Author Archives: SongwriterLink

How to Get Your First Sync Placement: Live Webinar With Brad Hatfield

sync licensing webinar lisa occhino brad hatfield songwriterlink

The early stages of your songwriting career can be both exciting and frustrating: you’re sitting on dozens of songs with lots of promise, but you have no idea what the next steps are to actually start earning money with those songs.

In this webinar hosted by SongwriterLink founder Lisa Occhino, sync licensing expert Brad Hatfield will share tried-and-true tips, advice, and action steps to start licensing your music and turn your passion into your career.

By the end of this webinar, you will:

  • Understand what truly goes into the process of getting a sync placement, from start to finish
  • Know the specific qualities of songs that get licensed vs. those that don’t
  • Understand what music supervisors are looking for — and how to get taken seriously when you pitch them
  • Have an action plan to get your very first song licensed
  • Have your music licensing questions answered by Brad Hatfield in a live Q&A session

Click here to grab your spot at the webinar!

ABOUT BRAD HATFIELD

Brad Hatfield is a Boston-based Emmy award-winning composer, as well as a keyboardist, arranger, and orchestrator for The Boston Pops. Writing and producing songs in a variety of genres, Brad’s works have been heard internationally through repeated placements in film (Borat, Iron Man 2, Analyze This, The Break Up), and TV shows/promos (Friends, CSI, NCIS, Saturday Night Live, American Horror Story, The Sopranos, GLEE, The Good Wife), just to name a few.

Brad served as co-composer for the FX series Rescue Me, and is currently composing for the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless, where he received Emmy nominations in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Brad currently teaches Songwriting for Film and TV and Music Supervision for Berklee Online.

ABOUT LISA OCCHINO

Lisa Occhino is an award-winning songwriter and the founder of songwriting collaboration website SongwriterLink. She’s also a marketing consultant, freelance writer, and editor for several music companies, including Bandzoogle, ReverbNation, and Soundfly. Previously, she served as the managing editor at Sonicbids, where she spent her days working with music industry experts to provide independent artists with music career advice.

Lisa was accepted to Berklee College of Music on a songwriting scholarship and graduated summa cum laude with a music business degree. In addition to her experience in music journalism and music tech, Lisa honed her industry skills and knowledge at a boutique booking agency and renowned music publishing companies such as BMG Chrysalis and Shapiro, Bernstein & Co.

ABOUT SONGWRITERLINK

SongwriterLink is a free songwriting collaboration website that makes finding the perfect co-writer faster and more efficient than ever before. It’s the only website that uses matching engine technology – the same kind that dating websites use – to help find you exactly the type of songwriters you’re looking for. Whether you’re looking to score a publishing deal or want to collaborate just for fun, SongwriterLink’s matching algorithm will pair you up with other songwriters who share your same goals and passion.

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SongwriterLink Featured in Songwriting Magazine

songwriterlink songwriting magazine feature

Exciting news! SongwriterLink was profiled in the latest issue of Songwriting magazine. You can grab a digital copy here!

More about the magazine:

Songwriting is a magazine aimed at songwriters and at fans of song-led music – of all genres. We take advice from successful songwriters, producers and industry experts to provide you with tips, techniques, ideas and inspiration to keep the music flowing, from writing lyrics and melodies to advice on how to promote yourself and your songs. Plus you’ll find interviews with big name artists and rising stars, along with the latest news and reviews of new music and gear.

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SongwriterLink’s Free 30-Day Co-Writing Challenge Starts February 1 – Are You Game?

co-writing challenge 2017 songwriterlink blog

Did you set a New Year’s resolution to become a better songwriter? If you’re serious about achieving your songwriting goals this year, there’s no better way to turn words into action than by joining SongwriterLink’s FREE 30-day co-writing challenge, starting February 1.

The challenge is designed to accommodate songwriters at all levels – especially those who are new to co-writing, want to get more comfortable with it, or have previously had trouble finishing co-writes. The challenge is carefully crafted to be motivating, but not too overwhelming; it’s flexible enough to accommodate participants’ busy schedules while still providing forward momentum. As long as you stay on track with each mini-challenge throughout the month, you’re guaranteed to have a fully co-written and demoed song by March 2.

