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Songwriting tips part 1


Badside

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- When you pick up your instrument, stop playing that Led Zep riff, or the chords to that Beatles song, just play, toy around, have fun, discover the instrument. One of the best songs I wrote (according to our fans), I came up with the main riff while testing a new distortion pedal

 

- Stop thinking too much! Just let it flow. Writing a song is often like brainstorming. You get everything out, then you pick out what's good. If you keep stopping to think or analyze, you're ruining the momentum.

 

- Don't be afraid to copy other people's work. Just have fun. Sometime I'll have a fun with someone's riff, then add to it, and in the end I may end up with a song from wich the inspirational riff isn't even there anymore and the song doesn't sound at all like the early inspiration.

 

- Don't lock yourself into one vision. I had a song which wouldn't get off the ground except at the solo where a change of key seemed to create the movement I was trying to get. I lifted that section out of the solo and made it the chorus instead. Then a cool hook came up in my head as I was listening to it. The rest of the song was written aroun dit.

 

- Screw genres and style. Don't think about whether it's too heavy or too soft, too bluesy or too jazzy, etc. Just write the goddamn songs. You never know where they will get you. If in the end, it's really too out of context for your band, it doesn't matter. It was a good practice, you may end up using it at a later time with another band, or on your own. You may give/sell it to someone else. Who cares, it's all about having fun.

 

- Before you put a solo after the 2nd verse, ask yourself "Is this really the best thing I can do for the song". I get so tired of seeing local bands where I can predict exactly when the pentatonic wankfest will start. This applies to any other "formulas", like sing the chorus acapella or over acoustic guitars before the last chorus (or the good old shift up a higher key). Not saying to always avoid them, but just try to keep away from easy outs. At least once in a while, force yourself to not put the solo, you may surprise yourself with what idea you will come with.

 

- Shoot first, ask questions later. This goes with "Stop thinking too much". Sure, trying to find different paths (as per the above advice) can lead to great things creatively. But I always prefer to just let the juices flow before I start worrying about song structure and such.

 

- When you get to a halt, work on something else. Sometimes a song can sit on the shelves for a few years before you complete it, it doesn't matter. Just keep writing, writing and writing.

 

- Study other people's work. There's something to be said about doing your own thing, but there is so much to like about other people's work. Take your preferred songs, and try to understand what is it about them that makes them so good. You will discover great things!

 

- Dynamics! If you want to catch and keep people's attention, you gotta create movements, dynamics.

 

- Dynamics doesn't have to be loud vs quiet, or clean vs dirty. We've heard enough songs with a clean verse and a dirty chorus, there are many ways to create dynamics.

There is the melody itself: for example, if your melody starts around the third (relative to the root note you're singing over), switch to the fifth (a third above) for the chorus. Or create more movement within the melody in the chorus.

You can use movement: for example, you can have the chorus keep the same chords, but have the bass play a walking line over it while it stays on the root for the verse.

You can use rhytm: for the verse, create a bass line with holes in it (like only play when the bass drum plays), then for the chorus play every 8th.

You can switch from minor to major

You can have the chorus or the bridge in a different key

There are lots of way to keep a song interesting.

 

- Good is not enough, great is not enough, learn to discard songs quickly if they are not working. While you're beating your dead horse, you could be writing another songs. Writing a great songs is part talent, part inspiration, part luck. Write everything that comes up, and then be prepared to discard lots of it.

People don't care that you can write songs, so can 542353298 other musicians. They want to be touched, inspired.

There's a difference between someone telling you "I like your song", someone actually buying your CD, and someone buying your CD and listening to it regularly.

Positive comments are useless, only when people put their money where their mouth is does it count (imho).

Be prepared to accept that some of your babys are just "ok" to most people. You gotta give them something they cannot find elsewhere.

 

- A great song in a classic genre, is 10X better than an OK song in a new genre. Try to push the boundaries, but reinventing the wheel is useless if the end product isn't better. Concentrate on writing good songs first.

 

And never forget: the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves.

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Good post! Lots of excellent advice.

 

As blue2blue says elsewhere, you have to 'partition' the creative inspired part of yourself from the judgmental editing side and know when it's appropriate to use each. The advice you've posted has a mishmash from both sides. I 'd say that one ought to set aside time to let things flow unfettered where your internal editor is shut off, then turn it back on when you're done.

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Good suggestions. A few I'd like to add:

 

- Write down your ideas and leave them. I've gotten stuck on songs or ideas and later used them for spare parts to insert the ideas into other songs.

 

- Use a thesaurus (I use an online one) so that you can find new ways of saying something is nice, good, fast, tall, etc. It helps open you mind up to language.

 

- If you are like me and want to write radio friendly pop-rock style songs, try to work within a format such as verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, instrumental, chorus. Be aware of the length of your song. I personally like to keep everything around 4 minutes or under.

 

I find that ideas should flow naturally but it usually turns to work for me when I try to put everything together into a coherant song. If you don't apply some structure, you end up with mush droning on and on without any discernable song dynamics.

 

Again, I'm no expert.. but these things have helped me I think.

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Good post! Lots of excellent advice.


As blue2blue says elsewhere, you have to 'partition' the creative inspired part of yourself from the judgmental editing side and know when it's appropriate to use each. The advice you've posted has a mishmash from both sides. I 'd say that one ought to set aside time to let things flow unfettered where your internal editor is shut off, then turn it back on when you're done.

 

 

Yes exactly, that is what I was going for when I added "shoot first, ask questions later".

Looking back on my list, it's a combination of "don't think" and "think about this"... cause that is pretty much how it works.

 

Get out everything that comes up while you're inspired. But after that, don't be afraid to edit, don't be afraid to cut out stuff, and don't be afraid to scrap a complete project if it's just not happening.

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Actually, an English teacher of mine had this really great idea about the writing process. While it's meant for any style of writing, lyrics/music are no exception.

 

The idea is the writer goes through 4 stages while writing. They are:

 

-Madman

-Architect

-Carpenter

-Judge

 

The madman stage is where you just throw everything you come up with on paper or recordings. Don't filter anything. 99% of it will suck, but that's ok.

 

The architect stage is where you pick out the good stuff and plan out how you'll use it.

 

The carpenter stage is where you actually build your writing (or in this case, song).

 

The judge stage is when you step back and find what needs to be refined.

 

The idea is to not limit yourself until later in the process. I might have butchered the analogy a little from what it actually was, but it's roughly what it's supposed to be. The idea is the same anyways. The important thing is to not truly step back and look at what you have until the very end, then you go back and redo what sucks.

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