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August, 2005


by Webmaster

I suddenly got on a songwriting kick again.

I've been telling myself that it's time I work on my own songs for a change, but haven't actually gotten a round tuit. I guess I'm going to need one of those to write my own songs.

But then, fate intervened. Something made me remember a song I wrote 8 years ago and I sang it for someone who said it was a great song and had commercial potential. She's a singer-songwriter, and together we reworked one verse and I started to perform it. And, folks like it! Wow.

It was panned at a songwriting workshop several years ago by a nationally acclaimed singer-songwriter (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty). He said the bridge didn't work and the whole song was angry and no one wanted to be nagged at in a song. He told me to rewrite the entire song with a sense of humor.

I thought about his criticism and decided that the song said exactly what I wanted to say. But, he had a point: the bridge didn't work. So, I changed the second line in the bridge and put the song away.

Now I'm singing the song in a lower key and I'm nowhere as angry as I was when I wrote it. Folks tell me they get the humor in the song. I get a lot of complements on the song and requests to perform the song.

It was just the kick start I needed to work on my songs again. I'm not writing new ones, but I am working on old ones that are coming back to me or still hanging around in my head. They have staying power. I'm making minor changes, tweaking the words or structure or tune or all of the above. A couple of songs have gone from the B+ list to the A list with some simple changes. Here's what works for me:

    1. Make the song go somewhere. It might travel through time. Instead of writing 3 verses that are all in the now, make the first be "yesterday", the second "this morning" and the third "now". Or, it might change: learn something, change behavior, tell a story.
    2. Make the song be as specific as possible. Don't tell about something: show it. Think of a picture or video that shows what you want to say. "She got angry" can become "She threw a cup at his head". Write to appeal to the senses: sounds, textures, odors, colors, heat and cold and specific examples of these things. "It was hot" can become "He burned his bare feet on the tile floor."
    3. Think of varying the structure of the song. If it's all verses, change a verse to a chorus. If the verse and chorus have the same melody, add a bridge that has a different melody.
    4. If the song isn't working, try changing the tempo or the rhythm. If its a slow ballad, try making it Reggae or bluegrass or rock'n'roll. "Born to Be Wild" was written as a slow ballad, I'm told.

Good luck with your songwriting. Let me know if any of these suggestions help.

"...songs are not about 'I feel sad.' They're about, 'Let me tell you the things that are on the walls and in the room I'm sitting in,' and between the lines of that is the fact that I'm sad. You know what I mean? It's the real locations, the real names. Even when you don't know the people, it's the names that give you a sense of place. That's what makes poetry or songwriting better than just talking. If a song describes something small you do for someone you love, that description says 'I love you' better than the actual words 'I love you.' — Adam Duritz, "The Summer Sounds of Counting Crows' Adam Duritz" by Richard Challen, Performing Songwriter, July/August 2002

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