Month: February 2011

Paper or Plastic?

I was talking to someone about writing the other day and they just assumed that all writing these days was done on computers and other devices. She was surprised to hear that all my writing is done by hand and it made me wonder how other songwriters write.

Everything I write is on the back of discarded letter sized paper. The words, the music, everything. I only type them up on the computer when I really have to! (I’m a 2 finger typist)

The reason I handwrite everything is because if I delete something, it is never really deleted and I may come back to it later. If I were to do that on a computer it would be gone forever.

So the question is… do you write by hand or keyboard?

My friend suggested I decoupage my walls with my writings… only if I come back as Martha Stewart in a different life! Great idea though!

Why do songwriting challenges?

Before I was aware of the songwriting challenges out there on the web I set myself my own challenge – write, produce and upload a new song every week to my website for a year. I did this from April 2009 – 2010.

Now this may sound a little extreme but it was an amazing way to practice my writing skills and it gave me an excuse to keep up the contact with my email list. In fact, it was how I created my email list. When I finished I got a lot of people telling me they missed the weekly new song, which was a relief, because you never know when you’re bugging people! In May I released an album with 13 of the best songs called ‘Song of the Week‘, many of which have been placed on TV and Film.

Shortly after I had released the CD I noticed a songwriting challenge called 50 Songs In 90 Days and I thought, “Don’t be silly, that’s impossible”.But I couldn’t stop myself and started writing a whole bunch of new tunes. But it was the school summer holidays and there just wasn’t time to keep it up, what with travelling to the UK and other kids stuff. Although I didn’t come anywhere near to finishing, I did get the bulk of a new album, ‘Treehouse‘, which I released January this year.

So it’s FAWM time – February Album Writing Month. I had no intentions of doing this at all. I had just put out a new album and had broken my collarbone… and where was the time? Well it turns out that just about the only thing I could do with my injury was play the guitar for short periods of time. Housework was completely out of the question so I had extra time. So I started on Feb 1st and am just over half way through and I swear it is keeping me sane. Some songs take a day or two and others like ‘Lemonade’ took an hour to write and record. I just love writing and recording. It’s a good thing my kids are old enough to get their own food!

So why do these challenges? Here are some great reasons:

1. With this much songwriting you can only improve.
2. It gives you an excuse to keep in contact with fans.
3. You are giving fans something new on a regular basis.
4. You improve your recording skills and discover new ways to produce.
5. You end with a large catalogue to draw from, which is especially useful if you are pitching to TV etc.
6. You really learn how to finish songs and move on.
7. It gives you something to tweet,FB etc.
8. It’s fun!

Some great songwriting challenges to check out (and it isn’t too late for FAWM)

FAWM
50/90
RPM Challenge

I hope to see you in the forums on any of these challenges and if you want to follow my progress, please visit my FAWM page – http://fawm.org/fawmers/helenaustin/

A Practising Songwriter

I read a post today that got me thinking about being a practising songwriter. Here’s the Mic Control link about how to write even when you don’t want to. There are some great tips!

I have been writing songs since I knew what a song was. It’s just something I love to do. Every heartbreak was captured in song as a teen and every aggregation and grievance was penned through my 20s and 30s. And now that I am lucky enough to write songs as my job I have stopped writing about myself and write about everything and anything.

3 years ago I decided that I wanted to make songwriting my career after finishing up a 20 year career as a musical stand-up comedian. As a comedian I was not prolific and relied on the huge turnover of audience in the UK to get away with doing the same songs for many years. I was very successful but not proud of my work, which really hit home after a bitter sweet review saying I was talented, but was trotting out the same material year after year. They were right about the latter and I was grateful for the former.

When I made the decision to become a full time songwriter and recording artist I knew I had to view writing a a job, not just something I loved to do as a hobby.

A lot of people ask me where I get my inspiration and the answer is that I don’t… not really. Sounds weird, I know. I am rarely inspired to write a song. I don’t get an idea in my head and think “I MUST write about that”. I just sit down and write… a lot. I play some chords and see what comes out of my mouth. Often I am surprised by what I am thinking about. When you write a lot, some of it is going to be bad but with time the ratio of good to bad errs on the good side… I hope!

People talk about doctors, lawyers, dentists etc as being ‘practising’. As songwriters, we should be practising too, all the time. We can’t expect a great song to just come to us or to write one great song a year. We need to treat it like a job and work really hard at it. You wouldn’t want to see a dentist who only had a few patients a year so you should’t get mad at yourself when the couple of songs you wrote in a year were not ‘great’. We need to practice songwriting and for every bad song we learn something that we can take to the next song.

Now that I write a lot, I am proud of what I produce and release to the public. The others are locked away in the ‘bad song’ file on my computer!