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Songwriting 101

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Jeri 14 Apr 02 - 10:26 AM
Willie-O 14 Apr 02 - 10:51 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 14 Apr 02 - 10:53 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 14 Apr 02 - 11:11 AM
Amos 14 Apr 02 - 11:43 AM
CapriUni 14 Apr 02 - 11:51 AM
Jeri 14 Apr 02 - 12:33 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 14 Apr 02 - 12:43 PM
GUEST,Jack the Sailor 14 Apr 02 - 12:57 PM
Amos 14 Apr 02 - 01:02 PM
GUEST,mg 14 Apr 02 - 02:25 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 14 Apr 02 - 02:45 PM
GUEST,jonesey 14 Apr 02 - 03:01 PM
GUEST,mg 14 Apr 02 - 03:41 PM
Jeri 14 Apr 02 - 03:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Apr 02 - 04:58 PM
Hyperabid 14 Apr 02 - 05:19 PM
Jeri 14 Apr 02 - 05:57 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 14 Apr 02 - 06:36 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Apr 02 - 08:10 PM
katlaughing 14 Apr 02 - 08:25 PM
Jeri 14 Apr 02 - 08:59 PM
Bill D 14 Apr 02 - 11:00 PM
Big Mick 15 Apr 02 - 12:58 AM
GUEST,micca at work 15 Apr 02 - 07:29 AM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Apr 02 - 07:34 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 07:36 AM
Jeri 15 Apr 02 - 08:29 AM
Mary in Kentucky 15 Apr 02 - 09:45 AM
MMario 15 Apr 02 - 10:45 AM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Apr 02 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,Foe 15 Apr 02 - 01:25 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 02:22 PM
Mr Red 15 Apr 02 - 03:37 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 03:58 PM
Stephen L. Rich 15 Apr 02 - 04:07 PM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Apr 02 - 04:21 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 04:51 PM
CapriUni 15 Apr 02 - 09:51 PM
53 15 Apr 02 - 10:00 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 10:20 PM
Amos 15 Apr 02 - 10:34 PM
Mary in Kentucky 15 Apr 02 - 10:45 PM
Bert 15 Apr 02 - 10:59 PM
CapriUni 15 Apr 02 - 11:33 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 15 Apr 02 - 11:46 PM
Amos 15 Apr 02 - 11:48 PM
CapriUni 16 Apr 02 - 12:02 AM
CapriUni 16 Apr 02 - 12:45 AM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Apr 02 - 06:46 AM
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Subject: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 10:26 AM

I'm looking for advice. I occasionally write songs, but I haven't been doing it that long. I've been told I should aks a few honest people for feedback/criticism. I'd love to do this, but there just don't seem to be any people who are willing. I've e-mailed words to friends, I've sung the songs, and mostly the responses boil down to 1) the song being completely ignored, or 2) "nice song."

Maybe the reason is that people think I'm a bit more sensitive than I am. I honestly don't care about "it sucks" unless the person can explain why it sucks, and perhaps offer suggestions on making it not suck. "It sucks," "don't give up your day job," etc aren't criticism and don't take any actual thought to come up with. On the flip side, "nice song" doesn't take any more thought than "it sucks." Whether or not an individual likes a song is important, but it's not the same as and honest critique, and that's what I need.

Maybe it's because no one has the time, energy or will to listen/read critically and analyse the thing, then find a way to tell me what they like or what they think sounds dumb. This takes work and a willingness to do something folks may not be comfortable with.

So does anyone have any advice on how to find a few honest folks who are willing to critique songs?

Is there any sort of songwriting "workshop" on the web?

I've been to ONE songwriting workshop at a festival, and it was a particular songwriter explaining how he wrote songs. An hour isn't enough time to do more. I need hands-on experience. Are there any workshops like that? (Not that I could get to them!)

Is there any interest in doing it here?
The same reluctance to possibly hurt the feelings of others exists here. Personally, I don't care if people want to do the critique thing anonymously. I'm not stupid (not on a consistent basis, anyway ;-), and I can tell the difference between warm fuzzies/cold pricklies (ooh - the 70's all over again) and a critique - a critique is specific.

Ideas? Comments? Clues?


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Willie-O
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 10:51 AM

Well, post one and see what happens. You've made all the appropriate disclaimers...and yeah, the two responses you mentioned (three counting "it sucks") are not very helpful. Usually I've found that when people have offered me constructive criticism, I haven't enjoyed it at the time, but it does give me something to think about, and ultimately helps a lot more than insincere well-meaning compliments.

Go ahead, post one. If you don't mind the amount of chaff you have to sort through here to get the wheat. Guaranteed there will be some of each.

W-O


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 10:53 AM

Try these

Dave's Songwriting Site
Glade's Songwriting Tools
Murphy's Laws of Songwriting
Online Songwriting Course
Songwriting Resources


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 11:11 AM

Jeri, another one is

Resources for Young Composers


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 11:43 AM

Jeri:

If it would be of help, I'll be glad to offer real suggestions and comments on songs.

You can send them to ne at this address, either as text in email or as .aiff or .mp3 or even.wav files for stuff you've recorded into a digital medium.

