tips

Writer's block sitting at piano

How I get past songwriter’s block

Sometimes, the hardest part of the songwriting process is getting started. Once I’ve got an idea, I can hash out lyrics and music fairly easily. Getting past songwriter’s block usually involves coming up with a title and a hook to the song (Thank you, Nashville). More often than not, I’ll get blocked by wanting to come up with a metaphor for expressing an idea or emotion, but can’t land on the right one.

I’m a much stronger musician and composer than a lyricist. I can come up with grooves, interesting chord progressions and beats, and never attach a lyric to any of them. But I like to consider the “whole song,” so I opt to do the hard part first: some or most of the lyrics, then the music. I’ll be writing about getting past songwriter’s block in lyrical terms.

Where do my song ideas come from?

I’ve always espoused the notion that you can write a song about anything; I once wrote a song about a car accident taken from the point of the view of the brake pads of the car. It’s the development of a song that counts, drawing from your own life experiences and emotions to truly make the idea yours.

Inspiration comes from within. Ideally, we are constantly experiencing new things, seeing new things, and reading about new things. The trick to being “inspired” is to be mindful of these experiences, and finding the nuggets to turn them into songs.

Often, it’s helpful to write down in concrete terms what the idea is about. For example, I had a visceral reaction following the horrific bus attack in India in 2012, where a young woman was raped and killed, and her male friend was also violently assaulted on a bus in New Delhi. I jotted down some notes to keep me focused:

“This song is about the senselessness of the bus attack in New Dehli, and the irony of the violent reactions of the masses in India calling for capital punishment.”

Later on, I read news articles about the incident, and was moved by a quote from the deceased victim’s father who asked the media, “Don’t call her a rape victim. Please call her a brave daughter.

“This song is also about the ripple effect of victimization and the grief her family, friends and community experienced. It’s also about the fact that this young woman and her friend did nothing wrong, and their bravery shows the way forward in India.”

The idea became the song Brave Daughters. Read more

Social Media Tips for Songwriters: How to get the most out of social media with Emmanuel Lopez, the Social Media Wingman

Emmanuel Lopez, the Social Media Wingman, stopped by to share tips on how songwriters can use Social Media to boost their brand and build their career.

Stuff we talked about:

Listen to the show:

Michael, Bruce, Sintja, Neel Linda, and Phil

Sintja Baba on her 1st EP

Singer songwriter Sintja Baba returned to share some songwriting tips.

Sintja fronts Toronto based band THE NAIVE on guitar/vocals/keys, and is the principle song writer. Last year they released their Debut EP “Saw The Sun” followed by single “My Guitar” in July of this year. They released their most recent music video for single “The Moon” off their Debut EP on Nov.19 shot & directed by Marlon Chaplin.

Listen to the show:

Stuff We Talked About:

 

 

big treble clef falling on man - notes from a non-songwriter - songwriting tips

Notes From A Non-Songwriter or “The Stuff You Need To Know”

When I joined Song Talk Radio as social media maven over a year ago, I knew nothing about songwriting. In the past, I learned to read music and play a few instruments including flute, bass clarinet, French horn and the drums. But I had never entertained the thought of writing a song.

In my first few months at Song Talk Radio, I didn’t understand much of the songwriting jargon the team (Bruce, Neel & Phil) would throw out during our broadcasts. I found myself frantically googling in the background to try to understand what they were talking about. These days, I understand most of what they discuss, but every once in a while they use a term I’ve never heard before.

Here is a list of terms that I’ve learned through my time on the show, and I hope it might be helpful to beginner songwriters too. I’ve found it a helpful resource to refer back to.

A Tacet: Latin for ‘be silent.’ A word used in orchestral and vocal scores to direct a particular instrument or voice to remain silent during a particular passage or section.”N.C.” (‘no chord’) is often used in guitar tablature or chord charts to indicate tacets or rests in the accompaniment. Read more

image showing the circle of 5ths

How to use the Circle of Fifths to write songs

I know many of you don’t care for music theory. It’s clinical, it’s boring, and it sucks the soul out of songwriting. Well, news flash: you’re using music theory whether or not you intend to. For myself, I know my theory pretty well, as I learned it at young age. I couldn’t tell you if I’m playing in a Mixolydian or Phrygian mode, though, except that it’s fun to throw “Phrygian” into normal conversation.

Case in point: the Circle of Fifths (the Circle). Download a hi-res copy here. I’ve been asked before if a certain chord progression is an example of the Circle of Fifths. The question is missing the point. The Circle of Fifths isn’t a technique like modulation or chord substitution. It’s a way of understanding the essential elements of western music: the notes, the intervals, the chords, and the relationships between them.

It’s the relationships between chords that make a chord progression. Referring to the Circle of Fifths can help you discover interesting chord progressions, particularly when you’re stuck for what the next chord wants to be.

Just like clockwork

The Circle looks much like a clock. Just like there are 12 hours on a clock, there are 12 notes on the Circle. (If you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, you’ll want to so you can refer to it as you read the rest of this article.)

Read more

electric guitar, headphones, and notebook on the floor with the caption 7 ways to bring variety to your songs

7 ways to bring variety to your collection of songs

When writing a collection of songs, whether for a album release or in general, we sometimes end up playing it safe and resorting to tried and true motifs and ideas for every song.

For myself, when I become a fan of an artist or band, I like to hear a variety of songs. Sometimes the differences are obvious, like a ballad vs. a rockin’ out song. And sometimes, the variety comes in more subtle ways – ways that only looking closer reveals. Your audience will know something feels different and unique, but only the more discerning listeners will know the how and the why.

More than likely, you’re already doing some of these “7 ways” – they are by no means truly unique ideas, as my examples of popular songs will show. Some of them may not work for you, and this list is by no means exhaustive. Hopefully, looking at these will spur on some more ideas. So let’s get into it.

One: Play with the structure

The typical verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus structure is a go-to for many songwriters. But you don’t have to look any further than the Beatles for excellent examples of structural inventiveness. In I Feel Fine, for example, the title occurs at the end of each verse. Then there’s a “B” section that almost sounds like a bridge, until it repeats later, and then maybe you can call it the chorus. Who knows? And more importantly, who cares? It’s all catchy, the title is clear, and the changes are frequent, regular, and interesting. They did something similar with A Hard Day’s Night, and we argued about it on an episode of Song Talk Radio.

When you play around with structure, the parts of the songs sometimes defy conventional nomenclature. Call it a bridge or a chorus, it doesn’t matter; it’s merely semantics. Sometimes it’s more effective to use terms like “A section”, “B section”, and “tag.”

Sometimes the narrative you establish can inspire an unconventional structure. For my song, Depend on Me, I established a narrative with three distinct parts: the easy going afternoon drive, a car accident, and the aftermath. This structure inspired me to begin the song with a simple verse chorus, verse chorus, then a bridge (for the accident) and a completely new section for the aftermath. Read more