Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Suggestion: Write a breakup song, with a twist

Songwriting suggestion: Write a breakup song — but not about a romantic relationship.

A long-term relationship has soured, and it's time to call it quits. Maybe it's a person breaking up with a heartless big bank, or giving up on a favorite product after its quality got worse and worse. Maybe your character is quitting a sports team, or sending a well-worn pair of boots to the trash.

Where to find ideas: Listen to some of the thousands of breakup songs for ideas on how to approach the subject.

Tips: You can do this as a funny parody of the breakup song genre, or you can make it completely serious.  It's all up to you.

Here's the secret: A breakup always involves an inner emotional conflict within the person initiating the breakup.  Play out that ambivalence and tension in the verses. Become decisive and single-minded in the chorus.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Suggestion: Write a song of enthusiasm

Songwriting suggestion: Write a song with a central message of enthusiasm for some thing, product, place, person, event, or activity.

Where to find ideas: What have you enthused about lately? What have other people raved about to you?  What brings joy into your life?

Tip: Write the chorus so it could pass as a commercial on radio or TV. The chorus should express the song's central idea in full, even without the help of the verses. 

Here's the secret: Zoom in. Don't try to cover your whole subject. Get more specific. Pick one aspect or angle and make it the central theme (and hook) of your song.  When the Beach Boys enthused about the girls they met in their travels, the chorus could have been "There are terrific girls everywhere you go."  What they actually sang was more specific, and much better: "I wish they all could be California girls."

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Here comes February Album Writing Month

It's time for February Album Writing Month 2013, at http://fawm.org. The FAWM challenge: to write 14 songs during the 28 days of February.

Writing quickly with a deadline is a great way to build your strength as a songwriter. If you never face a deadline, you you might be holding on to lazy, sloppy, inefficient writing habits.  It's like an athlete who works out but never plays a game or runs a race, or like an actor who practice lines and characters but never gets onstage.  Putting your feet to the fire forces you to do better.  That's why I recommend participating in FAWM to anyone who wants to become a better songwriter.

For the month of February, I'll be posting songwriting suggestions — ideas that you can take and build into a song for FAWM or for any other purpose.  Sometimes it's hard to get past the initial hurdle of deciding what to write about.  If you find yourself in that situation, check back here for  songwriting suggestions, and see one of them helps you get started a little faster on your next song.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tip #14-1/2: Embrace your limitations

It seems paradoxical, but when artists are forced to work within severe limitations, it often leads to their best and most memorable works. Artists all know about this phenomenon, and so they often chase down self-imposed constraints, hoping to spur their creativity. For example, an entire album with only voice and ukulele.

When you're under the gun to produce a whole pile of work in a limited time, the deadline is itself a constraint that can spur your creativity. But there's another set of constraints that you should go ahead and adopt in such high-pressure circumstances: the constraints that correspond to your own personal limitations as an artist.

Instead of struggling to overcome your limitations, this is the time to embrace them. Instead of raging against the handicaps that keep you from reaching your goals, choose them as the constraints that define your style.

If you can't play fast to save your life, you can be the artist who does all slow-tempo songs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tip #14: Maybe it's complete already

Approaching the end of our series of 14-1/2 tips for writing quickly.

One of the secrets of artistic genius is knowing when to stop.

If you find yourself struggling to fill in the missing pieces of your song, it's time to think the unthinkable: maybe your song doesn't need that piece at all.

Trying playing through the song with just the pieces you have. Does it say what you need it to say? Does it fill its space effectively? If so, maybe you can stop writing and declare success. You might just happen to have a brilliantly enigmatic song with a daring and unconventional shape.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tip #13: Roll dice

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

If decisions slow you down, try taking yourself out of the decision process. Write down your list of options and roll a die or flip a coin to choose among them.

If you think you need to manage every detail and carefully consider every decision, you might be surprised at how well things work out if you loosen your control of the process and let random chance be your collaborator.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tip #12: The buddy system

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

Nothing spurs your creativity like having a buddy or group of friends to share your works-in-progress with. Whether you meet every week, or check in on Facebook every day, you'll be highly motivated to have something new to show your friends each time. Sometimes that extra motivation is all you need to get over your temporary hurdles and get your song done.

One of the great things about the setup of the FAWM challenge is how easily you can share your songs online as soon as you get them done. Even the possibility of an audience — someone might come along and listen to your song online — provides an extra motivation to get something done.