A


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 11:51 AM

Jeri --

I can sympathize, I've just been writing songs in the last few months as a brain exercise -- doing something I've never done before because I don't want to get stuck in a thinking rut, but also because I enjoy singing to myself and want to try new/old ways to express ideas that don't seem to fit any other form.

Still, even though I'm a true "dabbler", I want the songs that I do write to be good ones. I've tried sending the lyrics and midis (created using Noteworthy Composer) to my father, and he has one criticism of everything I've written so far: that the rhythm of the melody doesn't match the words -- that I have too many notes, or too few -- that the whole thing just sounds wrong. Meanwhile, because I've written it using NWC, I know that the notes and syllables match up -- though I concede that maybe I've used notes of the wrong duration for specific syllables, even though it sounds right to me.

I just don't hear what my father hears, and he doesn't have the language to explain it to me... he has tried to play the melody of some of my songs for me on a small midi keyboard, to show me what he hears.... But he doesn't play the piano, and he can't play the rhythm as it should be, because he's henpecking the keyboard looking for the right notes.

I trust my father to be honest with me, and I value his opinion, but the frustrating thing is that the experience of music is so subjective. And even a specific, constructive criticism beyond "nice" or "it sucks" doesn't do much good if the critiquer can't give an alternative ("Maybe if you tried ____ instead"). I've found this to be true in other creative fields as well, particularly in non-musical writing, but also the visual arts.

Maybe that's why your friends don't give you more constructive criticism, Jeri -- they don't know how.

We have HMTL Practice threads on Mudcat... I don't see why we couldn't also have songwriting practice threads, especially with the midi-to-texts and text-to-midis programs that Alan Foster created. If the Mudcat community has one thing, it's musicians who know how to communicate!


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 12:33 PM

I may post lyrics a bit later in a separate thread (with a link from this one.) I've tried it here before with no luck.

Capri, I agree with you about people maybe just not being able to find the words to explain things. The people I've asked have all been capable of communicating. You can even get something out of "it sucks" if you can ask further questions to will narrow down the possibilities. I usually don't ask those questions because I sense folks just don't want to talk about it when they give me a terse answer to begin with. I don't want people to do something they don't really want to do - I'd get answers designed to get me to leave them alone and get off the subject.

As far as not supplying a suggestion when commenting on suckage, I can usually come up with ideas if I understand WHY a person found something sucky. The suggestione are often inherent in the criticism. "You rhymed a word with the same durned word!" (Change one of the words or replace both.) "What the hell is 'discordancy' and what is it doing in this song?!" (Dump the word.) "I don't frikkin' understand what the blazes the frikkin' song's about!" (Re-write the frikkin' song or dump it.)

I've wished we've had "Song Challenges" that were serious in nature. The funny ones are great, but I've often seen serious, touching posts in threads - or entire threads - that inspired me more. Night Owl's 'Thank You' thread, the "Why We Sing" threads, are a couple of examples. Even if we did this, it would only provide practice in writing songs, not critique or guidance. There would be little interaction, just 'post and go'. A workshop sort of thing would be nice. Someone (???) could say "write a song on this topic." People would write songs, then the workshop 'someone' and the rest of us would discuss and critique the songs. I doubt it would work since there's some degree of organization involved. (insert winky-face here)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 12:43 PM

If you want to send me a tape, I'd be happy to send you some specific critiques, with whatever suggested changes I can make. I don't promise to send the by return mail, but I won't ignore you. You can e-mail me at gospelmessengers@msn.com.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,Jack the Sailor
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 12:57 PM

There are certain skills and rules, required for Song writing, you should know these and incorporate them before you ask others to critique your work. From your posts here, I suspect that you do know these rules.

When looking for feedback, consider the audience. Haveng recently been in your shoes I have found that the only worthwhile feedback is when people sit in rapt attention to one of my songs and when they applaud and ask to hear it again.

That being said, If you want to post some lyric for critism, I also would be glad to help if I can. Post something here or email me at robdale@mindspring.com


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 01:02 PM

Jeri, I think the reason Song Challeneges are usually in a lighter vein is that it is easier to get a group to write on a common theme if it is humorous; serious songs--those that draw on the feelings--are much more subjective things.

However you will find a lot of "serious songs" in the Songbook, and I am sure the Book's Keeper would be thrilled to have you add some.

Send 'em along if you like.

A


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 02:25 PM

Here is what I think is behind a lot of very good and very lasting songs....adhering to these policies (see I didn't call them actual rules..) won't guarantee the song is good but I think it will very much increase the probability of it being remembered and sung..

1. Use short, conversational words mostly of one to two syllables.

2. It has to rhyme (well, not really has to..) exactly and perfectly, about 98% of the time. Every now and then you can misrhyme a little bit.

3. It does not have to follow rules of grammar.

4. The meter has to be 98% perfect..and occasional deviation is OK but never more than one in the same song. Never cram excess words into too short spaces. Think of it like old fashioned typesetting..there is a space for a word or words with a particular meter. Don't put something in there unless it fits.

