can let the new stuff in.

Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way calls this concept the filling of the well.

I liken this concept to the syphoning of liquid. Once you get the initial flow established it then becomes constant. By emptying your mind onto paper or playing your ideas onto tape you’re making space for other ideas to come into being. It’s like you’re creating a vacuum for the new ideas to appear out of the ether.

Your ability to create a constant flow is determined by how much you’re able to accept any songwriting idea that appears before you.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said once that he was merely the channel for a song to come into existence.

It’s was like he was the transmitter and through him, the song was able to be received by the listener.

Remember, if at anytime you think of something that could even be minutely used in a song, write it down, record it onto tape or even ring your home phone number and leave the idea on your answering machine (I’ve done that a few times to great effect).

Do anything to keep your songwriting ideas alive. Your future songs depend on it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Always Be Prepared To Capture Songwriting Ideas

Sometimes songs come from the most amazing places.

I was once asked to facilitate a songwriting workshop with the topic being how to capture songwriting ideas, and in my research for the workshop, one of the questions I asked myself was “where have my songs come from?”

It was one of the first times I really looked at my song archive and traced the origins of my songs in this way and I realised that some of my songs had come from the most unlikely places.

This was most interesting to me.

Doing this research reinforced in me the notion that, as songwriters we have to be prepared to note down everything that is of interest to us because songwriting ideas can come from anywhere.

My research had shown me that I have written songs while sitting in cafes, waiting for and on public transport, having a shower, going for a walk, drinking at the pub and waiting at traffic lights.

I try as much as possible to have my smartphone at hand so I can capture these flashes of inspiration at anytime.

Get into the habit of seeing and experiencing the world as if it’s an infinite songwriting ideas machine.

As a songwriter all you have to do is find your own way to reach out and tap into this amazing resource. Of course doing this takes practice and a willingness to become much more observant and mindful of what’s going on around you.

On a personal note, since making an effort to be more observant and mindful of what happens in my life, I have managed to get more things done and my songwriting output has increased.

Don’t be afraid of what you see and what you feel. Write down your emotions and what your senses are telling you.

Emotions demonstrate to us all what it’s like to be human and embracing what you see, hear and feel on paper will go a long way in developing your own style as a songwriter.

Be brave in the face of the unknown and always be prepared.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Inspire Your Songwriting Process With Quotations

Quotations are those little gems of wisdom that people come up with regarding any topic that you can think of.

I love them.

I’ve always thought of quotations as condensed forms of insight that songs could be created from. I’m sure there have been many songs that were inspired by a choice quote or phrase.

As songwriters, our craft is in the dealing of both words and music so therefore it makes perfect sense to immerse ourselves in these things. Reading a book of quotes is a great way to get a songwriting idea.

Instead of condensing information from a story into a song (something big into something smaller) you’re taking something very condensed and creating a story which then becomes the song.

Heres how I would do it:

1. Find a quote that catches your eye.
There will be a lot of quotes that you will just gloss over but every now and then you will read something that will make you sit up and take notice.

For some reason it has struck a chord in you.

When this happens write the quote down.

2. Start analysing the quote.
Ask yourself these questions and write down the answers. Why did the quote stop you in your tracks?

What images flashed through your mind when you read that quote? Is there a story or event that comes to mind from reading the quote?

Start brainstorming some ideas. Perhaps use a mind map.

3. Start putting all of the pieces together.
By now you will have a longhand version of you thoughts, feelings and memories inspired by this quote.

Look at what you’ve written as a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together. If you find that there are missing pieces then make it up.

You’re a songwriter, use your imagination.

My favourite place to be inspired is MusicThoughts, a website created by CD Baby founder Derek Sivers as a place where quotes regarding music, songwriting and the creative process can live and be discovered by all who seek to be inspired

However, there are some other great quotation directories on the web which I turn to from time to time just to see if I can be inspired by someone else’s pearls of wisdom. Sites such as…

With a little bit of web research under your belt you’ll find that most of the sites you come across will allow you to search quotes via keyword, such as songwriting or music so have a look and see what you can come up with. I wonder how many songs can be created.

I’m giving this songwriting technique a shot and I’ll let you know how I go and if you decide to give this a try yourself, then let me know how you go too.

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Is Music Theory Necessary For Writing Songs?

I hear from a lot of beginner songwriters bemoaning the fact that they have little or no musical theory knowledge and therefore will not be able to write ‘good’ songs.

For me, songs come from the heart and mind not from some mathematical formula.

However, if you want to learn music theory, do it because you want to, not because you feel that you have to learn it.

Some songwriters get really worked up over their musical theory while others write songs purely by feel. The funny thing is, the songs that come out at the end of the day all just as good as each other.

