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November, 2014

Songwriting Tips

by Webmaster

I've been working through boxes of documents, letters, and photosgraphs that I brought home after I cleaned out my mother's house. I started with about 18 boxes, and have one left. I have the "heading to the barn" syndrome: I want to push to finish the job I started 4 1/2 years ago, to the exclusion of all else. Occupational OCD.

I force myself to do other things (practice for some upcoming shows, web work), need to do other things (cook, feed the dogs, go to physical therapy), and even get inspired to do other things (have a new song and poem in the works).

But, other things get ignored. There's no deadline. Why do them now?

A lot of email falls into that category. I get music, performing and songwriting ideas in emails from DiscMakers, CD Baby, and BMI. When I run out of ideas for columns, I mine those emails. And when I've used them, I get to delete them and clean out my email.

Tonight, I'm mining them for songwriting tips. I apologize for the lack of organization. I'm just going to make a list.

  • Cut your intro in half. — Cliff Goldmacher
  • Use a musical hook in your intro. — Cliff Goldmacher
  • Make your music dynamic: use changes. — Cliff Goldmacher
  • Try to get to the heart of a song that will touch as many people as possible. — Kent Blazy
  • Work really fast and don’t look back. — Kent Blazy
  • Look for an idea or a melody that’s a little different. — Kent Blazy
  • Study... the music or the lyrics and people like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, and anyone you can think of. — Kent Blazy
  • Go with what your heart’s telling you. — Kent Blazy
  • Find an interesting title (hook). — Michael Gallant
  • Look and listen everywhere. — Michael Gallant
  • Carry a notebook, recorder or both. — Michael Gallant
  • Keep unfinished ideas. — Michael Gallant
  • Identify your own cliches and stop using them. — Michael Gallant
  • Keep your inner critic at bay. — Michael Gallant
  • Ask for help. — Michael Gallant
  • Write on a different instrument. — Michael Gallant
  • Take a break. — Michael Gallant
  • Use your favorite artists for inspiration. — Michael Gallant
  • Experiment with different time signatures. — Michael Gallant
  • "In pop, urban, hip-hop, and dance music, a musical backing track is typically created first. This track (sometimes called the musical bed) consists of the accompaniment—the chord progressions and all instrumentation, such as the keyboard, bass, guitar, and percussion parts—but it does not include a melody or lyric for the vocalist to sing. To write in another genre, study the backing tracks of the masters of that genre." — Jason Blume
  • Songs that do not sound consistent with the hits on the radio at the time, could be appropriate for other music markets. There is no specific style or genre that represents “international” music. — Jason Blume
  • When writing songs intended for artists outside the U.S., and when pitching existing catalog songs, it’s important to avoid lyrics that are applicable only to America. — Jason Blume
  • Include unique melodic elements and unexpected melodic intervals. — Jason Blume
  • Add instrumental hooks. — Jason Blume
  • Incorporate fresh rhythms. — Jason Blume
  • Use a fresh lyric concept and title. — Jason Blume
  • Incorporate nonsense syllables/non-lyric vocal hooks. — Jason Blume
  • "I think that doubt is part of the creative process. Even people who are at the top of the songwriting game today struggle with the process. Max Martin has said that he’ll come up with 100 different melodies to find the one that sticks. So it’s essential to not be afraid to throw out those hundred until you hit on one that lights you up on the inside and you know, 'Wow, that’s it!'" — Keith Hatschek
  • Use a melody to affect the listener’s emotions, instead of relying solely on the strength of your voice to influence the listener. — Ben Camp
  • Repetition and variation are the keys to songwriting success. Repeat things enough to give the listener something to hang on to, but vary things enough to make it exciting and fresh. This applies to rhyme scheme, melody and line length. — Ben Camp
  • Don't say "no" when co-writing. Try to find something positive about the idea. — Ben Camp
  • Don't make the song too difficult to perform. — Chris Robley
  • "The pleasure in most music is about tension and release. In order to have a sense of surprise, you need to establish familiarity. If your song defies traditional song structures, or keeps switching instrumentation every 30 seconds, or never repeats any lyrics, you’re probably gonna confuse a lot of people, and not in a good way." — Chris Robley
  • Don't follow trends too closely. Don't copy what's popular right now. Don't copy yourself: don't write the same song over and over. — Chris Robley
  • Edit long songs. You're not writing anything as good a “Bohemian Rhapsody.” — Chris Robley
  • Try to write good lyrics. Don't use the first things that pop into your mind. Write a lot then keep the strongest lines for the final version. — Chris Robley
  • Follow the rules or break them. Do what's right for the song. — Chris Robley

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We played there and rocked! We were great! Not as great as we would have been if we'd had our regular drummer. And bass player. But we still rocked!

And they didn't call us back for another gig. Why?

I guess I forgot to get them the promo material and info they wanted ahead of time. Hey, I was busy working and rehearsing and playing other gigs.

Well, yeah, not too many of our fans were there, but it was a long way for our fans to go. The club is supposed to have their regulars there. They'll become our fans.

OK. So the folks who were there didn't get into our music. They just haven't come on board yet. They will, if we play there enough.

Alright. They told us to turn down the volume. Three times. But that's the way we play. The management is just a bunch of old fogeys who don't like music.

Oh, right. There was a lot of hassle with the date. We had it booked then had to change it because we got a better gig. But it only happened twice.

So we were late. It was no big deal. We have day jobs and had to load up and race down there and traffic was really bad and we got lost once. You see, it really wasn't our fault we were late.

Do you believe they wouldn't feed us? Or give us more than 1 drink per set? Do they think we can live on air? It takes energy to perform like we do. And we came there straight from work, so how do they expect us to play on an empty stomach. It wouldn't have cost them anything to feed us.

And they expected us to keep our breaks to 15 minutes. How can we go out and buy food and eat it in only 15 minutes?

And back to the regulars. They expected us to take requests. We don't do requests. We have set lists. We like to do our originals, not those old songs that everyone's heard forever.

So we spent our breaks in the green room. No point in going out and talking to those losers. Plus we had to teach the bass player the chords for some of our songs.

We set out a tip jar and mentioned it between every song, but we didn't get tips. So we told the manager that we needed to get more money than we agreed to because there were no tips. And, I wasn't yelling. I just project my voice really well.

We kinda left a mess on the stage and in the green room when they wouldn't cough up more money. We're not going to play for peanuts then clean the place for them. It's okay. They've got people there who get paid to clean up.

I just don't understand why they didn't call us back for another gig. We rocked!

Any questions?

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