5. The tune should be singable by others..not too great a range.

6. It does not have to tell a story from start to finish. It can start and stop in "media res". People don't have to figure out or know what it means.

7. It really helps if you name the name of the person and the location and give an idea of the time. "My name is Yon Yonson I come from Wisconsin..my name is Peter Amberly.." Universal songs are less memorable than time and place and person-specific songs and are ultimately more universal.

8. Leave blank spaces rather than put in words that don't fit the meter or otherwise fit. If you can't fill in the blanks, ask for help.

9. Each song deserves its own tune, although sometimes they just jump on to another one. If you can't write tunes, collaborate. Don't put them to the Star of the County Down, Tramps and Hawkers or Silent Night.

10. It can't be too short but it can easily be too long. It can't be too simple but it can easily be too wordy or complex.

Just look at the songs that have survived...I bet most of them follow these..suggestions..

mg


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 02:45 PM

First rule. It has to say something.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,jonesey
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 03:01 PM

Hi Jeri, The suggestions from 'Guestmg' and 'J.R.' have specific value to your immediate needs. The post to review the 'greats' and 'lasting' for inspiration is right on. Also, would encourage you to find a safe forum in which to try out your new songs, i.e. an ongoing workshop or open stage, poetry night, etc. As an up and comer I once asked a well known songwriter of their approach? The answer was, "get the maximum impact out of minimum words." I'm still working at it...


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 03:41 PM

I am not absolutely convinced it has to say something, although it depends on "what something is." Look at Camptown races...Camptown ladies sing this song, doo dah doo dah Camptown racetrack five miles long oh doo day day. That song has survived but I am not sure what exactly it says..maybe a description of an era.. maybe it just gives a visual picture..or the Beatles..Oob la di...I guess another visual picture of a working class marriage and a trip to the market..well, that is the picture I get...I don't listen to words that well..I don't think songs have to have a message though if that is what you mean..mg


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 03:57 PM

Thanks to everyone for their advice.

Mg, I think some songs are just fun to sing, silly or not.

I can't get to Aine's Mudcat Songbook, so here are some of the songs I've already posted. Will post a new one and see how things go. I'm trying different stuff, and I don't know if it will work. I also think I should try doing a story song instead of the metaphoric, touchy-feely stuff I seem to have written a lot of.

New Song: A Foreign War
New Song: I Am The Song
My Mother's Garden
Shine Like a Diamond
9-14-01

Islip (Kilkelly parody)
The Way the World Should Work

I won't link to some of the sillier things I've done.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 04:58 PM

The only way I know to be constructively critical is when I really like a song and want to sing it, but feel I need to change some bits, because that's the way I feel comfortable singing it.

I can't agree with mg about "It has to rhyme (well, not really has to..) exactly and perfectly, about 98% of the time. Every now and then you can misrhyme a little bit." I think for example using assonance instead of rhyme can be fine. It's not a second best, it's an alternative with just as much tradition behind it. And there are some great songs which don't rely on either rhyme or assonance. For example Woody Guthrie's Deportees (Unless you count Maria and Rosalita as part rhymes.)

And again with extra syllables, if you need them - there's no law saying that every verse has to have exactly the same tune, and in fact in much traditional music it's not even customary.

The crucial thing is, does it sound right.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Hyperabid
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 05:19 PM

If I might chip in.

I'm currently in the process of writing a new set having has the "we're putting the band back together" conversation. As usual it's a bit of a troublesome experience.

The most important thing to remember is that opinions are as diverse as Big Macs - yet they are easy to produce, satisfying but ultimately greasy meat on cheap bread.

Last week's good music is next week's elevator entertainment - the most important thing to do is write about what you think in a way that you like.

Listen and learn but get on with it.

Hyp.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 05:57 PM

The more I think about it, the more I realise asking a few (a 'few' means three or four, right? More, and it's 'several'?) trusted people isn't quite the same thing as posting a song. If I get criticism, I can expect multiple opinions, some of which contradict others. I can expect some opinions that have more to do with the subject matter or the type of song than the quality of the song itself, and I can expect some will re-write the verses or add to them, and...well, it would come down to songwriting by committee.

I also thought I had a song done and I completely threw out two verses this morning and wrote two new ones. Just now, I decided the last verse needs work. Oh well - I've been writing the thing since last October.

Just to explain something I said earlier, (in case I'm in trouble) I very much appreciate people saying 'nice song'. The comment doesn't take much thought in that you don't analyze the thing - pick it apart - and try to see 'areas for improvement'. You DO have to listen enough to know whether you like it or not.It's just a different type of listening, and those who listen for enjoyment probably don't want to pick things apart. In any case, I apologise if anyone thought I was saying those comments aren't important to me.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 06:36 PM

mg... true, not every song has to have a "message," despite my e-mail address. But, there has to be some reason for writing the song. It's not just mechanics and rules. Songs are first of all a form of communication. Maybe all you want to communicate is a picture, or maybe you're just enjoying having fun with words. A verse in a song I wrote just came tumbling out, and I found it amusing. I enjoyed it enough to wait for some more verses to come out, and it became a song, Blackbird. I'm sure that the song came out of my love for Old Man At The Mill and other traditional southern mountain songs.

