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[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 01, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

By Sara Light
Finding Time to Write.jpg


Sara and her husband Danny have been contributing articles on songwriting for a few years on our blog. In this latest edition, Sara talks about taking the time to write songs - which many songwriters today can certainly relate to her.

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.”  — Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Head space meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  •      Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  •     Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  •     Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  •     Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
    “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .
About Sara Light
Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at


Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


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Songwriting Tip: Creating Songs That Stand Out

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jun 04, 2012 @11:40 AM


Danny Arena, songwriter
One of the most obvious but easily overlooked songwriting devices is the use of contrast. Most successful songs incorporate this technique and once you are familiar with the various ways in which you can achieve contrast, you can begin to incorporate it into your own writing. Contrast is making each section of your song stand out and sound different from the other sections in your song. There are several ways you can do this both musically and lyrically. 


Musically, contrast can be achieved several ways: 

a. MELODICALLY. Try to make the melody higher in the chorus than the verse. It’s a good practice to try to write your chorus in your highest comfortable range, giving you room to make the verse lower. 

b. RHYTHMICALLY. If the predominant rhythm for the verse melody is quarter notes, try making the chorus rhythm eighth notes. Even if you’re solely a lyricist, you can build rhythmic contrast into your lyrics. A good example of a song that incorporates rhythmic contrast between two sections is the old standard, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” 

c. HARMONICALLY. Try and change the chord progression between sections. An easy way to achieve this is simply by consciously choosing a different chord to start each section. For example, if your verse begins on a G chord, try starting your chorus on a C chord. 


Lyrically, contrast can be achieved several ways:

a. RHYME PATTERN. Change the pattern or placement of the rhymes between verse and chorus. Let’s say, for example, your verse has an A-B-A-B rhyme pattern:

The sky above is blue A
The ground below is green B
When I look at you A
It’s the prettiest sight I’ve ever seen B 

You might try using an A-A-B-B pattern in the chorus. Remember, however, that whatever pattern you set up in the verse should remain consistent for all the verses. The same goes for your chorus. 

b. RHYME SOUNDS. Vary the primary vowel sounds of the rhymes throughout your song. For example, if you use a long “e” rhyme sound in your first two lines (be/see), use a different rhyme sound in your next two lines (light/night). 

c. RHYTHM. Change the rhythm of the words between sections. If your verses have long lines with lots of syllables, you might try using short lines without a lot of syllables in your chorus. This will automatically create contrast when the lyrics are set to music.

d. PRONOUN EMPHASIS. If you are primarily talking about “I” and “me” in the verses, try emphasizing “you” in the chorus. 

You don’t have to make use of every type of contrast in each song, but try to incorporate at least one type of musical contrast and one type of lyrical contrast. The trick is to keep the song interesting and contrast is a time proven technique for achieving this.

Hope to see you on the charts!

-Danny & Sara

Danny Arena & Sara Light are hit songwriters, Tony Nominated Composers and professional songwriters living in Nashville, TN. They are also the co-founders of which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Songwriting, songwrite, Danny Arena, Sara Light

Strategies For A Successful Career In Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 @05:24 PM

Strategies For A Successful Career In Songwriting
By Sara Light

Before landing my first staff writing deal and major label cut, I served as the membership director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Over the course of four years I worked with, talked to and counseled new and aspiring songwriters and I began to recognize certain similarities between those songwriters who continually realized their goals and those who didn't. As I watched people move to town, leave town, reach goals or give-up, I learned some important strategies to achieving long-term success as a songwriter.

