Archive for the ‘songwriting’ Category

start where you are

December 2, 2015

Where are you right now? I mean both literally and emotionally. Stop and notice what is on your mind right now. You can take your frame of mind at this moment and put it into a song.

How are you feeling? Are you bored, tired, frustrated, content, distracted, ecstatic, lonely, excited, surprised? Whatever you’re currently feeling or thinking about (bills, co-workers, love life, aches and pains, zits) is enough to begin writing a song about.

You know the expression ‘write what you know’? Well no one knows your feelings better than you. And I bet some of your thoughts and feelings can be turned into a song that will be relatable by others who share some of those same feelings.

Next time you’re stuck for a song topic, start where you are.

Lake Street Dive: Songwriting Masterclass at NEC

November 4, 2015

I had to share this video that combines songwriting and Lake Street Dive. If you haven’t heard LSD, check their many many live videos on YouTube.

Songs performed and discussed:
“You Go Down Smooth” (Olson) begins at 5:20
“Look What a Mistake” (Price) begins at 20:30
“Seventeen” (Kearney) begins at 46:20
“I Don’t Care About You” (Calabrese) begins at 1:06:05
“Let Me Roll It” (McCartney) begins at 1:51:35

After meeting while students at NEC in the early 2000s, Lake Street Dive has catapulted to stardom. NPR notes that they blend “jazz, folk, and pop in dangerously charming fashion.” In this workshop, the band—vocalist Rachael Price ’07, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson ’05, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney ’08 Tufts/NEC, and drummer Mike Calabrese ’07—returned to NEC to share its wit and songwriting expertise with students.

your theme song

October 7, 2014

Last week I happened on to an interesting niche of songwriting. I saw a fb post wherein a casual friend mentioned she needs a theme song for her life. This was part of a longer post, but something in me clicked when I read the bit about a theme song.

I immediately offered to write her theme song, if she was serious. I know her well enough to guess what she was after: something uplifting, empowering, maybe like a rock anthem or a mantra set to music (a chant?), but with a good beat that makes you want to move. It turns out I was pretty close. She was into it. I didn’t charge anything, I just wanted to see if I could do it.

Somehow it all just flowed easily and a week later I had a complete song, based on my knowledge of my friend, my intuition and some ideas she gave me.

I was surprised how fast it came together and was very happy with it musically and lyrically. And, fortunately, my friend loves it! That’s a win/win. Because I don’t refer to her by name in the song, I have been able to use it, singing it a live shows and it’s going over well. I always tell the story, giving her credit for the idea and for providing me with some pithy lyrics (which became the heart of the chorus).

The last time I sang it, someone came up afterward and asked if I would write her theme song. She said I should market this and she called it branding.

Have you ever heard of anyone doing this? Let me know if you’ve done it or know someone who does.

The only similar thing I’ve ever done is a song I co-wrote one time, years ago. A reader of this blog contacted me. He had written a poem for his fiance that he read during their wedding ceremony and he hired me to put it to music for their 10th anniversary. That long distance collaboration worked out well, too.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress and after I get permission, I’ll post some of the music.

in praise of silly

April 24, 2014

Wiggles

It’s all well and good to write a serious introspective song that moves people at a soul level. It’s also commendable to write a righteous protest song that people can rally around. But what about a silly, even meaningless song? Can you release the ‘serious songwriter’ burden once in a while and write a funny song? Call it a kids song (for kids of all ages). Whatever you call it, if you make people laugh, that’s another way to reach them with your music.

So take a break from the deep thoughts and let a silly song spill out. Songwriter is supposed to be fun. If nothing else, it’s a palate cleanser, clearing your mind for your next serious song.

don’t fall in love with your songs too soon

March 7, 2014

pedestal with heart

A great songwriting teacher once said ‘don’t fall in love with your songs too soon.’ In the early stages of writing a song, stay open – open to fixing a line, improving a melody or re-engineering a rhyme.

It’s not baked yet, so give yourself the freedom to play with it, experiment, improvise. Give it time to percolate. Sleep on it. Find the weakest part of the song and improve just that bit.

Eventually, the song will be completed and that’s the perfect time to fall in love with it. If we fall in love too early, it becomes precious and we miss out on the better song we could have written.