The verse that came out first was:

"Blackbird he don't tell the truth
Blackbird, redbird, diddle-I-day
You ask for whiskey and you get Vermouth
Blackbird, redbird, penny on your head bird
Wake up in the morning and it's almost dawn

I play it on banjo and the words came tubling out to a little banjo tune I made up.

I wrote the song out of a love of similar songs, and just had fun with the way that the words flowed with the banjo. I didn't spend any time thinking, because I didn't set out to write a song. The line "blackbird, redbird, penny on your head bird" just came out and fit the rhythm. Later, I realized that the line probably came out of stories my father told me about his Mother giving him a penny a head for any birds he could shoot in her garden, just to keep them from stealing the seeds.

The rest of the song came just as easily... couplet lines fit in to the basic framework of the song:

"Blackbird sitting in a big arm chair..
Jaybird won't you tell me why life's not fair?

"Jaybird, Jaybird don't you tell me no lie
Who ever heard of blackbirds baked in a pie?

"Blackbird driving in an automobile
Winds up the motor, makes the tires squeal

I didn't sit down and say to myself, "I think I'll write a song about anthropomorphic birds, imitating a southern mountain banjo tune. I think the best thing to do when you're learning to write songs, or ride a bicycle is to do it. If you fall off the bike, get back on. If you hit a dead-end on a song, set it aside and move on.

Another thing that I find helpful in writing songs is when I hit a line that I can't come up with, I just put a temporary filler line in that rhymes, so I don't lose momentum on the song. Usually, a better line doesn't come without changing the adjacent line at least a little. It's often the last word in an adjacent line that makes the line difficult to write. If you take a line that you're satisfied with, try to come up with a different word to end that line, and that may lead you into new ideas for the one that you're struggling with.

Everyone has their own approach to songwriting, and their own reasons for writing a song. You can write songs to try to make them marketable, or just write songs because it's fun to write them. Sometimes, you end up writing a song just because you feel like it, and the idea comes to you, and it ends up being something that other people enjoy. I've had people record some of the songs I've written that I hesitated even singing, myself. In the long run, the listener decides what is good. Right, McGrath?

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 08:10 PM

Totally right.

Songs are like stories, even when they aren't stories. I mean stories as in jokes. The test for a joke is that it's funny - and sometimes you'll hear someone tell a joke and it won't be funny, and you can try to work out where they went wrong, and maybe if it's a good jone tell it yourself and turn it around a bit so that you find it funny.

But you can hear two fellas tell the same joke in the same words, and with one of them it's funny and the other it's not.

Or you can sing the same song one time and it falls completely flat, and another time it works fine.

It's a mystery.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: katlaughing
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 08:25 PM

Jeri,

I was just on the phone with Aine and she asked me to let you know the Song Challenges were mostly meant as a fun thing that everyone could have a go at and that's mostly why they've not been more serious. I am not putting it was well as she did, but she did also say the one time she remembers posting a serious challenge, she didn't get many takers.

I know what you mean about you being inspired by what you read in the posts, as you did such a beautiful job of My Mother's Garden for my sister and me. Seems to me you are a pretty terrific songwriter already.

She thinks, and so do I, your idea of a Songwriting Workshop on Mudcat is terrific and why don't you go for it?!*bg* Really it does sound a good idea.

She's out for the count for awhile longer with an absessed tooth which infection has settled in her sinuses, but will be along as soon as she is better. Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 08:59 PM

Poor Aine!!!
I understand why she did the humorous song challenges. (I think.) I also remember the serious one that went pooft. I've enjoyed them and hope she can continue when she stops having crap fall out of the sky at her. Humor is a lot more universal than other subjects and there's a lot less likelihood of us getting into the debates/flame wars/pissing contests we'd get into with more serious subjects.

Thanks for your comments on the song and my ability, kat. My main concern is the things I can't see because they're right in front of me. No one should preefroad their own work because the errors will look just as correct as they did when first typed. I can miss really stupid things in songs because the line or whatever looked right when I wrote it.

As far as the workshop goes, I was hoping for people more experienced than I am. I post mine here and occasionally sing them for one or two people. There's only one I've ever managed to sing for a group, and I haven't sung that one since the Getaway last Oct.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Bill D
Date: 14 Apr 02 - 11:00 PM

Jeri..SongBob, whom you might have met at the Getaway posts here 'occasionally'...partially because he is on some sort of songwriters listserver or newsgroup...he and others trade songs back & forth all the time and crtitque each other....want me to find out where?


