Thursday, January 28, 2010

Record your album in February

Following in the footsteps of November, which has become known as Novel Writing Month, February is now the month to write and record your album.

Now, don't let me hear you complain that February is the shortest month of the year! Sure, it's 48 hours shorter than November. But we're just recording an album, not walking across a continent or writing a novel. Many of the best albums in history were recorded in less than a month — with less stuff to work with than you have on your own computer.

At, they make it even easier. You don't have to record your album, just write it! Their challenge is simple: write 14 songs in 28 days. They promise a supportive community to keep you engaged through the month. Take a look at

Personally, I urge you to not just write, but record your album in February. That reflects where I'm at personally. For me, writing songs without recording anything is just a way of procrastinating. It's like buying running shoes and then not actually going out and running.

RPM Challenge, at, is the website that challenges you to record your album in February. Unfortunately, their site seems to be stone dead right now, with February just a few days away. Anyone know what's up with RPM Challenge? Post a comment if you have the scoop.

Also post if you know of any other February project sites that people should know about. Thanks!

You don't need to sign up with a website to write and record your album in February. You could just do it.

I personally am not doing any February-oriented challenges. But one of my bands is committed to recording an album in 2010, and we've set ourselves a special challenge: to record 100 tracks for our album in the first 100 days of the year. (In this context, recording one instrument on one song = one track.) That challenge will be my main focus in February.

If you decide to take on either of the February challenges, or if you make up your own challenge, good luck! Feel free to post a comment here to report your progress or link to your demos. May the force of inspiration be with you!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

J♥ Top Secret songwriting project

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

The Jack of Hearts reveals that you are on a top-secret mission. Your mission, unless you insist on refusing it, is to write that next song. I think you know which song I'm talking about.

It's important that you keep this song absolutely secret until it's finished. Don't boast, don't gossip, don't hint that you're doing something important and creative. Don't let anyone even suspect that you're writing this song. Keep your lyrics and notes out of sight, locked away from prying eyes. You must not give you-know-who — or anyone else, for that matter — a chance to interfere with your creative process.

When the song is finished and perfected, then you can unleash it on the world.

Oh — so what is the song supposed to be about? Well, if I told you, then I would already know too much, wouldn't I? You might already be clear about this song's subject matter. If not, one of your co-conspirators will soon surreptitiously pass you the information you need.

Now, casually click away from the blog, and act as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Good luck! Godspeed!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

6♣ You can’t write that

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

The Six of Clubs demands that you break every rule and taboo that constrains you. Write your forbidden songs, the ones that you're not allowed to write.

Depending on who you are and what your hangups are, these could be songs that are rude, pornographic, scatological, sexist, politically incorrect, illegal, ugly, cloyingly sweet, or just plain wrong.

Don't worry — you don't have to share these songs with anyone else unless you choose to do so. It's okay if you run them through the shredder as soon as you're done writing them. The point is not to shatter your social identity. Indeed, it's wise to deliberately cultivate a social identity that serves your purposes, even if it's not 100% authentic.

But you should shatter any constraints that limit your creative expression. There is no need to limit yourself in the privacy of your own songwriting studio. You always have the option of editing or censoring things before you let other people hear them, but don't pre-censor them before you even create them. That results in what we sometimes call creative constipation. Where everything is blocked.

By breaking down the walls, you may discover reservoirs of creative energy that you haven't been using.

Just this week, go ahead, be bad. You know you want to.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2♣ Iron Songwriter

2♣ Two of Clubs in The Rock Songwriter’s Deck: 52 Ways to Write a Song

This week, the Two of Clubs invites you to put yourself under pressure by setting a time limit — maybe just one hour — and writing the best song you can manage to write in that brief period of time.

You'd think this arbitrary limitation would just be a handicap, like running a race while carrying a 20-pound weight. But give it a try! Sometimes forcing yourself to work quickly means that you have to give up all of your complicated ideas about how to write a song.

The bizarre truth is that simpler songs usually are more entertaining, easier to listen to, and more powerful. The real handicap is all of the preconceptions and complications that you bring to the table.

So set a stopwatch or alarm clock with a firm deadline, and force yourself to heed it.

For extra fun, you can stage this as a competition against another songwriter, following the example of TV's Iron Chef. Have a panel of friends give you two songwriters a specific assignment — a title, for example — and exactly one hour to write a song. After the hour is up, each songwriter plays his or her new song for the panel, and the panel picks a winner.

If you go to this trouble, you will certainly sweat! And you will risk the embarrassment of ending the hour with something malformed and incomplete. But you never know, until you try, what brilliance of yours might emerge under pressure. You might emerge victorious, and gain "the people's ovation, and fame forever."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5♦ Role model

5♦ Five of Diamonds in The Rock Songwriter’s Deck: 52 Ways to Write a Song

The Five of Diamonds reminds us that imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery, it's also the surest way to success.

There's a good reason that young children imitate the behaviors that they see around them. Not many behaviors are hard-wired in our genes, and that's because DNA takes many generations to shape and refine, but the world's circumstances change on much faster timescales. So our instincts give us a metabehavior: do what the (presumably successful) people around you are doing.

The fastest way to learn to write songs that you love is to study all the songs that you love and learn to imitate them. Now, remember that copyright law prevents you from directly copying material from other songs. But that doesn't stop you from learning from their example and copying their techniques.

This week, start with a song that you love, a song whose musical success you would like to emulate. Listen carefully to the song and pick out its key features, the five or so main things that make it work so well. Write down in words a description of each of those successful features.

Next, forget about that song that you used as your starting point. Work with your text description of that song's strong points. Use that as your recipe for a new song. Create something equivalent-but-different to match each of the source song's key features.

After those are all in place, fill in the rest of your new song with something personal, something that's not copied or derived from anything.

Compare your brand new song to the song that you started with. Most likely you'll find that your new song still falls short by comparison. But don't take that as a failure! This exercise helps you refine your perception of what exactly makes a great song. And if your goal is to write great songs, there is no lesson that's more valuable.

And if you do write a song that's every bit as good as a song you admired, then, congratulations! You might not learn as much as your less successful songwriter fellows did, but that great song you just wrote, that's a fine consolation prize.

Blogger's note: I apologize for the three-week lapse in The Rock Songwriter's Deck. With the new year, I vow to get back to weekly updates. But December's lapse means that this series of posts won't be a neat one-year run; we're going to go a few weeks beyond the one-year mark.