Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Songwriting Lessons

Over the next few years, I will reveal, in this blog, every secret of rock songwriting. I'll cover everything you need to know to write whatever kind of songs you want to write.

Note: I use the word secret loosely. There are no secrets in songwriting, because anything that actually matters is clearly audible to the listening audience. If it's audible, it's not a secret: you can measure it, define it, and imitate it. And if it isn't audible, it doesn't matter.

I'll explain how you can write songs that are guaranteed to please your audience.

Note: There are no secrets to this process either. After I explain it all, you'll say "well, duh!" Yes, you use this stuff already in other areas of your life, and there's no reason not to use it in your songwriting life too.

I will reveal hundreds of clever songwriting techniques — which is massive overkill. No one needs that many different techniques in their toolbox. But I believe that each one of these techniques is needed by someone out there. So don't sweat over trying to pick up the whole huge body of techniques. Just collect a handful of them that you find useful.

I will of course cover the nuts-and-bolts of chords, melodies, structure, lyrics, and the writing process.

All for free!

There should be no mysteries in songwriting. I often compare songwriting to playing guitar. If you want to play guitar, you can get lessons, books, videos, magazines, software, and if you want to be a great player it's all up to you to practice, practice, practice. Same thing with songwriting, except there's rather a shortage of helpful teachers, books, videos, magazines, and software. The shortage of clear information makes it seem as though songwriting is mysterious. But it's not. Songwriting is something anyone can learn, and, same as any other skill, it's up to you to practice, practice, practice.

So stick around! Bookmark this blog. Better yet, become a follower of the blog. That's your visible way of lending me encouragement, and like all creative people I need encouragement at least now and then. Tell your musical friends! Post questions and comments. Let's see how this all shakes out.

The adventure "officially" starts on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Create something unexpected!

I hope you'll create something unexpected. Not formulaic — although you might use formulas along the way. Not predictable — although it might seem obvious and inevitable after the fact. And not based on what you think your audience wants — although there's nothing wrong with seeking out audience feedback and taking it to heart.

Something unexpected. But I'm not asking you to surprise or shock people. Think of the artists who strive with all their might to surprise and shock. They're as boring as anyone. Am I right? After the first or second roadside explosion, it's obvious what they're trying to do. Even when they succeed in catching you off guard, it only cuts your flesh; it doesn't stir your soul. So don't make white bread stuffed with the occasional jalapeno. That's not inventive cooking; it's just culinary abuse.

And let me be clear, I'm not asking you to do things randomly. You might happen to know that I'm fond of using random techniques, but randomness is never the point of any creation. Randomness is mathematically the same as noise, and noise is exactly as meaningful as silence. Randomness is a means to an end, a quick way to take dimensions out of play, to push attention to other dimensions that carry the real message.

I hope you will create something that can't be expected, something so freshly invented that no one ever had a chance to imagine it before. Something that makes people say "Wow! Where did that come from?" And you might have to honestly answer, if pressed, "Don't ask me. I'm just the artist."

Be willing to create something that might not quite make sense, something that you might not be able to fully explain or defend, something that might be misunderstood or even ridiculed. Go out on a limb and trust your aesthetic senses when they tell you it's right.

And you get the "Unexpected" gold medal if you create something so one-of-a-kind that you can't repeat the feat even if someone is willing to pay you good money.

This is what happens when you find a perfect and powerful expression of who you are in one completely transparent moment. Paradoxically, this ultimate creative moment permanently changes you, heals you, transforms you. Remember Heisenberg's principle: he showed that you fundamentally can't observe certain things without changing them. It's as though your act of asking who won the ball game changes the score and possibly changes the outcome of the game. It doesn't seem to make sense, but that's the way it works. You can't just be a spectator; you are inescapably in the game.

Having created from the depths of your soul, you are already a different person from the one who performed that daring creative act. You can't create again; you can only create anew.

So create something unexpected. Something that falls to pieces when we try in vain to analyze it, that inexplicably changes form when we try to photocopy it. Create something that fundamentally can't be reduced to simple prime factors, because its recipe includes that unique irrational number that is you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why so unruly? Why can't art be quiet and well-behaved?

Yes, what is it about artistry? Why so eccentric and uncivilized? Why is art such an unruly beast?

Or we could turn this question around and ask why anyone assumes that art should be neat and well-behaved.

Art can be civilized and polite — at the end of its life cycle, after it's already dead, carved up, and put on someone's plate. All the risk is gone by this point — why wouldn't it seem tame? For many people, this is the only face of art they ever get to see.

For those who have gotten a look at art earlier in its life cycle, it's a different story. If you, as an artist, want to create something new, it's a messy and dangerous business. You must get outside the proverbial city, hike into the deep forest, trudge through the swamps, climb up the mountains, delve into the depths of the oceans. You must find those untamed places that are free of the dominance of human plans, rules, and intentions.

The unruly beast is the totem of living art. As an artist, you must make friends with the beast, you must gain its trust and cooperation, but you can never control it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Test out the new Songwriting Assignment Generator

I'm working on a new Songwriting Assignment Generator. If you ever feel at a loss for what to write a song about, just visit the generator, and it will always have a new randomly-generated idea for you.

I don't expect people to take this tool very seriously. Life is full of interesting things that could be turned into songs, and I hope you're already keeping an ever-expanding idea list in your lyrics journal. But if you feel stuck or feel like you need to try something completely different, give the Songwriting Assignment Generator a visit. It might spark some ideas and help get you started on something new.

If you have any comments or suggestions for the generator, please leave a comment on this blog post.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unruly Beast to be unleashed 9/2

This Unruly Beast of a Songblog will officially be up and running on September 2, 2009. Come back in a few weeks for songwriting tips and inspiration.