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Big Mick
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 12:58 AM

I am so grateful for you starting this one, Jeri. I have so many songs bouncing around in my head, but writing songs is a craft I have never studied. And here we have such noted writers (Jerry Rasmussen.....need I say more?)that this may be one of the most valuable threads yet. I intend to be following it very closely............may even write a song about it........LOL.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,micca at work
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 07:29 AM

Jeri, on a practical level, I find sometimes that an idea for a song just comes along, and then if I immerse myself in the "subject matter" in a day, week , amonth , a year, I sit down and the song(or most of it) will "write itself" in, sometimes a very, shortish period of time. I carry notebooks EVERYWHERE, as it is amazing how many great ideas come when I am "on the hoof" or on the Underground, or the bus. I have one Rule, I follow diligently, ones I have the song down on paper, or computer, I set it aside for at least 24 hours and do not even LOOK at it, then if it is fresh and ok I may rewrite, or tinker, but stepping back, is, for me, very important.
One of my songs" arrived" Chorus and tune, while on my way somewhere on teh London Underground, and(as I do not write music) when I arrived, I had to go in the bathroom and sing it onto a minidisc so as not to lose the tune!!!
and as you have often done so for others, let your friends see your work, and you will learn quickly who you can trust to be honest..


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 07:34 AM

I know most of the songs people wrote in the Song Challenges were on the funny side, but by no means all.

Myself more times than not I found myself writing serious even gloomy ones. (For example this one: The City of the Dead, which isn't exactly a budle of laughs.)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 07:36 AM

Well thank you, Mick. That makes eleven people who have heard of me, at last count. I've led many songwriting workshops and find them endlessly fascinating. But, workshops don't lend themselves to telling people HOW to write songs. You can take classes on how to repair your motor, or frame a house, but writing songs is different. Workshops, like this thread, are best for feeding the muse. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article once on feeding your muse, and a song that went with it that started out, "I feed my muse on rhythm and blues and old-time rock and roll." Songwriting is ultimately a creative process, and doesn't necessarily pay attention to rules. But, listening to others talk about how they write songs has always given me encouragement. If nothing else, I see that we all go through the same process. Some of the encouragement that I've offered others is for starters, "Shut up and listen." Beginning songwriters often draw almost exclusively on their own feelings, which is why songwriters have such a bad reputation. The truth is, there are a world of stories and songs around all of us if we listen and watch. There are memorable lines waiting to be picked out of conversations, images to be put into words if we actually SEE the world around us instead of wandering through it, self-absorbed. I've written songs where almost every line of the song was something I'd heard someone say. Lines like, "What good is a man whose idea of pleasure is a can of cold beer and the game of the week?" Lines that are musical, coming out of the mouths of others.

And how do you teach someone to write a song in a dream? Eat a large pepperoni pizza before you go to bed? But, you can encourage people to keep a pad and pen next to their bed so if an image or a line comes to them in a dream, they can write it down. Everyone has had the experience of awakening from a wonderful dream, and trying to go back to sleep to get back into the dream. Sometimes lines come in a dream, and I try to put myself back into the dream and the imagery to allow more lines and images to come.

I would hope that others would share their experiences, writing songs, rather than just keep a thread going about how people need songs critiqued. When I've talked about writing songs, I often say that everyone has written songs. Most of us just grow out of it. Kids are constantly making up songs, often as parodies of popular songs or commercials. Every family and community has a lifetime worth of songs in them. I've tried to create a family album with songs, instead of photos. And that leads to another subject... making songs visual. Kinda like, have you seen any good songs recently? From the same song quoted above, Lavender Ladies:

"And where are the men who can find their contentment
In a living room waltz or a walk by the sea?

"A living room waltz?" What kind of a picture does that conjure up? Spontaneous romance.

If this thread is to continue, let people talk about lines that they're having trouble with, or ones that were a gift. Songwriting is as much mystery as craft. Some of the best lines just "come."

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 08:29 AM

Agreed, Jerry. I wanted help with one particular problem, but Mudcat is a discussion forum and the discussion, like a river, finds its own path.

Mick, I don't know that this will help or not. It's just an idea that may work for some people and hinder others. Try an outline with main points for verses. Try writing a paragraph for each main point, then weed out all the stuff that isn't that important and condense what's left. Pay particular attention to the opening and closing sentences in your paragraphs. Don't worry about rhyming or fitting words into lines at first - you can do those things once you have The Plan. Please feel free to PM or e-mail me. Despite possible impressions I've given, I can limit my help to what you want. (i.e., offer suggestions on how you can do things rather than doing them myself.)

I think songwriting is the art of condensing - taking elaborate ideas and expressing them with as few words as possible. You have to use meaningful, although often simple, words. Look at the lines Jerry posted above, and imagine the paragraph those lines could have come from. (I love those lines, Jerry.)

Bill D, I'd like the information about the mail list/newsgroup very much, please. I did find a newsgroup, (rec.music.makers.songwriting) but I'm just lurking at the moment.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 09:45 AM

Jeri, don't forget the song you wrote for Joe and Christina here. (I harmonized it and made a midi of it here...can't get it to play on my computer just now.)

I'll be glad to critique your songs...FROM A PURE AND SIMPLE LAYMAN'S POINT OF VIEW! I'm certainly not a musician, and know just a little theory, but it really intrigues me how you can hear a one-line melody that seems to follow traditional patterns of harmonic progression. I can only hear a series of chords and then superimpose a melody on that. I wonder if this is an unconscious thing...


