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!

Writing To Order – A Good Thing

I have been asked to write for specific occasions several times and am in the middle of writing two at the moment.

There is something about being given the subject matter that makes it really enjoyable to write songs to order. The limitations bypass the problem of what to write about. It’s already there. This is an area where restrictions can really come in useful!

In my comedy days I would often have to write a funny song for a corporate event and was given specific people and things to make fun of. I didn’t particularly enjoy this type of writing, partly because it was a one off and I never got to play the song again, so my heart was never really in it.

But my first serious writing to order was for the Relay for Life in 2006. This song just seemed to jump from the pen to the page. My brain had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was the fact that I had dealt with cancer in my family but the song really seemed to write itself. It is now played at Relay for Life events all around the world and it is a song I feel very proud to have written (it was also my Mum’s favorite song of mine). Click here to listen.

Then I wrote a song for ‘A Fighting Spirit’ for a group of local photographers who donated their time to photograph critically ill children. Another song that wrote itself in less than 30 minutes. I play this song live each year at the YANA auction alongside an amazing slideshow by the very talented Karen McKinnon.

Now been asked to write for ‘Helping Hearts‘, another group that does the same thing, but country-wide. Having a couple of kids makes it uncomfortably easy to imagine what you might feel if one of them were very sick and so another song is jumping onto the page and will be finished soon.

As a result of these songs I have my first non-charity song commission for photographer Michele Regner. One of my existing songs is already used on another photographer’s website – Jerry Vergel. But this photographer has asked me to write specifically for her site. I have asked her what she wants people to feel when they visit her site or watch a slide show which will help me convey her vision in a song.

So this got me thinking about song writing. Maybe these constraints make it easier for our brains to really delve into the subject without having to think “what am I writing about?”. I tried this out when I wrote a song after reading a book and another which I used the character from a movie. I found it got me out of my own head and into the head of other’s lives and situations.

So next time you are writing and get stuck have a think back to the last book your found interesting or a character from a TV drama. I try to avoid stuff that is happening to friends or people around me as it can get you into trouble!! 🙂

Blog challenge… and other challenges.

So it seems that I really should read about the challenge before I start it! Story of my life.

The Music Success in Nine Weeks challenge is blogging about the 9 weeks of the book… duh!

This first week is getting mentally prepared.

This one was easy. Nearly 2 years ago when my youngest went to school full time and thought  ‘what am I going be when I grow up?’. I had finished a 20 year comedy career in the UK and knew that straight, unadulterated music is what I really wanted to do.

So I set out a plan (with the blessing of my lovely husband with a real job).

I wanted to make and record music, didn’t want to tour too much (I did that in my previous life) and my main goal was to get my music on TV, Film etc. I decided to treat this like a job because it is. I got up every day and worked hard from the moment the kids left until I had to pick them up… and then worked some more. The word ‘obsessed’ has been bandied around our house more than a few times!

So 2 years later, I have 2 great publishers and I have some music on TV (Ghost Whisperer and 90210 are my biggest so far) a couple of indie movies, a couple of ads and a documentary.

So reading the first chapter of the book was really satisfying. There’s nothing better than having your own actions confirmed by someone who has been through this many, many times with artists!

Week 2 – The Perfect Pitch. See you next week…

Here We Go Again!

So I said that I would never put out another physical CD, but we all know about the never saying never thing… never say it! So after producing so many songs in a year I felt compelled to put together the (in my opinion) best ones and then gig a little.

I have remixed the songs and they are about to be mastered by Hans Dekline of Sound Bites Dog (who you should follow on twitter if you like witty social and political commentary). I got some extra production done on a couple by Scott Feldman of Darkbloom to mix it up a little. He has great turn-around times if you need some cool sounds.

So now to the artwork. I have wonderful pics to play with from McKinnon Photography. In fact we are going to take a few extra pics on Monday (an excuse to eat at the Freakin’ Coffeeshop really!). But this is my first attempt at a digipack ( I think). All that upside down stuff is making me dizzy. But I’ll get there in the end.

Now, do I put lyrics on the artwork or not?… or just a link to the lyrics on my website?

I also said that I’d never have a pic of myself on the cover again… but we’ve already discussed that ‘never’ thing and besides, Karen has given me such nice pics it would be rude not to 🙂

So here we go again. Write, produce, mix, photoshop, order and then release… I am having a sense of deja vu.

I love it all really and I am proud of the CD.

Next up – marketing it! :0

Songs that write themselves.

In all my years of songwriting (which are many) and listening to other songwriters I have discovered a great song can write itself. Let me explain…

I have written a lot of songs and write more often as I get older. I would never presume to have written great songs but I have noticed that the songs that catch people’s attention or move them are the ones that I don’t really remember writing. It’s like they kind of wrote themselves. I am not in any way religious but I feel that my subconscious is doing the work for me. It’s like I finish a song and then think ‘how the heck did that happen’. I have a song for the Relay for Life, which gets a lot of attention and when people ask me about the lyrics, I really have no idea how they came to be. And I’m not a flake (or on drugs)… honest!

There is the songwriting school of thought that says that a great song takes many hours of writing, re-writing, altering and re-writing some more. But after watching an interview with Paul MacCartney talking about waking up one morning and having ‘Yesterday’ in his head and being convinced that it was an existing song, I came to conclusion that great songs happen while writing other songs. ‘Yesterday’ has got to be one of the greatest songs ever written.

So my goal of writing and recording a song a week (which I am now in week 18) has forced me to write lots. I try to be a few weeks ahead to allow for illness and vacation and have found that my best songs happen out of nowhere while trying to write other songs. I am not averse to hard work, in fact I love it, I just believe that if I write enough songs then a few of them will be good and maybe one day I will have a great one!

In conclusion, rather than spend a month writing and shaping one song, I would rather write twenty songs and get one good one because I learn from every one that I write, especially the bad ones!

How do you write songs?