We fall in love with our creations, true. And our songs are our babies. Just don’t be too quick to put them up on a pedestal.

Out of ideas?

September 27, 2013

Running out of song ideas? Time to go beyond love songs and heartbreak songs.

Look around and write a song about what’s up in your world. It might be something happening in your immediate world, i.e. your new puppy, crazy boss, job search, a funny thing your toddler said, etc. Or consider things in the news, like Syria, Iran, the Fukushima leak, the Nats, the Navy Yard shootings, the Hillary for President movement, the Tea Party, or texting while driving.

If you have strong opinions about any of these, that would make a good subject for your next song. If some of these complex world events are just confusing, write about that.

Try this: Close your eyes (don’t do this while driving). Spin around a time or two. Write a song about the first thing you see when you open your eyes. Maybe it’s an empty coffee cup, an iPhone, a person, the horizon, whatever. It could turn out to be a silly song or you may be able to make the object a metaphor for something more serious.

Bass line exercise

August 6, 2013

esperanza475

Let’s get back to basics (no pun intended). In this exercise, you’ll write a new song from scratch, limiting yourself to only two elements.

Forget a full band arrangement. Heck, forget chords. Write a song consisting of only a melody and a bass line. [For you bassists, resist playing chords or double stops. That would defeat the purpose of the exercise.]

So focus on these two musical elements: melody and a bass line. A chord consists of at least three notes, so technically, your song won’t have any chords. Even so, a listener’s ear might ‘fill in’ chords, that is, might feel a chord is implied at any point in the song.

In the process of focusing on these two elements, you might learn just how important a bass line is. You bass players can thank me later.

Step away from the instrument

May 8, 2013

piano-01

Do you limit yourself every time you write a song? I certainly do, in more ways than one. But here’s one limit that’s easy to overcome. It’s your instrument.

It’s easy to see how a beginner guitar- or piano-playing songwriter will be limited by his/her skills on the instrument. But even the most proficient virtuoso pianist or hot guitar picker has habits. Your fingers just want to go someplace familiar (they have a mind of their own). Some people call this ‘finger memory.’

When you are writing a song and your brain is busy with lyrics, rhymes and melody, it’s often your fingers that end up writing the chords by default.

So step away from the instrument. When you put away your instrument and write, you are not limited to the chord progressions your fingers go to on auto-pilot. This way, when a melody (and possibly some lyrics) are written and you’re ready to think about chords, you can tailor the chords to the melody and not the other way around.

Nothing wrong with writing chords first and then melody, as long as the chords are intentional and not something that happened while the creative side of the brain was busy with other things.

Demand for jingle writers

March 19, 2013

Musicians cash in by composing ad jingles

From the LA Times: Demand for ad jingles turns L.A. songwriters into music factories

An increasing number of ad agencies are seeking original compositions for their commercials, helping boost the fortunes of Los Angeles musicians and composers. Commercial-music licensing is a booming business, as advertisers, filmmakers, TV producers and others use pop songs to gloss their products. But licensing pop songs can be quite costly. So an increasing number of ad agencies are looking for original compositions for their commercials.

That has meant songwriting jobs for Los Angeles musicians and composers who are writing jingles while waiting for fate to turn them into rock stars.

“It used to be that you got called a sellout. But times have changed,” said Casey Gibson, a musician who has been paid to write jingles for Purina dog food and Columbia Sportswear commercials. “I’m actually proud of the fact that I’m able to make a living being a creative person.”

Read the entire article with photos here.

Favorite Paul Simon quotes

October 13, 2012

From Performing Songwriter magazine.

“As soon as your mind knows that it’s on and it’s supposed to produce some lines, either it doesn’t or it produces things that are very predictable. And that’s why I say I’m not interested in writing something that I thought about. I’m interested in discovering where my mind wants to go, or what object it wants to pick up.” —Songtalk, 1991

“A lot of talent is a gift, but a lot is also luck. I’m very aware of that. I was born in the right place at the right time. I am also blessed because I’ve never been a sex symbol. I’m spared the embarrassment of acting young.” —Associated Press, 1993

Read more Paul Simon quotes at Performing Songwriter magazine.