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: MMario
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:45 AM

Jeri - I can understand the frustration - I think you also know that some of us (speaking for myself at least)can give you a "nice song" or "I like it" or a 'yeuck!' as appropriate - but don't have the terminology or expertise to tell you WHY. However - if I ask you for permission to sing it you can be sure I like it!

For example - your New Year's Toast - which still sends shivers down my spine - and I have no idea WHY - but I know that it hit me, and many of the people I sang it to, in a deep and personal manner.

Regarding the song challenges - I think people feel more "free" with amusing subjects - but as others have said - not all the songs have ended up being fluff.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 12:19 PM

I think it must be one of those things where people are wired up differently, chord sequences and that, Mary.

I hardly ever think in terms of chord sequences. I search around for a chord that sounds right with the note I want to play, using a bunch of chords that fit in with the key and the sort of tune. Ends up the same thing probably, but it's a different way of thinking.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,Foe
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 01:25 PM

Many years ago I worked for a contest, The American Song Festival, located in Hollywood CA, and was in contact with many "publishers," used as judges in the lower levels. (out-of-work publishers called themselves "independent producers") Also sat in and helped tape a songwriting course at UCLA taught by Al Kasha (He wrote "there's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the night"). The publishers, many who "fell" into the music business used to say, "If it took longer than 20 minutes to write, it's no good". Al Kasha approached songwriting as story telling. By the end of verse 1 you should know who the people are and what the conflict is. (i.e. Don't sing love songs, you'll wake my mother she's sleepin' here right by my side. And in her hand a silver dagger,- in other words - we love each other but Momma's gonna stab you) Verse 2 you come in for a detail of the picture - a close up - something that intensifies the conflict. Then to the chorus/bridge - the "hook" -Philisophical statement that explains the song. I'd tell these publishers that I'd written a song. All they'd ask is, "What's the hook (title)". Verse 3, resolve the conflict. (The resolution can be that the conflict is going to continue)

If you can put a girl's name or a state name in the song - so much the better. The judges at the Song Festival complained all the time about listening to boxes of 100 cassettes and being unable to find a positive love song. Take that song where you said "I hate you" and change every "hate" to "love." "I'm so sad, life is terrible, boo-hoo, whine-whine" songs might work for you but other people mostly want something positive. Keep your language simple. If the listener has to stop and try to figure out the meaning of the line he just heard, he misses the next line and the song is lost on him. Also exagerate. You don't say, "I'm gonna' love you I think, for a while, maybe". No! - say "I'm gonna' love you 'till the end of time!!"

As to melody - you should be able to sing the song without an instrument backing it up. If you take away the instrument and all you have for a melody is changing back and forth between two notes - you don't have a melody. Lucky Carl, a publisher, told me that he knew a songwriter who came to him one day and said he'd written a song. Lucky told him to whistle the melody. The guy whistled "That's Amore" Lucky told him, "It's a hit" Melody should mirror the words. If you say you feel "up" the melody should go up. If you sing about the moon, the melody should sound like the moon.

After all that - if you look around you'll find that many hits do not follow any of the things I just said. ?????


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 02:22 PM

Getting down to why you write. If you're trying to write a "hit" then Foe is probably right on the money. I took a book out of the library once, out of curiosity. It had a sure-fire way to right hits. The first suggestion sas that every time you think of a cliche, write it down on an index card and file it away. If you can write a song with a cliche as a title, you've already got some recognition... "Double Or Nothing," "Between A Rock And A Hard Place" (that one's already been taken by the Stones,) etc. If you want to reduce life to cliches, that's the way to go. That's not why I write. I don't write to make money or have hits, and in that regard I've been a whopping success! I write them because I enjoy writing them, and when someone else enjoys something I've written, that's payment enough.

As to ways to write songs, we all have our own. I have probably written at least three songs in my life, with instrument in hand. All the rest I "write" in my head. It's not until I have the song well-started with the melody in place that I pick up an instrument. Many of the songs I've written have come to me when I'm driving, so it's just as well that I'm not trying to play guitar at the same time. That's what works for me. Doesn't work for most people. Whatever works. There is no wrong way to write a song.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mr Red
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 03:37 PM

George Bernard Shaw said (a lot of things but also) : "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules"
it is all about context & of course there are plenty of permutations and combinations that stink. The problem I find when I am asked for comments is having that empathy with the writer to help. Lyrics without music are just words. Target audience, kind of accompaniment etc can frame the answers so much.
Persist with the songwriting workshops - some are more constructive - some more practical most seem to be discussion groups but be prepared open ones mind and consider possibilities.
consider colaborations, if you can handle the strange ideas coming at you and if you don't try to posess your own "bits of" it can be instructive. If you get into fighing over words/lines it can be a dampener. record the words and move on, suggest alternatives and record them and move on.
At the end of the day - if (and it is not a must), if you intend singing to an audience they will tell you things, just ignore those negative people, initially.
I always remember singing an anti-suicide song and two girls of the same age as the subject told me it was "right" - not good, nor well sung but "right" and that's all the feedback I needed.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 03:58 PM

Mr. Red is right, too. Songs posted with just the words are just that... words to songs. I am usually pretty careful about who I share words to songs with, because they are so nude without the melody. Sometimes, the melody brings to life a word that in itself sounds like a God-awful choice. Like the word "excruciatingly," Or how about "simulated pearl." I've used both of those words in lines that worked well because they fit into the melody line well. Just seeing them on paper doesn't cut it.

