Posts Tagged ‘collaborate’

When the lyrics just won’t come

July 21, 2009

What do you do when the lyrics (or melody) just won’t come?

I believe this is a common problem for songwriters. When the ideas aren’t flowing, that’s when you need some tricks up your sleeve, some way to jumpstart your creativity.

Here’s a trick I use regularly. It may seem like a cop out, but it’s a legitimate, time-honored technique for songwriters: collaborate.

I am very comfortable writing melody and chords. But I sometimes struggle with lyrics. So I found a co-writer who is good with lyrics and weaker on the music side. Together we bang out new songs easily and relatively quickly. Co-writing (also called collaboration) is very common in Nashville, LA, NYC and other music centers. Look at the credits on any Motown record and you’ll see Holland/Dozier/Holland on many of the hits and other co-writers as well. If Motown isn’t your bag, check the writing credits of your favorite artist. You might be surprised.

I believe everyone is born creative, and that we sometimes block our own creativity. Stress can do this. If you are stressed out in any part of your life (work, school, relationships, songwriting), then it will be harder to reach in and access your own innermost creative thoughts.

Learn how to de-stress yourself. For some people that means regular exercise or meditation. Others need to get more sleep or resolve some interpersonal issues. Sometimes all it takes is a short break from the routine, maybe a walk around the block or a few quick stretches.

When I get stuck in the middle of writing a song, I will take a walk, to take my mind off the problem. Usually, unbeknownst to me, my sub-conscious mind is still working on it and partway through the walk, a new idea pops into my head. Voila! I’m unstuck.

Another cause of writer’s block is super high expectations. If you expect to write a masterpiece every time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you lower your expectations at first, you free yourself to write anything and that leads to risk-taking, ground-breaking creations.

In writing your first draft (or 2nd or 3rd), it helps to turn off the part of your brain that is critical and judging and just let it all flow. Later, you can re-engage the judging part of your brain to edit your draft. This is what that side of your brain is good at: finding typos, checking for rhymes, noticing logical inconsistencies, etc.

Collaboration Stories

March 16, 2009

A songwriter friend recently expressed frustration with finding a reliable collaborator. We were wondering what other experiences readers of this blog have had with finding/working with co-writers. Lorelei Loveridge shares her co-writing experiences and leaves us with some excellent tips for collaborating.

One, I’ve found the process of collaboration to be really strange. It all comes down to people’s personalities and individual/collective goals, I’ve discovered. I’ve collaborated (or attempted to) with a few people.

One was a friend who is NOT a songwriter, but is just a goofball like me. We sat together, had tea one day, and brainstormed a story based on some very strong hooks. She helped with the ideas. I, as the songwriter, crafted and edited the pieces together. It worked well. The music she had no part in, but the lyrics were 50% hers. That was a pleasurable experience.

The second person was another songwriter like myself — a woman who writes and plays guitar. Different style, but essentially the very same goals. It was the most tension-filled experience I’ve ever had. Or one of them. Another very tense experience would have been trying to come up with lyrics on the spot while a guitarist (a very good one)
noodled around on a riff that he found. That did not work either. Too much pressure. In the case of the fellow singer-songwriter, too much personal competition. We both wanted way too much ownership of the song. We were two people who wanted to write our own songs.

I’ve tried to write with STJ members also, two people I like and trust a lot actually. But because of the distance, or the fact that we were three, or the issue of timing (none of us had the time/energy to focus), or the initial topic and inspiration for writing (sucked), it never happened. I don’t look at that as a failure. It was just “bad timing,
that’s all.” Another day.

I had an accidental success with co-writing once when I wrote the fast first draft of a song. I sent it to a “friend,” an acquaintance, a guy I’ve never met but who works at Berklee College of Music and who is a bass player and graduate of the school. I sent the song out as a “Hey look at this!” email, also with the invitation to others to rewrite it, as I knew it was good but not finished. I loved what this friend coughed up, and then I polished it up a bit and promptly gave him 50% of the lyrical rights, simply because he really did have his hand in a huge portion of the song. He had no expectations, really, and was just doing it because he’s a creative guy.

When I recorded the song fast on my computer and emailed it to him, he and his friends were impressed. That was a pleasurable experience.

And, finally, I co-wrote with a good friend of mine back home, another woman, but a songwriter with a background in jazz. She’s a pianist; I’m a guitarist. We worked on guitar, laughed together a LOT as we tossed out the most bizarre lines and tried to piece them together. Sometimes we would throw out absolutely stupid lyrics, as a way to get through the creative blocks. (If something’s not working, then make it really not work and break the ice, release the tension by having a good laugh.) We got half a song done and ran out of steam/time. I live overseas, had to go as the summer was over. We’ve never finished the song, but it was a good experience and I trust I could work with Anna again.

Based on my experience, my advice to people looking to collaborate is this: It’s all about being comfortable together, and complimentary in your talents. If there’s too much competition, it’s not going to happen. If you both demonstrate the same weaknesses, it’s not going to happen. I’ve read time and time again, write “up,” or work with others who are better than you at some things. And definitely work out terms
right up front and look at the opportunity to co-write, even if you’re seeking your own name and/or fame, as a chance to hone your chops. If the fit is right with another person, it can lift you to higher levels. If the fit is wrong, then you’ve lost nothing. Move on and don’t be embarrassed about it.

