Songwriting Tips part 2

Some more song writing thoughts for you…

Communicate

Songwriters use music and lyrics to communicate with their audience.

Imagine that you’re speaking at a rally (protest, political whatever).

Do you use big words? Take ages to get the point? Use long complicated sentences?

Probably not… unless for some reason you want the crowd to be confused and bored?

Song writing is similar. You need to revise how successfully your songs communicate. Record them and listen back to them…

Do you need the long instrumental section with the weird time signature? Does it help communicate you’re in love/angry/whatever? If you lose it, who cares? Even if you like it – if it’s not needed, lose it. If you like it that much, keep it for another song.

Is it confusing if your album/set list has a pop song followed by a reggae song, then punk then pop again?
Probably. Don’t stop yourself writing songs outside of the genres you work in, but you can’t be elusive if you want to communicate.

There are famous artists (eg The Beatles) whose music covers a lot of genres. But their careers nearly always began with one genre, which established an audience, then grew from there.

Don’t let your songs be too similar though – you’ll sound boring and then you’re still not communicating…

Write Within Your Means

The Ramones were never going to write Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien. They probably didn’t want to and they probably couldn’t play it even if they did want to… which they didn’t.

The Ramones wrote what they could play and they were fantastic at it.

Practise hard to improve your playing/singing. You may also aspire to playing more challenging music – but don’t write songs that you can’t play or sing.
They’ll just sound like crap and you won’t communicate anything.

Don’t write songs that you think will sound great with an orchestra or with three guitarists. You don’t have an orchestra or probably even three guitarists and those songs will never sound any good when you play minus the orchestra. Write for what you have.

Write within your means.

Ruthless Refinement.

Once your songs are written you have to be really harsh about how good they are. (This is what you pay Producers for).

Is that verse too long? Is that keyboard part too busy? Could that lyric be better? Maybe the song has a slap bass part that just sounds messy and confusing. Could you simplify that instrumental section so it has more impact? Why is there no chorus for the first 5 minutes? Why is it longer than 5 minutes?

At every stage of writing/recording/performing you have to be cruel and ruthless and uncompromising. If it doesn’t work, throw it out or fix it. If it could be better, make it better.

Refine, refine, refine.

These rules don’t exclude artists who write weird songs for years before they get any success. That struggling artist might be you, but you still must refine what you write until it’s so perfect that people can’t deny what an
extraordinary thing it is you’ve written.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

Songwriting Tips Part 1

Your ability to write a song, a memorable melody or beat, can make or break your career. There are lots of jobs for people who can’t write; session player, engineer, roadie, boy band member etc, but if you want to be on stage in front of adoring thousands and communicating through your music, song writing is where you need to shine.

If you write a good song, it doesn’t matter if you can’t play (Ramones), record your first album on a walkman at a camp fire (Michelle Shocked), can’t sing (Bob Dylan), sing funny (Tom Waits, Björk), rarely sing (Joe Satriani) or don’t sing at all (Moby).

(Read on Dylan, Ramones, Björk and Waits fans before you get too stroppy…)

This article won’t cover the technical aspects of song writing (lyric and chord theory etc) but instead will cover the common “process” mistakes that I see my Clients make. I’m personally familiar with these mistakes because I made all of them, which is why I’m writing in this blog now instead of
being interviewed for one…

BTW – an excellent book on the technical aspects of song writing is Jimmy Webb – Tunesmith. Every book on technical song writing I have ever read was rubbish… except it.

Why your songs suck.

If your songs are communicating to your audience they will return to your gigs again and again, growing in numbers and hysteria each time, shouting song requests by name and dragging along their record industry friends. If not, it’s because your songs aren’t good enough.

Yes the front of house sound was bad, maybe the drummer kept dropping beats and probably your guitar would sound better with new strings, but it’s amazing how a great song cuts through all that crap.

You have to own up that your songs should be better. All of them.

If you are playing a style of music that is outside mainstream and industry tastes, you need to make your songs so good they can’t be ignored, just like Tom Waits or Joe Satriani.

Your songs suck. Make them amazing so they cannot be ignored.

Respect the journey.

Don’t try to write the greatest album ever right now. You’ll just get frustrated.

Ask every Dark Side Of The Moon owner to name at least 5 earlier Pink Floyd albums – I would be surprised if the majority can. I have read that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote 900ish songs together before the first Beatles album was recorded (which was half covers anyway). Judging by One After 909, a song from that period resurrected for the Let It Be album, pretty
much all those 900 songs sucked.

You have to respect the journey. You can’t write twelve songs, whack them on an album and expect anyone to care. If you were to write 100 songs, or more realistically, 300 songs, tour them relentlessly and choose twelve out of those that audiences consistently adored, then maybe you could complain if no one cared.

Respect the journey. Write a lot of songs. Finish them, record them (in an affordable way, like with Pro-Tools or even a 4-track) and throw them away. Write some more.
Don’t worry if they suck. Finish them, record them and throw them away. Write some more.

Next month we’ll talk about communication, writing within your means and ruthless refinement.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.