I only had one experience with someone sending me a tape of their songs to critique. I made some positive suggestions, and asked some questions about the perspective in the songs, and never heard from the guy again. I thought that they were very specific suggestions regarding particular lines that I thought could use some tightening up, and found one of the songs confusing and internally contradictory. Even the kindest suggestions can be dangerous. Songs are like your "babies."

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 04:07 PM

This may or may not be helpful, but it worked for me. For one year I commited myself to writing SOMETHING every day (even if it was just filling a page with random, freely associated words) and to writing one song a week. The end result, at the time, was that i had written dozens of REALLY BAD songs and three that I stillperfom today (twenty years later). The result, in the long run, has been that, though I rarely write anymore, it comes to me more easily and I am more open to spotting the parts that need to be rewritten and to doing the rewrites themselves. It's not a method that will work for everyone. But, as I said, it worked for me.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 04:21 PM

Myself, if someone suggest I should change something about a song I'd quite likely find myself bridling at the suggestion.But if they took a song I'd written and sang it a bit differently, I'd probably be quite happy, because I'd be pleased they were singing my song. And I might take over some of the changes. But I suspect for a lot of people it'd be the other way round.

"Bridling at the suggestions" needn't mean I might not take them on board later. And it's different if you've laid a song out asking for comments. Moreover putting a song up on the Mudcat counts as laying it open to comments, in my view.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 04:51 PM

McGrath: I've had several people record songs that I've written. I guess that I've been lucky in that they took the time to learn the words. (With a couple of exceptions.) In a couple of instances, they changed the chord progression slightly and in one of those cases, I liked the change so much I now do it that way, myself. I do wonder how open people would be to suggested changes in words of a song that they wrote. I've generally found that if you honestly praise those things that you think someone has done well, it helps them to grow, rather than critique lines and have them get defensive (even if they insist that they aren't..)

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 09:51 PM

Jerry, you asked:

And how do you teach someone to write a song in a dream? Eat a large pepperoni pizza before you go to bed?

Actually, there are exercises you can do to train yourself to dream lucidly -- that is, that you know that you'r dreaming while you're dreaming, and can make deliberate actions that affect the outcome of the dream (such as turning around and asking the monster chasing you: "Why are you after me?" -- the monster will tell you, btw). I haven't used lucid dreaming to write a song, but I have used it to write poems and stories when the deadline was looming, and I've been stuck.

I don't write down my dreams when I wake up. Personally, I find the very act of fumbling for the pencil enough to make me forget the dream. Instead, I lay still in the bed and replay the dream backwards from the last scene I remember...

I did have one dream, back when I was a teenager, that gave me a line that I'd love to use in a song, someday, if I could figure out what to put around it without it becoming way too sacherine:

The scene: I'm struggling with my crutches (I have CP) to get up some steps and through a narrow door, when one of the people waiting for me inside the room calls out:

"Look! It's Peter Pan!"

to which I reply: "That's right! I can't walk, but I can fly!".

Well, if not a song, then maybe a sweatshirt slogan... ;-)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: 53
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:00 PM

I reckon that I would belong to this class. I've help write songs before, but I've only written 1 song by myself, and I don't think that I should mention the name as the song was sort of stupid. Good melody line and some good chord changes. Bob


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:20 PM

Capri Uni: 'taint sentimental. Sounds like the foundation for a good song. You know, there's so much cyncisim in the world that if you don't watch yourself, you end up stiffling honest emotion, downgrading unjustly to sentimental. When I wrote Handful of Songs and I wrote the line, "It's not what you leave, it's the JOY of remembering," I hesitated. Stupidly. People don't use the word joy much these days. But, it seemed too tepid and limp singing, it's the pleasure of remembering (and I needed a one sylable word to fit the line, anyway.) I ended up leaving it the way it was, and accepted that there Is joy in remembering. Don't be afraid to be positive... even joyful.

Do you know the song Little John of God by Los Lobos? It's a beautiful song about a severely handicapped boy, praising him for the special gifts that he had..."he sees things in a different way." It's very touching, without being sentimental. Just recognizing that each of us has our own gifts.

And 53, don't stop at one song! I'm sure that you have a lot to say. The only way to get better is to keep writing. As Roger Miller sang, "All you got to do is put your mind to it, knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it." Write for the fun of it, and don't worry if your first efforts sound stupid to you. They may not sound stupid to others..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:34 PM

I've written scores of songs just since I came aboard the Mudcat, some of them better than others, to be sure!! My experience is that you need to sorta capture the song -- the core image or even concept -- or the core of the vignette -- and sit there with it 'on your lap', so to speak, nibbling at your ear, as it were, until it transmogrifies into the line and the very word you need.