Lorelei Loveridge
Orderly Bazaar Records & Publishing

Listen to Lorelei’s latest CD Bakhoor, a 4-year, 15-song album project recorded in India, Canada and Saudi Arabia.


Why collaborate?

December 2, 2008

For most of my life, I’ve written songs by myself. I always looked forward to songwriting as alone time, like journal writing. I also see it as a fun personal challenge, like a puzzle. I should mention I’m an introvert: I’m happy to spend time by myself, so solo songwriting fits my personality.

Writing with a partner changes the whole dynamic. While co-writing has a lot of advantages, it takes a whole different mindset. All of sudden there’s the need for interpersonal communication. How do you explain what you hear in your head to another person? How do you put the mood you’re after into words that your partner can understand? How do you let go of your ego and allow someone else to contribute?

How do you say that a certain line is weak without offending the lyricist? How do remain in a clean creative state when your partner has just trashed your best idea?

Fortunately, there are some helpful answers and guidelines. When we interviewed Jana Stanfield, we were thrilled to learn her approach to co-writing. See the interview in full at the end of this post.

Advantages of co-writing

– you have a like-minded person to bounce ideas off of,
– you can finish songs faster,
– you can concentrate on your specialty: lyrics or music,
– if you get blocked, your partner can pick up the slack,
– likewise if you’re having a bad day or not feeling 100%,
– it can be a lot more fun/interactive: camaraderie
– it can help you recognize your own bad writing habits,
– the more experienced co-writers can mentor
– the more successful co-writers can open doors
– the less experienced co-writers bring a fresh perspective
– the less successful co-writers can bring an hungry energy

And when it comes to almost any aspect of songwriting:

– two (or more) heads are sometimes better than one.

The following is an interview we did with Jana Stanfield in one of our newsletter issues.

I feel very fortunate to have Jana Stanfield as our Member of the Month for October. In a telephone interview, she shared her thoughts on songwriting, on working with a co-writer and the importance of lyrics. I can’t wait to pass her insights on to you. But first, some background.

Jana Stanfield is a triple-platinum singer/songwriter. You may have heard her music on Oprah, 20/20, Entertainment Tonight or the movie 8 Seconds. Her songs are recorded by artists like Reba McEntire, Gary Morris, John Schneider, Suzy Bogguss, and Andy Williams.

Jana has toured nationally since 1991. In addition to her performances at The Kerrville Folk Festival and other prestigious folk venues, she has shared stages with Deepak Chopra, Les Brown and Lily Tomlin and she has opened for artists ranging from The Dixie Chicks to Kenny Loggins.

Jana is known as “The Queen of Heavy Mental.” She describes “heavy mental” music as “psychotherapy you can dance to.”

Fans say her music is the ideal alternative to Prozac…all the mood elevation with none of the water retention.

With soaring vocals, acoustic arrangements, and meaningful lyrics, Jana Stanfield says that her goal is to use her music to give people a “faith-lift.”



September 22, 2008

This exercise is akin to collaborating on a song, although the other person or persons involved need not be songwriters.  The concept of brainstorming is not new. BrainSURFING, however, is a little different. Let me describe what I mean.

There are only 3 rules.  To begin, be sure everyone is in agreement on the following intentions:

  • Together, we will pull ideas right out of the ether
  • We will bring forth everything that comes to mind, no matter how mundane, silly, bizarre, or unmusical they seem, and
  • This is going to be fun.

One person will be the designated scribe to write down ideas as they fly.  Better yet, turn on a recording device to capture everything.

Now, start talking about any song idea, concept or lyric and the feelings or images that come with these. Strive to play off each other, adding to and enhancing each new idea that emerges. Be conscious of the rising energy within the group and revel in the good feelings as excitement grows. As Jana Stanfield says, ‘stay in Yes.’

A sense of humor is definitely welcome here, and, although optional, some people will relax with a sip of wine or tea.  It will not detract from this process. (I have personally had a lot of success with Red Bull…) Allow your minds to synchronize and begin to work together.

Feel the rush that comes from connecting and supporting each other with focused communication and keep surfing until the ideas seem to have run their natural course. At this point there will be a wealth of ideas on paper, some useful and some not. But just as important is the exercise of minds linking together in joy and excitement, inviting and nurturing our innate passion and creativity.

Minds working together like this form a MasterMind — a power greater than the sum of the parts — the mind power actually increases exponentially. Be careful…Brainsurfing can become habit forming!

Let us know if you find this exercise helpful, and if you have any that work for you — we’d love to hear about them!

Robert Cote

Collaboration – a powerful tool

June 30, 2008

Collaborating or co-writing is another trick you can add to your songwriting arsenal. Writing alone may be the only method you’re familiar with up to this point, but in some cases two heads are better than one.

We are often so wrapped up in our own songs, that a second set of ears is helpful, whether they belong to your co-writer, manager, producer, bandmate, song circle member, spouse or friend.

That second/third set of ears can often pick up weaknesses in our songs, weaknesses that we’ve completely overlooked. It’s always better to find and fix these glitches early in the songwriting process, than to be dealing with them later, in the recording studio, for example.

When you’re having a case of writer’s block or just a bad day, your co-writer can take the reins and get the ball rolling and vice versa.