126 Shortcuts to take your songs from good to great!

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

SONGWRITING AND INSPIRATION

Monday, May 25th, 2009

by Robin Frederick (author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting”)

Most songwriters sit down to write when they are going through an emotional time, when feelings are running high. Many great songs — many hit songs — have been written from a songwriter’s private life – the joy, love, grief, and anger of the writer’s own relationships.

So, what happens when a songwriter who has been writing solely from personal experience begins to (or wants to) earn a living from their writing? Let’s say you’re a singer-songwriter with a record deal and you have to write ten new songs for an upcoming album… or you’re a staff writer with a publishing deal who needs to write on demand. Can you rely on your life to provide enough material to keep the songs flowing? Probably not. Even if you could, it might not be the kind of life you’d want to live!

Here are a couple of ideas that can help you get around this problem:

> Use the past.
You already know that as a songwriter you need to write from your heart; you want to express your own thoughts and feelings. If your life isn’t currently filled with drama, try reaching back into the past for an event that still resonates for you, a conversation, person, or situation that has stayed in your memory. If you’ve already written a song or songs about it, consider looking at it from another angle. Try putting yourself in the other person’s place and seeing it from their point of view or use something you’ve learned since that time to add a fresh perspective.

> Imagine a situation.
Shakespeare didn’t have to endure a visit from the ghost of his dead father in order to write Hamlet. By imagining himself in Hamlet’s situation, he was able to create dialogue filled with honest emotions that have moved audiences for hundreds of years. A good writer, whether of plays, songs, or novels, doesn’t have to experience every situation himself in order to write about it truthfully.

The poet John Keats called this ability to project oneself into another’s emotional life “negative capability.” By this he meant a writer’s ability to lose his own ego and become the character he’s writing about. I just call it empathy. A good writer is one who can feel what others are going through and identify with their emotions. As soon as you can do that, you can write about it.

We all experience empathy when we lose ourselves in a good movie, book, or TV program, when we cry over a sad ending or care about what happens to the hero. You can use these empathic feelings as the basis for new songs.

Do It Now!
Choose a situation from your past or watch a dramatic TV show or movie and pick a scene that interests you. Write out the situation in your own words. Try to get inside the emotions of someone in the scene — really BE there. Imagine your surroundings, the past that led up to it and what might happen next. What emotions are you feeling? What you want to say and do in this situation. Make a list of phrases and ideas that describe what you’re feeling. Choose one of these phrases and make it the title of your song. For a variation on this idea, choose your material from a cable news channel and base your song on real people and events.

In my book, “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting,” there are several techniques that will help you develop a complete lyric from your title (Shortcuts #44 – #47), then use the lyric to suggest the raw material for a melody.

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com. Copyright 2009 Robin Frederick. All rights reserved.

From Inspiration to Finished Song

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

 

Another great question from a songwriter…

 

Q: “I find that I have an easy time finding a first verse and chorus (or rather, it finds me) but I’ll have trouble coming up with two more verses or a verse and bridge. The lyrics tend to sound forced and I feel trapped. Is that just how it goes when you’re trying to stick to a form?”

 

A: For a lot of songwriters, this is how a song gets started. The first verse or chorus of a song may come to you full-blown, music and lyrics together. But what happens next? That rush of inspiration has exhausted itself and now you have to write more verse lyrics and, harder still, they have to fit your existing melody. 

 

Songs have a limited amount of lyric “real estate.” In fact, you’ve only got a handful of lines in which to communicate a lot of information to your listeners. If you find you’re having trouble figuring out what to write, it’s probably because you’re not sure what you’re writing about

 

Take a look at the inspired lines that launched your song. Write them out and across from them, in a couple of sentences, explain what these lines mean. This can be harder than it sounds! Once you have a clear explanation, make sure all the lines in your lyric work together to convey the meaning you intend. If you’ve got a line that sounds wonderful but doesn’t contribute to the message, try saving it for another song. Replace it with a line that supports your theme. 

 

As you develop your lyric, keep your listeners in mind. Remember, they don’t have any idea what you’re talking about! They only know what you tell them in your lyric. What information do you have about the situation or relationship that you haven’t told your listeners yet? Here are a few questions that can lead you to a lyric that grows organically from your first verse: 

– What has happened in the past that brought the singer to this point? 

– What is likely to happen next? 

– If the song is about a relationship, what has the other person said or done to make the singer feel this way? 

– How have the singer’s feelings changed because of the situation? 

 

Write down your answers to some of these questions. Then make a list of words, ideas, short phrases and images that are related to your answers. Don’t think about rhyming or polishing these lines – they’re just ideas, the raw material for the rest of your song. 

 

If you keep these lines short, just a few words per phrase,  you should be able to fit them into your verse melody then fill in around them. Play with the order of your phrases, drop them into the melody in different places. When you find something you like, lock it in and move onto other lines. 

 

Once you have a rough idea for your second verse, repeat your chorus, then move on to the bridge. The bridge lyric frequently offers a peak emotional moment in a song. Use this spot to reveal the singer’s deepest desires, give us a fresh insight into the theme, or share the singer’s hopes for the future. The bridge melody can provide contrast that grabs the listener’s attention. For example, if your verse and chorus cover a wide note range and have a lot of melodic motion, try limiting the range of the notes in your bridge, use a lot of repetition and focus on the rhythm of the notes.  

 

After the bridge, repeat your chorus. Now, you have a rough version of a song that grew organically from your inspired first verse and chorus. Record a rough version and give it a rest! Come back later with fresh ears and polish some of the melodic and lyric lines. Repeat this process until you feel the song effectively communicates the emotions and ideas that originally  inspired it!