The goal of this co-writing challenge is not to write a “perfect” song – it’s to practice getting a co-write done! The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel at the end of the 30 days from having simply completed a project will motivate you to keep up your songwriting productivity throughout the rest of the year – and hopefully beyond, if you stick with it!

In 30 days, you will:

  • explore your hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses as both a songwriter and a co-writer
  • brainstorm song ideas
  • have at least two co-writing sessions
  • practice revising and rewriting
  • get peer feedback and support from other challenge participants
  • get little notes of motivation and inspiration exactly when you need it the most
  • practice making decisions to meet deadlines, as professional songwriters do
  • learn about split sheets
  • record a demo of your completed song (at any production level you feel comfortable with)
  • get insanely motivated by your accomplishment, which will fuel your songwriting inspiration and productivity for months to come!

Join the challenge now, and make 2017 your best year of songwriting yet!

Click here to join the challenge.

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SongwriterLink Spotlight: Alex Cook

Alex Cook SongwriterLink Spotlight

Photo of Alex Cook by Ben Pugh / CC BY 2.0

In this month’s SongwriterLink Spotlight, we’re getting to know Alex Cook, a Cambridge-based composer, producer, pianist, and violinist who’s been a SongwriterLink member since 2016.

When and why did you start writing songs?

I began writing music about 15 years ago, at the age of 7 or 8. I think it started just from that urge most kids have to create things – drawings, stories, crafts – but for me, it was music. It soon became quite an obsession. From early on I had this sound in my head that I wanted to create, but [I didn’t have] the skills or knowledge to get there. This pushed me to keep going and keep trying new ideas; it just grew from there.

How would you describe your music?

This is such a difficult question! I suppose most of what I do falls somewhere on the spectrum between contemporary classical and electronic dance music, but that’s an essentially meaningless statement as those two areas of music are so completely different. In short, I love to combine recorded or live instruments with synths and bass and drums, with a result that could be minimal and ethereal, a great wall of sound, or anything in between.

Who is your biggest songwriting inspiration right now?

At the moment, I am inspired to create new sounds that are unlike anything that’s been heard before. I love Ólafur Arnalds’ music. His combination of orchestra and electronics in his album For Now I Am Winter is so beautiful and quite unique.

What does your songwriting process typically look like?

There are a number of ways I approach composing. Sometimes I’ll write everything out on paper first, without a piano or any other instrument, just hearing the sounds in my head. Or sometimes I just sit at the piano and improvise – that can be a great way to come up with new ideas for melodies that I otherwise might not have thought of.

More recently, since I became interested in electronic music, I spend a lot of time composing at the computer, recording layer by layer from a keyboard. If I’m writing something for both instruments and electronics, however, then I’ll usually write the score for the instrumentalists separately from the electronics, hearing them together only in my imagination until it’s all been recorded.

What made you decide to join SongwriterLink?

There are a couple of reasons. First, I’m looking for lyricists and singers for a quite specific project – an electronic/orchestral album which I’ve been working on for a while. And second, thinking a bit more broadly, to get in touch with new people and potential collaborators with the hope of creating some unique and really special new sounds.

It’s important for any kind of artist to keep pushing the boundaries of what they do, and up until now I haven’t worked with many singers or songwriters, so this is a direction I’d really like to try!

How has being a SongwriterLink member impacted you as a songwriter?

Well, it’s early days at the moment, but already there are some very promising conversations going on, sending ideas back and forth, and I’m sure it won’t be long before some exciting new sounds emerge! SongwriterLink has put me in touch with some very creative people I would otherwise never have known about. So, watch this space!

What’s your favorite thing about collaborating with other songwriters?

For me, the best thing about collaborating with another composer or songwriter is that the end result is always so different from what either of us would have created individually. When I begin a project that’s basically “mine,” I usually have a pretty clear idea of what it’s going to sound like before I start (and, of course, I enjoy the experience of hearing my own concept realized in sound). But when collaborating with someone else, that all gets thrown up in the air and some really unexpected things can happen.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far about co-writing that you wish you knew when you first started out?

As a composer, it’s very easy to become self-obsessed and precious about material, without even realizing it. When writing with someone else, that becomes so limiting. Breaking out of this bubble for the first time was a challenge, but was so essential to allow the collaboration to take on its own personality and flourish.