Strategy 1: Find your team
From the day we make the decision to pursue our dream of becoming a professional songwriter we're beginning a long and often frustrating journey. Like Dorothy on her way to Oz, we need help reaching our destination. At first, our family and friends may be the ones to give us the emotional support we need to keep going. Eventually, however, we must expand our team of supporters to include industry professionals who can keep us moving in the right direction. Performing Rights Organization representatives (in the US: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, in Canada: SOCAN, in the UK: ALCS), publishers, professional songwriters, producers and even major label recording artists, all may eventually become part of our team. Attending songwriting workshops given by local, national and international songwriting organizations is one way to start. You never know if the unknown guy you bump into today might be the Garth Brooks of tomorrow. Just a few of the hit songwriters and artists who have attended songwriting workshops include Mark D. Sanders ("I Hope You Dance"), Mike Reid ("I Can't Make You Love Me"), Carolyn Dawn Johnson ("I Don't Want You To Go") and Dianne Warren ("How Do I Live"). By continually improving our songwriting craft and expanding our knowledge of the industry, we let our potential team know that we're serious and motivated. In addition, by having the patience to form honest relationships and showing appreciation when someone helps us, we earn the trust and respect that we need to add members to our team little by little. Rarely is success achieved overnight. It usually takes years of hard work and persistence. Take for example, Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross who were both given a helping hand by the artists for whom they had been singing backup. Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks and Vince Gill made contacts by singing demos while looking for their label deals. Luckily, we don't need everybody in town to like our songs, but we do need a strong team who does.

Strategy 2: Stay Focused
Most of the aspiring songwriters I've met actually begin with some kind of plan. For some, it is to take frequent trips from their hometown to a major music center in order to write and establish relationships. For example, Northern California songwriter, Steve Seskin ("Don't Laugh At Me"), and up-state NY songwriter, Hugh Prestwood ("The Song Remembers When"), both have had great success writing for the Nashville market. However, one thing most "out-of-town" writers would probably tell you is that making and maintaining contacts from a distance takes an incredible commitment of time, money and energy. For other songwriters, the plan is to move to a major music center and find an alternate means of income until the ship carrying their hit song comes in. Don Schlitz ("The Gambler") tells the story of how he wrote songs while working as a computer operator at night. Garth Brooks had a variety of jobs when he moved to Nashville, including selling boots.

Strategy 3: Set Goals
Even if we're living in a major music center, it's easy to get sidetracked or discouraged if things aren't happening as quickly as we might have hoped. Organization and goal setting are key ingredients to persevering and moving forward on our journey. In his book, Life Is A Contact Sport (William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994), manager Ken Kragen, whose past and present client roster includes Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood, discusses how using a step-by-step approach has made him and his clients successful. Instead of looking at a desired outcome as an overwhelming task, Kragen sets smaller goals. He helps his clients create a road map beginning from where they are and the steps they need to accomplish to reach their ultimate goal. By reaching intermediate goals along the way, the payoff is constant and the journey is satisfying. I followed Kragen's advice and over the years some of the goals I set for myself and reached included: I will take guitar lessons; I will host a show at the Bluebird Café in Nashville; I will get meetings with five music publishers this month; I will write everyday; I will save enough money to demo ten songs this year; I will get a major artist cut.

Strategy 4: Take chances
In an industry as competitive as this one, we cannot afford to let our fears of failure hold us back. To "take a chance" means something different for everyone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and different "comfort zones." What might feel like a risk to one person, might be a piece of cake to another. But, as my favorite T-shirt says, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I've been told that Jodee Messina walked right up to the head of Curb Records, Mike Curb, and told him that he needed a redhead on the label. If she hadn't done that, who knows if today she'd have several number one singles and a platinum album. So keep in mind that if you're not writing a song today, someone else is. If you're not calling a certain publisher, someone else is. If you're not booking a gig - well, you get the point. If we never step outside of what feels comfortable to us we can't learn the skills we need to succeed. We must be willing to accept possible rejection or failure and keep going in spite of it. A good example of this kind of perspective and persistence is exemplified by what Thomas Edison said to his wife while watching his laboratory burn down - "that's a good way to get rid of all those mistakes I was making in there."

You've already taken a huge step, just by allowing yourself to pursue your dream. It's not always an easy thing to do, but don't let yourself give up too easily. You can do it!


Short Bio:
Songwriter Sara Light Sara Light
is a Tony-Award nominated, hit songwriter and co-founder of provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: 

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