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[Songwriting Advice] 5 Tips for When You Have Songwriter’s Block

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 12, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] 5 Tips for When You Have Songwriter’s Block

by Jon Anderson
songwriters-block.jpg

There aren’t many things more frustrating than staring at a blank page, waiting in vain for inspiration to strike.

If you’re a songwriter, there’s a good chance you know the feeling: words and melodies stuck in the back of your mind, full of potential but miles from becoming a coherent song. If you’re in front of your instrument, maybe you play through a few guitar licks that feel like old habits, or press out the piano chords you’ve been working through for months - but still nothing comes.

Or maybe you have a song that’s half written, and you’ve been playing through the existing parts over and over, hoping for the rest of it to spring to life - but it never does. Eventually, you either start playing fully completed songs that already exist, or just put the instruments away completely and give up.

It’s songwriter’s block. And, while it’s definitely exasperating, it’s also not uncommon.

Even prolific songwriters go through periods where writing feels hard. But, here’s the thing: they get through it - and so can you.

Stuck by songwriter’s block? Don’t give up. Here are five easy things to shake up your routine just enough to find the spark of inspiration you’ve been missing.

 

1. Start a “Lyric List”

One of the most practical ways to avoid songwriter’s block is to keep a running “lyric list.”

Basically, this is a place where you can write down words as they come to you, at any place and at any time. Too often, songwriters will be hit by the turn of a phrase, or a certain combination of words and ideas, only to have it disappear by the next time they pick up their instruments.

Yes, ideally, lyrics will come to you when you’re sitting down and intenti trying to write. But, probably more often, they’ll come to you while you’re driving, or while you’re doing the dishes, or while you’re talking to a friend.

Here’s what I recommend: keep a journal or running Google doc available to yourself at all times. When the words come, capture them in your list. They may be phrases, ideas, or both - the important thing is to record the things that inspire you.

Then, the next time you’re staring at a blank page and find yourself stuck, open up your list, and see if any of the ideas and words that have come to you in the past can spark inspiration in the place you are now.

 

2. Go for a Run

Sometimes, the mind just needs a change of speed. If you’ve been trying to write for hours and nothing’s coming, try going for a run. Anything that gets your heart rate up will do, but there’s something about running - and biking, too - that can put you in a helpful headspace.

Scientifically speaking, exercise helps to increase the blood flow to your brain, which can facilitate better mental processes (and maybe help you make musical connections that weren’t happening before).

Besides that though, there’s something about consciously checking out of songwriting and into a completely different activity that can help you to get unstuck. Whether it’s the scenery, the air, or the mental perseverance it takes to make it through your running route, the fact is that there’s something about running that helps get the creative juices flowing. But don’t just take my word for it - a bunch of famous writers were runners, too.

So, the next time you’re stuck, try going for a run.

 

3. Go Read Something

In the same way that checking out of a song and into running can jog your creative process, checking out of songwriting and into reading can help you, too.

Again, part of the benefit is in the mental switch. When you read, you’re immediately entering into ideas that aren’t your own - worlds, characters, stories, and words that offer a perspective through a different set of eyes. Who knows? You may find the inspiration you’ve been missing in a quote from the protagonist of a book, or you might find the the ideas in a story compelling enough to reprise in your song.

Another reading avenue I recommend: reading the processes of writers you admire. There are tons of songwriting blogs out there that dig into the ideas of songwriters. Go ahead - try searching for interviews with your favorite songwriters to get insight into their writing process.

Reading through their words and discovering what makes them tick may just help you to get unstuck.

 

4. Switch Parts

Let’s get a little more tactical. Have you been stuck with a great verse that you just haven’t found the chorus to follow up? Or, maybe you’ve written what you think is an ear-catching chorus, but have had a hard time getting the verses to flow from it.

Try switching things up. The easiest thing to do is to move parts that you’ve already written to the bridge - there’s a lot of creative freedom to be had in the bridge, after all, and many ideas can fit into that spot.

Maybe, though, what you’ve thought was the chorus makes more sense as the pre-chorus. Or, what you’ve been using as a verse is better suited to being the chorus.

If you’re stuck, try making a simple switch. Sure, there’s a chance that moving your song components around won’t help.

But there’s also a chance that it will.

 

5. Switch Instruments

Last but not least, one helpful way to get unstuck is to put down the instrument you’ve been trying to write on, and pick up another.

There’s a huge difference between writing on guitar and piano, for example - just look at songs by Lady Gaga versus songs by Bob Dylan.

Stylistically, different instruments and sounds can lead you into different creative spaces. What you were constructing as a ballad on keys may feel looser and more upbeat on an acoustic guitar - and that could be just what the song needs. Or, what you’d been writing on your acoustic may sound like another piece entirely when you switch it over to an electric.