If you could co-write with anyone in the world (living or dead), who would it be and why?

My childhood hero, Ludovico Einaudi. His music is so well crafted and he speaks so intelligently about it. Yeah, I’d love to be in a room with Einaudi, each of us with a piano, and just play.

Are you currently working on any songwriting-related projects that you’re excited about?

Yes! As I mentioned, I’ve got this electronic and kind of orchestral album that I’ve been working on for quite a while now. So far, I’ve got all the instrumentals (including five violins, two violas, two cellos, two pianos, two recorders, two clarinets, two trombones, and two horns) recorded, and now I’m looking for singers and lyricists who can help me take it to the next level. I’ll post a sample in my SongwriterLink sounds area so you can hear what I’m talking about.

 

Listen to Alex Cook’s music on SongwriterLink, SoundCloud, or YouTube. You can also keep up with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Want to be featured in an upcoming SongwriterLink Spotlight article? Make sure your SongwriterLink profile is complete, then email the link to lisa@songwriterlink.com and tell us why you should be featured!

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Why Every Songwriter Should Have a Hookbook

songwriting hookbook

Image via Pixabay

This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog.

If you’ve been creative for any length of time, you’ve noticed that things tend to ebb and flow. You can have an incredibly productive month (or two, or three) and then be tapped out for ideas for a little while. It happens to everybody. Pro writers are able to sidestep that issue by having something called a “hookbook.” A hook is nothing more than an idea – usually a song title, but it could be a guitar lick or melody line. Here’s what you need to know about starting your very own hookbook.

1. Catch your ideas

Most of us have ideas come to us from time to time – when we sleep, when we’re driving, in the shower, whenever. The key is to jot down the ideas before they fly out of your head. You might not have the time to write them right then and there, but if you can get them down in some way, you can come back to them. If you do this enough, you’ll have a huge pool to draw from when your well is dry – you never have to stop writing for lack of ideas!

2. Assemble some tools of the trade

Almost anything can be a hookbook – I know writers who use the old-school pen and notepad. Some even have cool-looking journals or notebooks from bookstores. Some people have portable recorders (or use their phones) to mumble lyrics or melodies into. Or get an app on your phone to jot down all your ideas.

It doesn’t matter what it is – it’s just got to be easy to use for you and available 24/7. That means if you’re asleep in bed, it’s gotta be easy for you to roll over and use it. If you’re half asleep, you’re not gonna want to go hunting around for a pen or wander the kitchen looking for your phone (or notebook). And if you fall back to sleep, you’re gonna forget that great idea by morning – I guarantee it.

3. Get organized

Assuming you’re now keeping a running log of all your ideas (and backing it up!), you’re already on the road to success. But if you want to go one step further, you should consider organizing your titles and ideas by genre or type of song.

For instance, a title like “All Alone and Lonely” is not going to be an uptempo. Certain melodies can lend themselves to pop, rock, or country as well. Things like that should be fairly obvious, especially if you’re a seasoned writer. So the next time you’re in a writing session, when you’re trying to right an uptempo party song, you know exactly which part of your hookbook to turn to.

 

If you’re in any way serious about your art, a hookbook is practically mandatory. This guarantees you have at least something to throw out during co-writing sessions, something to inspire yourself with during solo writes, and a large pool of ideas to draw from in general. Start one today, and make recording your ideas a habit. It will pay dividends down the road.

 

Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.

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4 Signs You’re Working With a Great Co-Writer

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This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog.

Maybe you’ve had a run of songwriting appointments that weren’t clicking, or maybe you’re just starting out and want to get off on the right foot. Here are just a few tips to whittle down your potential list of co-writers to the real gems.

1. You get along

Now, this isn’t necessarily a hard and fast rule – there are some songwriting teams that have notoriously not gotten along. They get in the same room with each other, write a song, and don’t talk until the next one. Most people don’t work that way, and writing is a very personal experience – if you don’t feel totally comfortable, you’re not going to be at your best.

My best co-writers are good friends, or at least people I can be good friends with. They get my sense of humor, we have at least a few common interests, and they’re just cool to be around. The more practical aspect of it is this: odds are, there are going to be long silences and maybe days that you don’t even come up with anything. It’s better, in my opinion, to spend those days with someone you like being around – that way, at least you’re having fun.