'Course sometimes you just have to nibble back. But sooner or later you find the delirious center which puts the best of the thoughts and feelings into the best words, and Bob's your midwife!! :>)

A


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:45 PM

Capri's comments just remined me of synectics. It's a process to enhance creativity. I actually wrote a paper on it once, but I'm not sure where my resources are now. Anyway, the philosophy or process is filled with exercises to pull creative thought out of ordinary minds (like mine). I liked it for combatting writer's block.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Bert
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 10:59 PM

Hi Jeri me luv,

You asked for it. My favourite topic. So here goes no holds barred.

New Year's Toast. GREAT SONG, don't change a thing.

I am The Song. Here I'll go against one of my rules and make the song longer (Just don't make a habit of it) I would sing it using verse 3 as a chorus, Singing it, verses 3,1,2,3,4,5,3 It's another great song.

My Mother's Garden, Good song but way too long. cut it down to four verses.

Shine like a Diamond another good song that's too long. You don't really say anything new after verse 1 and the chorus.

In the First Pale Light of Morning. Kinda rambles, maybe it's the shock. Try looking at it again now that a rew months have passed.

Islip, again it's too long , but nevermind when you are famous you'll be able to get away with that one.

The way the world should work, OK but is very specific and needs the right occasion to be appreciated.

All in all, they're bloody marvelous - you should be teaching us.

Luvya, Bert.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 11:33 PM

Jerry --

One reason I'm especially cautious about writing about my disability is what I call the "Touched by an Angel" syndrome -- where the subject becomes iconic of a "greater spiritual being", simply by virtue of their physical attributes -- akin to the romantic notions held by whites of the "Noble Savage" back in the 19th century.

As wonderful a songwriter as Si Kahn is, for example, the last verse of his song "It's not just what you're born with" makes me cringe just a little:

Between those who use their neighbors, and those who use a cane,
Those in constant power and those in constant pain,
Between those who run to evil and those who cannot run,
Tell me, which ones are the cripples,
And which ones touch the sun?

(let's face it: the lines can never be so clearly drawn)

I've even been told (with a straight face, no less) that I'd be a good medium, because disabled people have a purer spiritual essence.

I'm not afraid of sentiment, per se, but I recognize that the idea of physical disability carries with it multiple layers of cultural meaning, and if I want my own meaning to be clear, I have to be extra precise and careful with the words I choose.

~~~

And as for Joy, well, you just said my magic word! ;-) Extrapolating from my own personal experience, I came to the conclusion many years ago that all of life was created so that Joy could be experienced and shared. Period.

After all, I put up with all of the daily diffeculties and frustrations because, in the back of my mind, there is the hope that I might see the most beautiful sunset today, or taste an exquisite morsal, or feel laughter shake my frame. And if it's that way for me, who am I to say that it's not that way for oak trees and sperm whales, too?

I don't think there is a smidgen of "sentiment" in joy, frankly. It's much more powerful than that -- a deep taproot that connects us to life itself, joy reaches into darkness, and has something of a dark side itself... Dunno if that makes any sense, but there ya go... ;-)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 11:46 PM

Capri: I think that I understand what you're saying. I suppose that even being understanding can sound condescending. In the long run it seems that all you can do is treat people like people and not categorize them.

As for joy, I did a Christmas card one year that just said "Joy cannot be contained." I also encourage people not to settle for "happy," when they can shoot for joy. Happy sounds kinda wimpy in comparison to joy. Joy is power-full.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos
Date: 15 Apr 02 - 11:48 PM

Capri:

Thank you for the most beautiful short essay I have yet read on the 'Cat.

I dunno about this "disability=purity" computation -- it doesn't make much sense to me.

But I'd say you don't need to be touched by an angel; you have all the qualifications your own self!

A.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni
Date: 16 Apr 02 - 12:02 AM

Amos,

The ol' disability = purity equation doesn't make much sense to me, either. I think it may be related to the belief that a weakness in one area is compensated by a strength in another -- that blind folks have super-human hearing, and the such like. If you believe that the body and the spirit are seperate from each other, you might conclude that a "weakness" in the body leads to a strength in spirit, or something.

And as for having the qualifications to be an angel... I thank you. But I'll decline that job offer. I have enough trouble being human... ;-)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni
Date: 16 Apr 02 - 12:45 AM

Jerry --

It's not understanding that can get condescending, but sympathy (with the same root in the word pathetic). When people start expressing sympathy, it's most often in response to what they imagine your life to be like, rather than who you really are, or what you're really going through.

And that's what's so tricky about writing a song on the subject: A song is meant to recall memories, and draw forth strong emotion. But so many cultural memories and attitudes around disability are distorted that calling them up might actually cloud your message, rather than make it clear.

Actually, I think the best song "about" disability wasn't written with disability in mind at all (I don't think): Roger Miller's You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Apr 02 - 06:46 AM

Yes, that last verse of Si Kahn's song does fall away I've always thought. Veers towards sympathy rather than empathy.

I think Johnny Crescendo's in-your-face style has a lot going for it in this context. A Google search didn't come up with too many of his songs. Here's one and here's another. "Choices and rights" was the one I was looking for though.


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