Let me tell you a little story.

From between the ages of 11 through to 16, I studied music through high school and learnt to play the clarinet in the process. It gave me a great opportunity to immerse myself in the complexities of musical theory.

I found the theoretical side of writing music fascinating although, I was probably the only person in my class that felt that way.

In that time I had dreams of being a composer and going to university to expand on my musical knowledge.

Thankfully I discovered the guitar!

When, at the age of 15, I decided to change my musical direction and get into playing in bands and writing songs I had an interesting dilemma. I had to unlearn my knowledge so I could play with ‘feel’.

That was an interesting thing to do.

It was in that unlearning process that I discovered that knowing music theory is not necessary in order to write a song. You see, a song is made up of two parts. The first part is the song lyrics and the second part is the melody.

Musical theory generally deals with the arrangement of the song (the chords, harmony, dynamics etc) which is determined by the melody and the rhythm of the lyrics anyway.

Even though I believe that music theory in songwriting is not really necessary I have found my own knowledge useful for the following reasons:

  • I use it for the purpose of ‘musical detective work’.
  • I call on my knowledge to lead me in directions I would never have thought of.
  • I can communicate my song ideas to other musicians more effectively.
  • I have a more intimate knowledge as to the “why” things work with each other.

I believe that it’s not the musical theory knowledge that’s important but the attitude that you have towards it. To someone that doesn’t feel this way having the theoretical knowledge can be a real hindrance.

This would be because:

  • You might feel that you are better than someone who don’t have the same knowledge (elitism)
  • You look at your songwriting through a finite and restrictive set of ‘rules’
  • You might try to show off your knowledge by overcomplicating your songs.
  • You forget that simplicity is often the best course of action.

To me, songwriting is about learning, un-learning, constructing, de-constructing and doing whatever you can to turn your songwriting ideas into a reality.

Having the theoretical knowledge of music is a bonus but not an essential skill in writing a good song because as far as I’m concerned, to be a good songwriter you must have the desire to be one. That’s it!

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Write Your Songs With The Listener In Mind

Why are some songs embraced by the general public and some are not?

Does it have anything to do with talent? Or how much money is thrown at it? Or its production values?


However, I think the main reason that a song is embraced by the general public is that the general public “gets” the song. It’s like the songwriter wrote the song with the listener in mind.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of judging song competitions and mentoring a lot of up-and-coming songwriters and one of the major songwriting mistakes that I’ve come across is that the songwriter has not included me (the listener) in their song.

They have not acknowledged the fact that there’s another person listening to their song by not including me in their musical story or conversation.

When this happens I’m always left with a slightly cold feeling in my heart and I’m left asking the question “well, what was all that about?”

Let me tell you, if a seasoned songwriter like myself can be left out in the cold in this way, imagine how your potential audience would feel if the same thing happened to them?

I’ve heard songwriters from time to time say things to me like…

  • “I only write songs for myself and no-one else”
  • “If other people like my songs then it’s a bonus”
  • “I don’t care what other people think. I write for me”

Now, statements like this are fine if you’re a songwriter who write songs only for yourself and no-one else (if that’s the case then great) however, I know that there are many others out there who don’t fit into that category.

I mean, Lets face it… We, as songwriters generally want as many people as possible to hear our songs. Am I right?

Of course I am.

Therefore, it would make sense that if you write your songs with the listener in mind then your chances of a greater number of people hearing your songs would dramatically increase. Does this make sense to you?

Of course it does.

“So, how do we do this?” I hear you ask. Well, my answer would be this…

“Respect the listener and write your songs for them and not for yourself.”

It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to master. That’s why songwriting is called a craft.

Writing a song that touches, moves and inspires people to listen to it lies squarely in the ability of the songwriter to involve the listener in the song.

A well written song takes the listener by the hand and walks beside them on whatever journey it takes them. As a songwriter you want the listener to know what your song is about after all, if a listener “gets” your song they also “get” you as well.

There’s a quote that’s normally associated with sales training that sums up beautifully what I am trying to say here. It goes a bit like this…

“In order to be understood first you must seek to understand”

You need to write your song with the listener in mind, you need to realise that the average listener wants to embrace your song without jumping through too many musical hoops and in the shortest amount of time.

Is writing songs for your listener as well as yourself “selling out?” No, I don’t think so.

What you are really doing by including the listener into your songwriting process is creating a gift for the listener and through the act of creating, you are also giving a gift to yourself.

Remember, seek to understand your listener through your songwriting and they will understand you through your songs. THAT is the craft of songwriting.

What do you think? Is writing songs with the listen in mind a great way to extend the conversation and relationship between you, the songwriter and your audience? Or, is it selling out? Let me know what you think.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

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