2. They’ve got their act together (mostly)

Not everyone can be totally on point all the time, and we shouldn’t expect perfection. But little things like being on time, coming in prepared with ideas or melodies, or maybe pitch ideas, show that they actually care about the co-writing session. Extra points if they’ve put time into learning an instrument and bring that to the table – it shows they take their craft seriously. But if they’re constantly blowing your session off or standing you up, or writing in general seems to not be a priority, it’s a sign you should move on.

3. They’re able to contribute

Maybe they’ve got a home studio and can save you on demo costs, or maybe they play a mean guitar and will play for free on your demo. Or maybe they’ve got a publishing deal or an open door with an artist and have a ready-made avenue to pitch your songs. Even if they bring something to the table you don’t – say, a great mind for the music business, or great phone skills (for calling publishers and other contacts) – that can be a significant asset. While this should by no means be the only reason you write with them, it’s certainly a big plus.

4. There’s mutual respect

This is the big one. Writing with someone you don’t respect – at bare minimum, as a great writer – is difficult. And to be real, if you don’t respect their writing, why are you bothering? The converse is also true – they need to respect your skills just as much.

Nothing is worse than someone feeling like they have to take over the session because they don’t trust their co-writer, or not being into the song because it conflicts with your tastes. Find people whose music you truly like and truly inspires you to write better songs. And of course, they should be enthusiastic about your music as well.

 

There are many criteria you could use to find great co-writers, and these are just a few I’ve found useful. It’s important to develop your own set of standards for picking a writing partner, and they can be totally different than anything I’ve listed. But over time as you write with more and more people, you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s important to stick to your guns, too – don’t be afraid to be a little picky. Just don’t be so picky that no one makes the cut!

 

Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.

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3 Red Flags That a Co-Write Just Isn’t Working

This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog

Many artists and writers outside of Nashville tend to do solo writes (pop artists being an occasional exception). Nashville is a bit different in that writers often team up to collaborate. The process can be daunting and confusing. I’ve had friends and writers tell me about sessions that weren’t working. “Is this me? I must be a bad writer…” Most of the time, that’s not the case and simply a matter of personalities and styles not gelling. Here’s just a few ways to tell if it’s not working out.

1. They don’t listen

I’ve heard horror stories about this from other writers (and experienced some myself) – nobody likes to get bulldozed in the writing room. This can take on many forms, including everything from flat out saying “no” and shooting down your ideas out of hand, to completely ignoring your input.

Now, not every line a writer comes up with is a winner, and you shouldn’t expect every idea you throw out to be taken. But do expect it to be seriously considered and discussed, at least to a point, because collaboration should be a two-way street. If you feel like you can’t get a word in edgewise and your partner is dominating the session, you’ll likely end up with a sense of frustration. Worse, you’ll probably feel like you don’t have emotional and intellectual ownership of the song you worked so hard on. This is a big red flag and grounds to have a serious discussion with your co-writer.

2. They don’t know their strengths

I’ve heard stories of writers who have gotten into rooms with someone who didn’t play an instrument, couldn’t sing a note, and insisted on being the “melody guy.” Likewise, I’ve heard of strong melody writers who try to take over the lyric-writing process. Often, the song suffers as a result.

This doesn’t mean that the writing process shouldn’t be open and collaborative – far from it! My favorite writing sessions are where everyone kind of works on everything and is throwing out ideas. What I’m talking about here is someone taking point on something they’re weak at. It can be frustrating, especially when you know the song could be so much better if they’d just break out their killer lyric skills or great melodies.

3. They’re in love with everything they write (like, really in love)

When I first started, I wrote with someone who practically burst into tears when I suggested changing the phrasing – and this was simply a suggestion! “But I love it so much! It’s perfect, I don’t want to change it!” they insisted. I relented because my co-writer felt so strongly. The next line was the same deal – they loved it and wouldn’t hear of changing it. Not the phrasing, not the melody, not a single punctuation mark.

After tackling the rest of the song with similar reactions, we both walked away in frustration. We were both new, and both somewhat to blame. I didn’t communicate as clearly as I could have, and they were just too close to their lines to hear me anyway. We did finish the song, but neither of us was terribly happy with it.

