I was flipping through my most recent copy of SOCAN’s Words and Music and found some interesting songwriting tips from Matt Mays, a Canadian songwriter who finds himself on the road quite a bit. Check out his website.
Here is his list of tips:
1. “One thing that has really helped me is to be moving – whether it’s on a train, boat, or car, or even walking around my apartment while I’m writing, instead of sitting in one spot.”
2. “Try writing lyrics on newspaper. It rather distracts you because there are other words underneath. That means yours don’t seem so final. The words underneath may spark something else too.”
3. “Always change the key up. Learn the song in other keys, and that helps keep you from getting bored.”
4. “Change instruments. I’ll go to a ukulele, or piano, or try open tuning.”
5. “There is one tip from John Lennon: never leave a song until it’s done. You may never get that spark, that excitement, back. If you get an idea, finish the song, even if you have to miss your best friend’s funeral. Finishing that song is more important than anything else.”
Some excellent tips here…some of which I’ve encouraged myself, but some new ideas too. The newspaper idea is a good one, I’ll have to try that some day!
On a more personal note, I have come back to my old way of writing; on paper and without any technology (i.e. a computer) around. This was my “old” way of writing and it seems to be working again. Also, I’ve moved around the house to write in different places; not quite the idea of being on a moving train or boat as Matt suggests above. But changes places seems to have helped me too!
Best wishes to all of my blog followers for the New Year!
No matter how many times the same points are brought up when it comes to common problems that arise for newer songwriters, they bear repeating as a kind of checklist to go through once you feel you’ve finished a song and you want to send it out there. Of course, a song can never really feel “finished” if you’re the type who likes to tweak a lot, but what I’m going to list here are more obvious problems that come up again and again when I’m listening to newer songwriters.
1. INTRO TOO LONG – I’ve seen this brought up by many songwriting instructors or critiques again and again, but somehow it doesn’t seem to sink in for many writers. If you are pitching your songs to publishers or artists, you are going to lose them so quickly if your intro is long and self-indulgent. They want to get to the meat of it, so don’t serve so much salad! Keep your intro as short as you can, and you can even try no intro at all! Now of course, you’re going to find lots of examples of pro recordings out there with long intros, but these are often by artists or bands who have long since established some kind of following and they can get away with it. You can’t.
2. FILLER LYRICS – Even if you have one really good hook in your song, don’t ignore the rest of it! The sound of boring old phrases will put even the most enthusiastic of your listeners right to sleep. Your job is to take every one of those old, boring lines and make them remarkable. There is not one syllable’s worth of room for boring! Don’t get lazy or impatient, keep going over every line and make it better.
3. UNREMARKABLE MELODIES – in some cases the problem can be one of two things: either the melody is too repetitive, or it’s not repetitive enough! Work on your melodic phrasing, listen to popular songs or songs you like and notice how often the same melody is repeated within a verse and then within a chorus. The human brain can remember a sequence of up to 7 digits easily, then it starts to lose track. This is not to say you should only put 7 notes in your melodic phrasing, but just keep in mind that people who are listening to your songs fresh can only remember and retain so much. On the flip side if you keep throwing the same melody at them over and over, they’ll drift off to sleep. Too much or lack of repetition is probably the most common problem I hear in songwriter’s melodies.
4. POOR PERFORMANCE – if you’re not a singer, don’t sing on your own demos. For the purpose of getting a demo made, of course you’ll probably need to give them a rough version of the melody. The same goes for your accompaniment. If you can’t play very well, get somebody else to do it. A poor performance of even a great song will often be a distraction for those who are listening with a critical ear. Your mom will love it, your publisher won’t :-).
5. LACK OF A THEME AND CONTINUITY – what is your song about? If you can’t tell me in one phrase, then you haven’t got the chorus down yet. And don’t tell me it’s a love song, that’s going to lose me too! There are a gazillion love songs out there, what makes yours different? Then look at the continuity of your lyrics, is the first verse tied to the next one? Can you describe the “story” as it unfolds in each verse and does it make sense as a whole? A common problem is disjointed lyrics where one part of a song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the next part and it’s difficult to really know what the song is about. It’s like walking into an extremely cluttered living room, where your eyes don’t know what to look at first. In a song with no continuity, your ears can’t figure out what to listen to either. Get rid of all the furniture and pictures, pare it down and start again!
The above problems are not insurmountable, and yet they will stand out immediately to someone who is used to listening to a lot of songs, like a publisher. You don’t want to give anyone the excuse to hit stop too soon! Take your time to fix them and it will pay off, I promise :-).
I will be posting my monthly article regularly from the Muse’s Muse here after its publication in the newsletter. The Muse’s Muse is a huge songwriting community created by Jodi Krangle, and I have written for the newsletter since the early days. If you’ve never visited Jodi’s site, you’ve been missing out!
The article is meant to point out websites that might inspire you as a songwriter, whether from a creative or technical standpoint, or just to give you an idea of who else is out there.
Here is the article from the Feb.09 issue:
M u s e ‘ s C l u e s : by Irene Jackson
This past Christmas season, my husband and I attended an event
which has become an annual tradition for many Canadians. Stuart
McLean is a broadcaster with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation) and every Sunday we tune into his “Vinyl Café” on
CBC Radio. He often tours the country with the show, and during
the month of December he has a live Christmas show that he brings
to many cities across the country. His show is also broadcast on
NPR in the US and can be heard online through a podcast:
The Vinyl Café is a collection of “stories, essays and music
(both live and recorded)” and Stuart McLean is a wonderful
storyteller. Not only does he read his own writings on air, but
he encourages listeners to submit their own stories and he will
usually read one or two of them each week as part of the show. A
song usually follows the story, and often the song relates to the
story topic. The show is folksy in nature and always fun to
listen to and Stuart McLean is a distinctive voice who never
fails to entertain.
Whatever style you write in, however you think of your
songwriting, you are always telling a story. The story might
only be about a moment in time or painting an emotional
landscape, but the best songs have a great beginning, middle and
end, just like a great story. Storytelling itself has become
almost a lost art in our technically-obsessed world, but it is
something every songwriter should think about when penning
lyrics, and the Vinyl Café is a great re-introduction to the
world of telling stories.
You can get the latest podcast from the website by either
subscribing or downloading straight on to your computer. Listen
to just one of these shows and I guarantee you’ll be inspired!
For years you have perused my many articles and tips on the art and craft of songwriting. Now I’m taking it one step further!
The articles will remain archived and you can access them as you always have on the main tips page. But all future articles and tips and comments will be posted here on the blog, so be sure to subscribe to the feed! You might also like to explore my I Like Songs blog where I post some of my favourite songs, past and present
With the new blog, you can, of course, leave your own comments or ideas or tips, which makes this a much more interactive community. In the future I’ll be creating a new messageboard so that you can upload your music and lyrics and do some critiquing if you feel so inspired!
So stay tuned for some new articles and bits and pieces in the following weeks and months. And thanks for checking out the songwriting tips website!