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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

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 06, 2017 @09:59 AM

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

by Natalie Wilson

 songwritingpic.jpg

Writing the perfect song is a difficult task. What is “perfect”, anyway? What is it that the most popular songs all have in common? If you’re hoping to write the next big hit, you’ve come to the right place. The best songs in history have incorporated lyrics that uses clever rhyming schemes and syllabic patterns, a story-like progression, personal but relatable topics, and a catchy hook. Writing the next big hit can seem impossible, but there are a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of success.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when writing lyrics:

#1) Too Much Rhyming

While rhyming is one of the most common writing tools used to create popular songs, too much of it can sound childish. If you consider some of the best lyrics in history, rhyming is used subtly and doesn’t detract from the main message of a song. For example, take a look at these lyrics from ”Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey:

 

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Oh the movie never ends,

It goes on and on and on and on

 

These lyrics rhyme the words “lose” and “blues” together, but refrain from rhyming any words together in the next two lines. The use of rhyming should be a strategic way to draw attention to certain words, rather than used simply for the sake of rhyming. The combination of the strategic rhyming scheme, catchy melody, and raw talent of the members of Journey has made “Don’t Stop Believin’” a classic few will forget.

#2) No Coherent Story

Just like an essay, novel, or poem, your song lyrics should tell some sort of story. As the song progresses, your ideas need to unfold in a way that will make sense to your listeners. If you’re struggling to write a song with a clear message, try answering the following questions:

 

  • What story do I want to tell?
  • How do I want my listeners to feel after listening to the song

 

Rather than singing about your recent trip to France and then jumping to an unrelated topic, such as your childhood friend, try sticking to the same idea throughout the song. This will allow the song to resonate with your listeners more easily.

 

#3) Writing Disingenuous Lyrics

So many songs on the radio feel like they’ve been created by a machine simply to generate an income. If you’re a true songwriter, you know that music is about so much more than that. While tuning into recent trends and incorporating them into your songs will most likely help you gain some extra popularity, being disingenuous with your lyrics will set you up for failure. We all know how hard it is too warm up to someone we feel is being untruthful or two-faced. Likewise, your listeners will have a hard time warming up to your song if they don’t feel the lyrics are a reflection of your true personality.

When you’re not a romantic, when you’re not political, and so on, do not try to sound like one. Disingenuous lyrics very easily and quickly will sound like that, and that’s a fantastic way to lose your audience. Regardless of your song’s theme or idea, your lyrics must in some way be connected with you if you want them to stand out and come across as genuine. If you don’t, your lyrics will lack conviction which will make them feel stale.

 

#4) Mismatched Syllables

The proper use of syllables is an important part of poetry and song lyrics. The number of syllables combined with the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables will set the tone and flow of your song. Take a look at the syllables used by Hozier below:

 

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 

The second and third lines in this song both use a total of twelve syllables each. The song wouldn’t have the same momentum if the pattern of twelve syllables was broken between lines two and three. In addition to the number of syllables, the last few words of these lines alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables in the same pattern. “Shrine of your lies” follows a stressed, unstressed, unstressed, stressed pattern, which you can see from the bolded words. Similarly, “sharpen your knife” follows the same rhythmic pattern. This creates coherence in the lyrics that wouldn’t be evident if you use different numbers and patterns of syllables in every line of your song.

#5) There’s No Hook

Every popular song needs a hook. Not only does a song need to have a hook, a good song needs to place that hook in a strategic spot. Just like a commercial you’d see on television, the hook should be at the beginning. Similar to how colorful ads are used to catch a viewer’s eye, catchy melodies are used to grab hold of our ears. Once you’ve established your melody, you’ll need to make sure the content of what you’re saying also acts as a hook. If you’re writing a love song and you use a cliche statement involving “your heart” and how hard it is to be “apart”, you won’t come across as the cutting-edge artist you’re hoping to be. Remember not to rush the development of your hook, as it will be what draws your listeners in more than anything else.

Enjoy these tips!

 

About Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson started a music blog to share her knowledge to enhance your skills as a musician . You’ll find a wide range of topics on my blog, including reviews, tutorials, and tips for musicians. Check out: https://musicaladvisors.com/

 

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, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Coherent, Disingenuous Lyrics, Mismatched Syllables, Rhyming