Sometimes writing styles and musical tastes differ drastically. If that’s the case, it’s important to recognize that and compromise. If you simply can’t, shake hands and move on.

 

There are many reasons who a co-write may not work, and it’s important to remember not to take it personally. It isn’t your fault or the other person’s, and neither one of you is necessarily a bad writer – you’re just not clicking, and that’s totally okay.

 

Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.

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Learn the Secrets of Writing a Catchy, Memorable Hook at SongwriterLink’s Webinar on 10/22/16

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Want to learn the secrets of writing a catchy, memorable hook in just 90 minutes that you can use in your songwriting for the rest of your life?

No element of a song is more important than the melody – it’s what grabs us and keeps us coming back. Friedemann Findeisen, author of The Addiction Formula and founder of Holistic Songwriting, has been studying hit song melodies for over a decade. In this webinar on October 22, 2016 presented by SongwriterLink and Songwriting magazine, he’ll share the proven formulas and songwriting tools you need to write strong hooks every time.

[click here to register for the webinar]

In this webinar, you will:

  • Learn the techniques hit songwriters use every day to write strong, catchy hooks
  • Be provided with a logical, step-by-step approach to writing contemporary hooks
  • Get your songwriting questions answered by Friedemann during the live Q&A session
  • Have the opportunity to get live feedback on your hook during the webinar (when you select the “serious songwriter” package – see details here)

Registration for our webinar is now open, so make sure you grab your spot!

SongwriterLink members get a big discount on all registration packages for this webinar. Join for free at songwriterlink.com, then log into your account and you’ll see the promo code right on your account page.

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10 Nuggets of Songwriting Wisdom From the Greats

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Photo via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog.

In 1676, Isaac Newton delivered the famous quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In this bit of wisdom, Newton tapped into a timeless truth that historical progression comes from taking what has been learned from the greats before you and building from there. Check out these bits of wisdom from 10 songwriting giants.

1. Bob Dylan

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Photo by Xavier Badosa via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“It is only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy someone. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”

2. David Bowie

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Photo by Marc Wathieu via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four- or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them. You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”

3. Charles Mingus

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Photo by Tom Marcello via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

4. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)

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Photo by Ella Mullins via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“Do I start with the lyrics? No. Quite honestly, it’s the opposite. I generally get the melody first – I kinda fiddle around on the guitar and work out a melody. The lyrics are there to flesh out the tone of the music. I’ve tried before to do things the other way around, but it never seems to work. Obviously, I spend a lot of time on my lyrics, I take them very seriously, but they’re kinda secondary. Well, equal, maybe. I think sometimes that if you write a poem, it should remain as just a poem, just words.”

5. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

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Image via via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“I got this cheap little empty plastic notebook at my local drugstore, and bought a little slab of filler paper and the very first title I wrote in it was ‘Proud Mary.’ I had no idea what that title meant. I work hard at that, but the fact that there are a lot of good songs means there are also a lot of really bad songs I’ve written that you never hear.

6. Alicia Keys

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Image via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“For me, writing comes directly from a specific source. Like something that just happened to me, a conversation, a strong emotion, a line in a book, a word…. Usually I seize that exact moment to write down what I felt, even if it makes no sense or it doesn’t rhyme…. Or I will call my [voicemail] and leave myself a message if I have no pen, or only a melody.

“Later, when I have time alone, I like to sit quietly, most times at my piano…and I revisit what I felt. I allow myself to say everything that my heart feels about it with no judgment, [until] I get all I need out… and I feel the spirit in the song. Then I begin to arrange it, or share it, or get feedback. The most important thing for me when I write is that I properly express that emotion that struck me so deeply.”

7. Tom Waits

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Image via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

“For a songwriter, you don’t really go to songwriting school; you learn by listening to tunes. And you try to understand them and take them apart and see what they’re made of, and wonder if you can make one, too.”

8. John Legend

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Image via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

I have a structured songwriting process. I start with the music and try to come up with musical ideas, then the melody, then the hook, and the lyrics come last. Some people start with the lyrics first because they know what they want to talk about and they just write a whole bunch of lyrical ideas, but for me, the music tells me what to talk about.”

