The 5 Minute Songwriting Class
By Michael Anderson
If you have been reading this series of articles you know that I have been referencing film and screenwriting as another paradigm for creative use of technique in your songwriting.
I have lately found a source of inspiration that has been quite a revelation to me in that I found someone preaching the same guerilla techniques for film that I have been preaching for songwriting.
His name is Robert Rodriquez, and you may know his work from films such as “El Mariachi” and “Sin City”.
Anyway, he also has a book about his experience in making his first feature length film, “El Mariachi”. The book is called “Rebel Without A Crew”, and the narrative has similarities with my experience in the music business – a good read if you are into seeing how other people have pulled it off.
Part of his book is the “10 Minute Film School” – I thought I might vamp on that concept for songwriters:
“The 5 Minute Songwriting Class”
Part I: The first thing is you need a good idea – I have lectured on that over and over here. Creativity is about process – the old “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” routine – but without that 10% inspiration the other 90% of your work is a waste of time. In fact, you can hire the “perspiration” part if you have the money – somebody will take your money and do all the necessary work for you if you know how to delegate and focus in that way.
But if you are a struggling artist chances are you will end up doing most of the work yourself too because you can’t afford to hire somebody to be your “go fer”. That is OK, as Robert Rodriquez repeatedly points out, the only way to really be sure you are getting what you need is to do it yourself. That means learning all the little “processes” in the overall big picture process – learning your instrument, learning your tools for recording, learning your business procedure.
But the initial spark is where it starts. Eddie DeGarmo told me that genius is defined by limitations – in other words, making what you have to work with work in your favor – do something on a low budget someone with all the resources in the world can’t do because they don’t have the focus for that. Find a creative way to solve a problem that no one could have come up with in any other way.
To find that magic “idea” I recommend a few exercises that again, I am sure you have heard before.
A: “Morning Pages” – direct from “The Artist Way” formula – you can do them in any way that works for you but the point is to get writing immediately in the morning while your brain is still connected to your creative subconscious and start flowing.
Working without interruption starting first thing in the morning gets more creative work done than anything else I have ever found – a close second is late at night when it is quiet and you are tired – the same process – connecting to that part of your creative self that is a bit left of your reasonable, rational normal thought process.
B: A similar process – the “Artist Date” - again, straight from “The Artist Way”. Set aside time to goof off. Do nothing. Do what you want. Relax.
I know, you don’t have time. Well, you can’t force creativity any more than you can make time go backwards – it is a flow and you need to find the rhythm of it – it is in another dimension, a parallel universe - and you need to find it – sync to it - it will not find you through your will. It may smack you upside the head at any moment, but you can’t control that. You have to be ready for it.
Part II: Do it. Write it down and record it. Use what you have, when you have it. Don’t wait for the ideal guitar, perfect piano, latest software, newest recorder, machine, time, professional studio, whatever. Again, do it with what you have, when you have it. And do the very best you can do with what you have available. But also:
A: Lower your expectations. Some people never do anything because they have such egotistic perfectionist tendencies that they can’t allow themselves to make a mistake. Get over that. Make mistakes. Fail. Learn. Do. Get better. Do it all again.
B: Have a goal – what are you going to do with the demo? What are you going to do with the finished product? What do you need to do to get it to that point and how can you do that now?
Part III: Mainly, enjoy the process of your work – enjoy the rush of the new idea. Enjoy the satisfaction of actually hearing a new part, a new line, a new creative way of doing something no one else has done – say the same thing in a fresh new way.
Entertain yourself – make your melody, your lyric, your demo something you want to experience over and over again and show to people you trust who appreciate you.
When you get there the other people will find you.
Class dismissed. Go write a song.
You can contact Michael Anderson or purchase his “Little Black Book of Songwriting” at michaelanderson.com
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net