So, if you’re experiencing songwriter’s block, try writing a song on something else.

 

Keep Writing

Hopefully, a few of these ideas can help you overcome your songwriter’s block. Tactics aside, though, your biggest keys to coming unstuck will always be to examine things from new angles, and to keep writing.

So, if you have songwriter’s block, no matter what you do, don’t give up. Keep listening, keep trying new things, and keep writing.

If you do, the songs will come.

Jon Anderson is the founder of Two Story Melody, a music blog dedicated to uncovering the stories and processes behind beautiful songs. He's likes indie (or any good) music, good stories, and mango ice cream. twostorymelody.com


Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Writer’s Block, Melody writing, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Mismatched Syllables, Rewrite, Re-writing, Jon Anderson

[Songwriting Advice] Does Songwriting Take A Village?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Does Songwriting Take A Village?

by Mark Cawley

Co-Writing.jpeg

 

The multi-way co-writes have been on songwriters' minds. This is the fifth consecutive year that all Top 3 winners of the USA Songwriting Competition were co-writes. A staggering 29 out of 30 songs in the Top 10 country category for the past 3 years were all co-writes.  And songwriters e-mailed us and called us to say "you are so unfair, all your top winners are all co-writes!".
 
The debate rages on about co-writing and the current state of multiple writers on a song. Check out the songwriting credits on the Grammy nominees for best song this year. A lot of names, eh? No Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Bacharach and David, Elton and Bernie and defiantly no Brian Wilsons or Carole Kings.

"Despacito," Ramón Ayala Rodriguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr., songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber)


"4:44," Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (Jay-Z)
"Issues," Benjamin Levin, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)


"1-800-273-8255," Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart, songwriters (Logic featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)


"That's What I Like," Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

I've had major cuts that I wrote on my own, with a co-writer, with 2 co-writers and even a few with 5. When I've gotten up to more than 2 I got a little confused about who did what I admit. But…

As I mentioned, Ive had a few experiences with 5 or more writers including a #1 with Day And Night” by Billie Piper and the story behind that one is a typical example of how it can happen and, in this case, I couldnt complain. I was writing a bunch with Eliot Kennedy in the UK and Eliot had a team at Steelworks in Sheffield. The studio turned out a bunch of hits, sort of Motown style. Artists came in, the team wrote with them, did pre-production in house as well as the final record.

I loved this process enough to sign with them on their joint venture with Universal. Gave me some great opportunities I never would have had otherwise as most of these projects werent taking outside songs. I might do my part with Eliot, his partners take it to final production, the artist is there and, in the end, multiple writers. It becomes about numbers and how much faster you can turn out songs with a team. I had the same experience writing with The Spice Girls there and more. Did I miss the idea of writing on my own or with another writer? Sure, but I found I could do that AND write with a group sometimes but, and its a big but, it worked because much of my time was spent as a team member.

Beyond this method you see lots of songs that, due to losing (or settling) a lawsuit are legally required to add the writers of the original source of inspiration or sample. Case in point, “Uptown Funk” now has 9 writers listed. I love that song so…can it still be inspired if it takes a village to produce it?

All this is a hot topic of debate with songwriters the past few years. I coach writers all over the world and I understand the frustration when they feel it’s impossible to break in to a production team or to write a song that could be pitched to the Beyonces of the world. It’s not impossible but it is getting pretty rare to see a song written by one writer, not connected in some fashion to the label or production team associated with the record.

So…what’s the kid in his or her bedroom, making music and dreaming supposed to do? How about 4 ideas to start?

  1. Be your own artist. You still might get pressure from a label to write with the current crop of hitmakers but at worst your ideas make it to the record!

  2. Develop mad tracking skills. More and more successful writers are coming from the ranks of track guys. Even here in Nashville you might find a great track guy in the same writing session with a couple of proven hit makers.

  3. Similar to my 2nd point but in this case, become part of a production team. Maybe you start by making tea and graduate to being a part of the creative process. For this you need to be a good hang as well as adept at more than one skill.

  4. Be awesome. An overused word but in this case it works. Be so awesome in your songwriting that the powers that be can’t overlook you. Still hard to be heard but some of the ones who have made this work took to the streets, to social media and to clubs until their tribe grew and they became names. Ed Sheeran is one great case in point. Started as a busker.

In the end, this current state is just that . . . the current state. Complaining about the songwriting business and how unfair it is or how “watered down” the songs are is good fodder for social media posts but not for change. For that I think you work within it or work outside it and again…be awesome


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 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Melody writing, Mismatched Syllables, Rewrite, Re-writing

[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 @06:33 PM

[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?
by Jai Josefs

 melodies.jpg

Melody writing has changed radically in the 21st century, and successful writers know exactly what that change is and how to incorporate it. Their songs sound fresher and more contemporary and, as a result, are the ones that more frequently get signed to film/TV licensing deals as well as publishing deals. Let's examine specifically what the difference is.