9. Jimi Hendrix

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Image via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Imagination is the key to my lyrics. The rest is painted with a little science fiction.”

10. Prince

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Image via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Attention to detail makes the difference between a good song and a great song. And I meticulously try to put the right sound in the right place, even sounds that you would only notice if I left them out. Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and it seems like the first color in a painting. And then you can build the rest of the song with other added sounds. You just have to try to be with that first color, like a baby yearns to come to its parents. That’s why creating music is really like giving birth. Music is like the universe: The sounds are like the planets, the air and the light fitting together.”

 

Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.

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4 10-Minute Songwriting Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

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Image via pixabay.com

This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog.

There are millions of exercises out there that might be able to quicken your thinking or raise your level of alertness. Theater improv exercises and games of Sudoku are great ways to keep your brain active and stave off dementia. But whether these things help with music and composition is anyone’s guess. Today’s set of exercises is aimed directly at playing and writing music, focused on widening the mental pathways that allow us to create and perform songs. Let’s begin.

1. Write a 10-minute song

I once knew a music professor who had composed and written a page of music every day, for 366 days straight. Of course, his full-time job was to sit in a room with a piano and a book of blank staff paper, so he had an advantage over most of us. Also, writing out a full page of sheet music takes more than 10 minutes. But the concept remains. Maybe you want to try it for a week, three days, or a month.

You have 10 minutes to write and record a song, so don’t waste time. Pick up an instrument or just start singing. There’s no time to think about whether the song is good or whether anyone wants to hear it. Strum some chords, scribble some lyrics. Now grab some sort of a recording device – probably a smartphone, as that’s quickest.

Sometimes the results of this exercise are sheer brilliance. More often, they’re a little awkward. And they’re almost always funny. But regardless of the outcome, this practice will train your mind to always be writing music.

2. Turn a non-lyric into a lyric

Some would say that the only difference between poetry and prose is the line breaks. For this exercise, you’ll be making that very change.

First, find a short piece of writing, less than 100 words. A letter to the editor in the newspaper is a good length. It could also be the text of a flyer at the bus stop, or the instructions that are always printed on something that doesn’t need instructions, like a box of macaroni and cheese or a bottle of shampoo.

Adjust the line breaks in the piece to make it more poetic. Then, find a key phrase or two and repeat it – that’s your chorus.

What started like this:

Wet hair and apply. The amount used will vary depending on the volume and length of hair. Work through the hair with fingertips.

Turns into this:

Wet,

wet

hair and apply.

 

The amount,

The amount used will vary

Depending on the volume

Depending on the length

Of your hair.

You get the idea. By the time you’re done, you’ll probably be hearing melodic ideas in your head as well. So sing them!

3. Dismantle a song

Start with a short song you like and already know how to play. Keeping the same music, write new lyrics for the entire piece. Keep in mind that you only have 10 minutes, so there’s no time to think – just do it. If you think about it, it’s impossible to keep the regular lyrics and melody out of your head. So don’t think.

Now, take a moment to forget the music you just wrote to, and view the lyrics you just wrote with fresh eyes. Now it’s time to write new music to these lyrics. You’ve just written a completely new song in 10 minutes, using someone else’s music as a supporting structure. And you can’t even be sued for copyright infringement.

4. Let your unconscious mind do the work

Take a real event from your life. It could be anything that feels important or sticks in your head, like the time you fell in the pond at the park, your first kiss, or almost getting into a car crash. Write two or three paragraphs, vividly describing the event. That’s your 10 minutes; you’re out of time. Go about your business, and come back to this tomorrow.

The next day, come back and give your story the line break treatment as we did in the second exercise. Make the story into a poem. Now take a break once again. Even if you don’t think about it consciously, your brain remembers that it’s working on this exercise and will be chewing on the problem of making this into a song for the next 24 hours.

On the third day, grab an instrument and look at your poeticized story. Now build a song. You’ve already done the hard part, and your mind may have some great rhythmic and melodic ideas in storage. Sleeping on a song puts your brain in gear to hack the problem while you’re thinking about something else, and the unconscious mind thinks more freely and imaginatively than the conscious one can. You can put the back of your mind to work and write better, more interesting material.

 

Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.

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