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The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 01, 2017 @08:00 AM

 

The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

by Mark Cawley

MarkCawley-Songwriter2.jpg

This is delicate stuff for me. I coach writers all over the world; some with wildly different goals, talents, and dreams. For me it’s not as much nuts and bolts as trying hard to find real life examples of a successful path--and an equal amount of cautionary tales.

As with any advice, I would start with considering the source. Is the person qualified to give direction? For me, I always wanted to hear from someone who was in the trenches. Someone who had actually been where I wanted to go. I like to flip to the back of the book and read the credits before I start “how to”-ing.

Just by virtue of doing what I do, as long as I’ve done it, I’ve built up quite a stash of hard-earned wisdom (with plenty of mistakes mixed in).

 

Let’s start with the best advice:

1. Jump! When you’re stuck, complacent, or just bored creatively; shake things up! For me this has meant actually picking up and moving to L.A., London, and Nashville over the years. Sometimes with no plan and certainly no plan B! It can be scary, but you’re an artist and that’s what artists do sometimes. They jump into the unknown. Every jump I’ve ever made has made me a better, and more aware songwriter. It’s as important to live and experience things as it is to study and practice your craft.

2. Study the Great Ones. Like most writers I know, I learned by deconstructing songs. How are they put together? Why do some relate to so many people and become hits? Just the process of breaking down songs and putting them back together gets in your DNA as a writer and is bound to make you better.

3. Network. This can be a hard one for us introverts but I promise, those connections you make will come back time and time again to be invaluable. I still connect with writers I wrote with 20 years ago. They’re great co-writers but more importantly, great friends and you need friends to survive in this business.

4. Be Fearless. Maybe the best advice I ever got. The best cuts I’ve ever had came from songs that were written without a “net”. If I surprised myself and loved the result, chances are someone else will.

5. Be a good hang. You’re in it for the long run and believe it or not, the writing community is smaller than you think! Being prepared, considerate, and a good listener makes you someone people want to work with again. Word spreads!

 

Now the worst advise:

1) Have a plan B. To do this job you have to not be able to not write. See #1 above.

2) Only write what you know. You can argue this, as I have with several of my coaching clients. “The only true songs are the songs written from my own personal experience”. That’s the argument . I would argue that unless your life is unbelievably interesting and eventful, the well will run dry quick. Great to write from real life but it’s also pretty cool to make something up sometimes!

3) Focus on being creative, someone else will do that messy “business” part. I tried that, doesn’t work. Be a student of the business, it’s your career and no one is going to care about your career like you do.

4) Follow the songwriting rules. Obviously, learn ‘em. So you can break ‘em! Like any craft, you want to learn the ABC’s...but then you want to invent some of your own.

5) Great art requires suffering. I’ve written some of my best sad songs when I was insanely happy and some of the most upbeat ones when I was down. If you just write every day, you’ll experience it all. Promise.

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.

  

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, Tina Turner, The Spice Girls, Kathy Mattea, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Taylor Swift, Wynonna Judd, Successful Songwriting

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 @03:03 PM

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !! 

By Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley, songwriter

One of the most valuable lessons I learned over years in writing for artists, writing with artists and taking direction from my publisher was to not study too hard.

I learned this the hard way! I’ll go way back for some examples. I was writing for a major publisher during the 90’s, and I knew that part of my job was to stay current. I would shoot for the biggest artists of the day and usually had a heads up on direction from my publisher, other writers and even producers.

I’ve always loved great singers and found it easy to hear their voice in my head when I was working on something to pitch for them. Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna, Chaka Khan...I was a channeling fool. For years cuts were coming along but the ones I really wanted were eluding me. I would listen to everything they’d done, groove, key, subject matter and try to nail something I could hear them doing. What I didn’t think about is a really, really great artist isn’t looking for “something that sounds just like them”.

During these years I can’t tell you how many songs were put on hold by the powers that be thinking the song ( and demo) sounded exactly like their artist. At the 11th hour something would usually go amiss. You may have been there. Everything looks perfect, time to start spending the money you’re going to see...nothing to it, I’ve done my homework, my 10,000 hours and damn it...I deserve it!

As you know you need a thick skin and crazy confidence to take the rejection this career will hand out so I would grieve for a time and then jump back in. Then a funny thing happened....

As I was writing for the market I was also getting with better and better co-writers. We had the same war stories but if we wrote long enough we would eventually say let’s forget it and just write what we want, something that we can walk away and say “ I don’t care if this ever get’s cut. Then they did. In a short period of time Tina, Joe, Chaka and Wynonna cut songs that didn’t sound remotely like ones written “for” them. All songs I was proud of. Sometimes it was a creative publisher who had the imagination to hear a song as the next step for an artist even when all the powers that be said they were nuts for sending them a song so different than what was being asked for. Sometimes it was using one of those people in your network, whatever it took to get the artist to hear it.

So the big lesson for me was a true artist is trying to move forward, not repeat themselves. They want to be challenged and they want to challenge a listener or fan. Usually they don’t know what form that will take until they hear it but if the song moved you first maybe you can move them and hopefully they can move a few million other people and then...you can take that to the bank!

© Mark Cawley, Nashville, TN 3/20/12


Mark Cawleys’ songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK and around the world. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cut’s in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website “Song Journey” created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one on one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK and Australia with a new one on one co-active coaching service. Visit www.idocoach.com for details. For more details on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, The Spice Girls, Kathy Mattea, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn

Songwriting Tip: In Defense Of The Title

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 12, 2011 @12:57 PM

In Defense Of The Title

by Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley, Songwritier Advice

As songwriters we’re all paying attention to lyric, melody, structure, rhyme scheme, groove, track and more. In coaching writers I usually find the last thing a young writer considers is “the idea”. What is the song about? Is it an idea that will make a listener want to discover the song, listen further and get you beyond the dreaded “nice” comment? Is it relatable?

 

Sometimes it starts with a title, I admit to being a title writer. I think if the title gets people to listen to the song, open the book, try the movie then we have a leg up.

 

Not to say that every great song has to have a clever title but it sure can help a co-write get off the ground, give your subconscious something to work on or make a publisher pick your CD out of the pile.

 

I have to share one instance with you of a title really working. Years ago I moved to Nashville and while most of my success was in Pop music, especially in the UK at that time, I was getting country cuts. I was writing with Hall Of Fame songwriter Kye Fleming, still one of my best friends and the best pure lyricist I know. So.. we were stuck and she suggested we take a break in the middle of the day and go see a movie. We went to see Jerry Maguire. You remember, the “show me the money” movie.

 

The theatre was mostly empty aside from a few songwriters and music folk we both knew. Midway through the movie René Zellweger looks at Tom Cruise and says...."you had me at hello”. Kye elbowed me and said, “watch this”. Sure enough 4 people got up and made their way out, in the middle of the movie. They knew they had found their idea, or the perfect title. In her wisdom Kye told me that they would all go write it, a couple will demo it, a few publishers will get it to producers and one will be a hit in 6 months!

 

Around 6 months later Kenny Chesney had a number one called “you had me from hello”.

 

I still keep a running list of anything that remotely sounds like an opening line, great title or just a good idea.

 

One Nashville writer I know always cautioned me to “make sure the journey was worth the destination.” Don’t just depend on the twist or the hook to carry a song but make sure every part of lyric is seamless leading up to the big idea. In other words, a great title on it’s own is not a great lyric. Good advice!

 

Mark Cawleys’ songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK and around the world. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cut’s in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website “Song Journey” created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one on one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK and Australia with a new one on one co-active coaching service. Visit www.idocoach.com for details.

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross, Chaka Kahn, The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing