It All Starts With a Song... Songs start with a songwriter. A pen in hand, no computer!! It's too linear.  Maybe you have a great chorus line, or a melody floating in your brain. Honor your creative moments and pause to write them down.  Build on them.  Don't worry about where its going.  Go where it takes you. 

Write with your best instrument. You don't have to play one well. My best instrument is my voice. I don’t know how to read or write music. But the melodies are in my head and I work them out with my voice.

Be yourself!! Allow yourself to feel, express, be fragile, be honest.  Allow yourself to work through what you are feeling.  Write it all down.  Every thought.  Allow one thought to lead to another.  Silence any critical voice inside your head.  It's just you and a piece of paper.  To quote a great writer, Gretchen Peters, writing is “magical thinking”.
Fundamentals: FORM, FEELING & FURNITURE
FORM: Most songs heard on the radio are in the format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. There are other formats but stick with this one to start.  Know the rules before you break them. The chorus has the title of the song. It appears in the same place, all the time. The title is the main idea and usually a catch phase...easy to remember-“Water Me Down”.  The chorus is where the listener feels they come home. Each verse tells the story. Just like a story, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. The first line of the song is like your kick off or intro line to a paragraph. The first verse is the start of your story and in the second verse you continue the story. Each verse needs to tie back into the chorus somehow as if the line were one continued thought. “...if it were up to you what would you choose...Give Some Back.”

Verses have the same number of lines.  If there are four lines in your first verse, there are four lines in the second.  I even count out the syllables and work to tighten up the lyrics so they are very close to matching in each verse. No body likes a story to ramble. Keep your song idea very simple and concise. Songs are three to four minutes.   

So what’s the bridge. After a couple minutes of hearing a song, the listener wants to be taken somewhere different, melodically, lyrically and often emotionally.  It finishes up the story, whether to sum up the point of the song or conclude the emotion as in Masterpiece.

FEELING: If the song doesn’t have feeling, why write it. For me, writing is all about honesty, being very real.  I want my songs to make you laugh, cry, feel silly, feel inspired, be mad, angry, happy. Feeling is what makes people want to hear the song again and again. Show your feelings!  That's your job.  Write from a place of no judgement - not of yourself or worrying about what others might think.  That's how you get to your real emotional stuff.

FURNITURE:This a catch phrase from Nashville...painting a picture so a listener can feel like they pulled up a chair and are sitting in your story.   If you are outside, what kind of day it is, who is with you, what sounds do you hear, what do you smell, are kids playing, people hurrying, where, why.  It's painting a mental picture.  Use your five senses.  Use metaphors to describe the scene...leaves are falling like rain.  In writing A Page From Your Book, the kids wanted to tell the story of a new kid at the school who didn't have any friends.  They said he looked lonely.  Using the concept of furniture, I asked them What does lonely look like? Look at the furniture in Give Some Back. It could say-I went fishing with my dad and we had a lot of land and wouldn’t it be nice to Give Some Back. But we painted a picture...Fishing poles and bucket of bait., trout were biting...some were big , some were small, between the two of us there’s more than enough...Give Some Back.

Now, before you go writing your next story or song, do this..... Become an active listener of the lyrics. Listen to the furniture. When you read a book, look for the furniture. Before you know it, you’ll be writing furniture. Stop yourself when you want to just state an emotion in a song...words like love, sad, angry, etc. Challenge yourself to paint the emotion.  

Golden Rule- Do Not Edit yourself when you are creating!!! To brainstorm means free thinking. Be positive, no negative self talk.  Honor every thought, even if you thinks it's lame.  Let one thought lead to another.  You will end up using a really small part of what you came up with.  But, you’ll have a lot to choose from.
Is this you? Do you sit in front of the computer trying to do a school assignment and just stare at the screen. Nothing you type is good enough.  Sometimes you just have to wrap your head around the concept.  So ditch the negative self talk and just start writing anything related.  Ditch the computer.  Use paper for creativity.  Write all over it, in the margins, top, bottom, the middle.  Connect ideas with arrows, scratch out the arrows.  Keep in a free flow, open mind.  At some point the song will come to life. Then maybe go to your computer and paste it together.  But even the rough first drafts I prefer to do on paper.    
It will come to light.   You may still need to do a bit more creative work but the story will unfold.  I save all my ideas and thoughts, even when the song is done.  I look back on them now and then to reaffirm my process.  And sometimes I find little jewels I didn't use but can use in another song.

Rhyming- Hard rhymes are blue, you, do, through, glue, moo...you get it.   Hard rhymes gets old and can box you in, making it hard to sound like normal language. You end up with what are called forced rhymes. Soft rhymes give you freedom. Put vowel sounds together. Soft rhymes includes proud/doubt, friends/in/him, guts/us. You can use a combination of hard and soft rhymes within a song. 
Great lyrics have balance.  They sound normal, yet poetic.  They have some killer lines that are supported.  There is honest, fresh emotion.  Syllables are in the same ballpark. They are easy to sing. That's your joy and the challenge of a writer.  No answered random thoughts that confuse the listener.

Writing with others...I can't say enough about surrounding yourself with a creative community, people who make you feel safe...people with whom you can share, grow as a writer, as an artist...people who are honest but supportive.  In that creative community you will hopefully find others who complement your strengths and weaknesses.  I am going to steal a phrase from a recent interview...Find your fellow travelers!!".

Some songs are a gift.  They just pour out. Some songs are a challenge, maybe even painful, as you work through what it is you really feel or want to say.  Some times you have to put them away for awhile and come back to them.  Otherwise you end up forcing it.  But keep trying, keep writing!

There’s a lot of stuff here. If you have any questions, email me. A great resource is the WEST COAST SONGWRITERS (WCS) www.WestCoastSongwriters.org
The most important thing: Pick up a pen…Start!!!

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