Every melody contains two elements – pitch and rhythm. The pitches are the actual notes that are sung while the rhythm is where those notes land in time against the groove. In the 20th century more emphasis was put on interesting pitches and their relationship to the chord progression. But in the 21st century the rhythm of the melody has become the primary focus for creating listener appeal. That's why so many songs today can use only a simple chord loop (instead of the rich variety of chords used in the 20th century) and still remain thoroughly engaging and compelling. Listen to the first 15 notes of Ed Sheeran's recent hit "Shape of You" for example. All 15 are the exact same pitch, but the intricate rhythm completely engages you and captures your attention.

Writers tend to be influenced by the songs they listened to in their formative years when they first discovered music. So the instinctive tendency of veteran writers who don't stay current is to write in the 20th century style that emphasizes pitch over rhythm. On the other end of the spectrum, some friends of mine recently sent their 16-year-old daughter to study with me, and at her first lesson I asked her to play something she had written. Her creative process was totally instinctual and she didn't even know a verse from a chorus, but at first listen what she played sounded like it came right off the radio. That's because the only melodies she had been exposed to in her young life were contemporary and rhythmically based. For those of us who have been around a bit longer, it's crucial that we investigate these modern melodic techniques so we can incorporate them into our writing.

A good way to begin that process is by analyzing the melodies of today's hit songs. To illustrate how melody writing has evolved, I'm going to compare two songs written on the same theme – female empowerment. The first one was written in the 1970s in the traditional style of that era. The second is a recent breakthrough hit from 2016.

Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" has a very simple melodic rhythm. Almost all of the notes are eighth notes (two notes per beat) and the phrasing is relatively uncomplicated. The verse consists of two shorter phrases followed by a longer phrase all of which start exactly one beat before the beginning of the measure. Then that same pattern is repeated. There is a bit more variety in the chorus, but the phrasing is still basic and repetitive and most of the notes are eighth notes.

Let's contrast that with Daya's recent hit "Sit Still Look Pretty" (if you're not familiar with it give it a listen – it's also brilliant lyrically and has some very cool and remarkable rhymes). The verse phrases instead of being grouped in twos or threes like the basic short-short-long, short-short-long pattern of "I Am Woman" are actually in patterns of five that go short-short-short-long-long, short-short- short-long-long. In addition they all start in different places. The first and third begin after the downbeat of the measure, the second is entirely in the last half of the measure, and the fourth and fifth start before the measure with 16th note pick-ups. Then we hear the pre-chorus where the melodic rhythm shifts to all 16th notes (four notes per beat) for the first three phrases followed by a fourth phrase that is all eighth notes. The chorus that follows begins right on the downbeat with a phrase that lasts for two full measures – twice as long as any phrase we've heard so far. It's then followed by two off-beat 16th note phrases that are half a measure each and the hook/title which is one measure long. Notice the constant variation in eighth and 16th notes, phrase starting points, and phrase patterns. This creates a dynamic melody that is always fresh and grabs the listener's attention. In terms of melodic rhythm and phrasing "I Am Woman" is like an old Chevy, and "Sit Still Look Pretty" is more like a Ferrari.

If you want to write songs that are relevant today, it's a great idea to listen to more tunes by contemporary hit artists like Ed Sheeran and Daya and focus on analyzing how they use melodic rhythm. It will make your songs sound exciting and up-to-date, and hopefully lead to more placements and airplay.

JaiJosefs.jpg

Jai Josefs http://jaijomusic.com/ is a world renowned songwritng coach as well as a successful songwriter/producer. He has taught songwriting at UCLA, the Songwriters Guild, and dozens of seminars and conferences throughout North America. He is also the author of “Writing Music For Hit Songs” which is used as a text on contemporary music composition at universities worldwide. Many of his students have gone on to successful careers in the industry and secured major label record deals, publishing deals and placements in film and television.

Jai has also had a successful career as a songwriter/producer himself working with such well-known artists as Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, and Pam Tillis, and doing projects for such companies as Universal, RCA, Motown, and Disney. In addition, his original songs have been featured in over 60 TV shows on every major network as well as over 20 major motion pictures with such stars as Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Lange, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington.

Jai currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he leads a monthly workshop called SongShop, details of which can be found here:

http://jaijomusic.com/songshop-songwriting-workshop/

He is also available for private coaching in the Bay Area and worldwide via Skype.

 

 

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, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, chord progression, writing lyrics, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Melody writing