Saturday, July 31, 2010

A note from your unruly blogger

Thanks for sticking around and reading my Unruly Beast of a Songblog! When I launched this blog, I optimistically imagined that it would only take a year or two to share everything I knew about rock songwriting. It's been almost a year now, and we've barely scratched the surface. There is so much to say, and so little time to spare for blogging between all of my other activities.

I still plan to cover melody, song structure, lyrics, the creative process, and a whole host of techniques for coming up with ideas and systematically building a song. I'm considering doing at least some of that material in audio or video format. Sometimes listening to a musical example is better than reading a thousand words.

For the immediate future, August is going to be the Month of Inspiration. I suspect that some of you will find August's posts powerful and eye-opening. Others might find that it has no connection to the practical musical techniques that you're hoping to learn about. If you're in the latter group, that's fine. You can sit this one out, but please come back in September for a new season of songwriting techniques. But if you're one of those artists whose work revolves around that mysterious, unreliable, aggravating, and uniquely rewarding phenomenon called inspiration, please stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Q♥ Key to your heart

Q♥ Queen of Hearts in The Rock Songwriter’s Deck: 52 Ways to Write a Song

The Queen of Hearts invites you to fall deeply in love and write an honest and authentic love song.

If you're not in love with someone right now, you don't have to fake it. There's another way to play the Queen's game: by taking inventory of the most powerful desires that tug at your heart, and writing a song about one of them.

You must be honest if you want to win at this game. Don't pretend your #1 wish is world peace if what truly moves your heart is the thought of having a #1 hit, or of driving a particular car. The Queen of Hearts is also a lover of luxury. She will sympathize with your most worldly and materialistic desires.

Write earnestly, as though your song will — if you find just the right notes and words — win your beloved’s affection or lead the way to the exact thing you desire. Make sure your song fully embodies your wish.

Who knows? There really is a Queen of Hearts. She is rather fond of songs and songwriters. Maybe she will be so touched by your song that she'll decide to pull some magical strings to make your wish come true.

But even if you don't get your wish exactly the way you imagine it, the Queen of Hearts guarantees that something magical will happen it if you put your full efforts into this song. Count on it — and write from your heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

6♥ Song therapy

6♥ Six of Hearts in The Rock Songwriter’s Deck: 52 Ways to Write a Song

Songwriting can heal your heart. The Six of Hearts invites you to stare your most painful memories right in the face — yes, those memories you are most inclined to shrink away from. You can use the creative alchemy of songwriting to transform your most troubling emotions into haunting beauty. This transformation process will free you from the chains of the past.

When you're done with the song, you might or might not want to release the resulting song to the public. If you decide that the song is too raw and personal to share, it's okay to keep it private. The healing is still yours to keep.

But your brutal honesty might strike a resonant chord with your audience, following a long tradition of deeply personal confessions that turned into big hits. Your might even help anonymous strangers heal their own emotional wounds through the musical magic of your own healing process.

To play this game, lay the Six of Hearts on the table, and then start with any emotion, any traumatic memory, anything that troubles you. Use your creative skills to explore that part of your psyche and express your deepest feelings. Your songwriting studio is a safe place. Don't hold back.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Open the door and let 'em in (Songwriting tips)

While writing, write down the ideas that pop into your head — even the dumb ones.

If you say no to any idea, you run the risk of offending your muse, and then your flow of ideas will come to a dead stop. It takes only a moment to jot the idea in the margin or add it to your list of ideas.

Sometimes if you "unwrap" a bad idea there's a brilliant idea hiding underneath. If someone else comes by while you're working, they may happen to suggest a tiny change that turns your dumb idea into the perfect thing.

It's happened to me plenty of times, and I've begun to trust that any idea that shows up is there for a reason, even if its value isn't immediately obvious.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And that's a wrap for today (Songwriting tips)

Know when to stop working. The creative process has a natural arc to it. Don't push on when inspiration is exhausted.

These are hints that it's time to stop writing: you feel irritable, indecisive, or lost. If you find yourself looking at the same thing for ten minutes without making progress, then it's probably time to quit and plan to come back another day with a fresh perspective.

Of course, putting your work aside isn't always an option. If you face a deadline and must keep going even when you feel creatively exhausted, it's time to lower your standards and find the simplest possible way to get to the finish line. That's when you should fall back on proven formulas, cheap gimmicks, and familiar cliches. Steal from your own previous work if you have to. Turn in something that's workable and usable. But don't struggle to come up with something fresh, new, and brilliant when that creative spark isn't there.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Know the room (Songwriting tips)

If your song is for a specific setting or event, learn everything you can about that context, and adapt your song to fit.

If your song is destined for a noisy place and a distracted audience, subtleties will go to waste. Be clear and direct.

If your song stands in the way of a crowd of people getting to dinner, you'll win friends by keeping it very short.