By Christopher Ward
We’re almost halfway through the challenge! It’s been great to see all the songwriting and networking that has been happening on Facebook and on our blog. Hope you will enjoy this week’s assignment.
It’s easy to get caught up in using the age-old forms when writing a song – Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus. Yes, it works, but sometimes you can freshen up your writing and find yourself going down new pathways if you mix it up a bit. Something as simple as starting with the chorus like so many Beatle songs did (‘Cant Buy Me Love’, ‘Please Please Me’) and like Maroon 5 do in ‘Payphone’, can pull a listener in very quickly because they don’t have to wait for the big hook.
Using odd line lengths or unexpected rhyme schemes can get you out of a rut too. Remember – you can always get back in the box and colour inside the lines another time!
Deadline is March 10
Take a look at the video below and do the following assignment, posting in the comment section below:
1. Identify your common songwriting ruts. Why are these structures/forms comfortable for you?
2. Write a song that breaks 1 or more of these “rules.”
3. Have fun writing outside the box!
Aspiring artists can always benefit from the wisdom of mentors. Brooke Turner is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter whose music has already garnered awards and placement. As she describes the trajectory of her young career, we see the important role mentors have played in her many successes.
In Brooke’s Words…
My family, friends and coaches have been my biggest support of my music career so far. At seventeen, and in my last year of high school, I feel fortunate enough that I have had some amazing experiences over the last few years.
I first started formal music training at the age of seven, where my focus was my voice, and piano. Several years later, I started on the guitar. In grade ten I decided to write a song for a music video project for school. I realized that I could express my own ideas and feelings creatively in a song. Now songwriting is as much a part of me as my voice is.
Shortly after I completed the music video project for school, I decided to search out a mentor who could help me learn the craft of songwriting. I contacted Jeff Dawson and asked if would co-write a song with me, and as well as produce the song, (http://jeffdawsonproductions.com/)
I was not sure if Jeff would say yes, as I was a “nobody” teenager, so I was surprised when he did say yes, and he also brought in Laurell Barker (http://www.laurell.ca/), as a co-writer, and the three of us wrote my first single “Life of The Party”, which later that year won the 2012 UK Songwriting Competition in the Pop Category, http://www.songwritingcontest.co.uk/2012-results.html. The Canadian TV Show, Degrassi High placed the song in the 2013 season. Working with Jeff and Laurell was an amazing experience and I’m grateful for the opportunity and experience to work with such talented people. I found them both to be down to earth and most of all, fun to work with. We wrote “Life of The Party” in under four hours and it changed my life.
While in Vancouver working with the photographer, Erich Saide, I was introduced to a manager who introduced me to Troy Samson, http://www.nettwerk.com/composer/troy-samson. Troy is amazing because he lets me explore and develop my voice the way I want to, while still giving me guidance based on his experience. Troy helps me create my unique sound. Troy and I co-wrote my single “Convince Me” which was a finalist in the 2013 John Lennon Song Competition (http://www.jlsc.com/winners/2013a/finalists.php). The music video for “Convince Me” was a lot of fun and again, I was lucky to work with someone who took the time to mentor me and to help me create my own style. For over seven months the video has been on Much Music’s Juice Box TV in the top ten rotation.
Over the past year, I have been taking courses from Berklee College of Music Online, which has helped me learn about the future of the music industry, as well as some techniques for commercial songwriting. It has been challenging taking these courses, while still working on my final year of high school and keeping up with my personal life, but it has all been worth it. One of the performance coaches I have been working with, Jason Parsons, http://jason-parsons.com/, suggested that I enter the Great Canadian Song Race Junior, held on Vancouver Island in October and November 2013. At the song race, I was able to work with Bill Henderson, and although he is not a pop music person, he worked with me while I explained my vision of pop to him, and we were able to craft a great song along with Lucas Antoni. This song race was a great experience for me, as I was able to work with a number of professionals including producers, music supervisors, mangers, and radio directors.
Since the song race, I have been working with Highland Music Studio, http://www.highlandmusicmultimedia.com/, under Susie McGregor and producer Andrew Lorimer. We currently have several songs in production that should be released soon. Both Susie and Andrew are great to work with, and you can tell they are people who sincerely love their music and who truly put their hearts into their work.
All of these amazing people, professionals and experiences have shown me that there is this wonderful energy and experience that happens when creating the song. This is what I have come to sincerely love about song writing and I never want to stop.
Click Here to visit Brooke’s Songwriters’ Profile.
by Christopher Ward
Hope you enjoyed week 1 of the S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2014. I look forward to hearing some of the songs that were written. Let’s move on to week 2 which is about growing a songwriter’s antennae.
The best lyricists are the most observant ones. No matter what they’re doing – riding the bus, eating breakfast, reading the paper – their writer brains are always ticking and when an idea presents itself, they don’t let it get away. As an assignment in honing your powers of observation, head out into the day with your antennae up – on your own, cell phone out of sight – and let an idea find you. It could be a sign in a window, a bit of overheard conversation, a headline.
After watching the video below, spend 10 minutes a day for the next 5 days in 5 different places, i.e. subway, take-out counter, coffee shop, etc., and turn on your antennae. Jot down some song ideas based on each of those 10 minutes. Then, at the end of the week, choose your favourite and write a song.
Deadline is March 3 – Please post the following in the comments below:
1. Link to your blog
2. SoundCloud recording of your song.
Welcome to week 1 of the S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge. This week’s challenge is about Songstarters. Three of the most effective ways to focus your writing are to choose:
- a title,
- a theme, or
- an opening line.
Titles like ‘Half of My Heart’ (John Mayer), ‘Like We’re Gonna Die Young’ (Keisha) and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ (Simon and Garfunkel) all tell you a lot about what’s to follow.
Themes like revenge in ‘Positively Fourth Street’ (Bob Dylan), regret as expressed in a classic song like ‘You Don’t Know Me’, and pride like in Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ clarify the direction of the song.
An opening line can give you the mood, set the story in motion or make the listener curious about what’s next. Try thinking of songs you know that fall into one of these categories and then choose a category and come up with your own ‘songstarter’.
This week, watch the video below and come up a list of existing song titles, themes and opening lines that inspire you. Find 3 for each category. Then, come up with 5 titles, 5 themes and 5 opening lines of your own. Choose one and write a song with it. Blog about any epiphanies or obstacles you encountered while meeting this challenge and embed your new creation via SoundCloud. When the challenge is over, you can revisit your list and use your remaining ideas as launching pads for new songs.
Deadline: February 24
Please post the following below in the comments section:
1. A link to your website if you have one.
2. A link to your blog entry for this week containing your titles, themes and opening lines.
3. A link to your song on SoundCloud.
(The story of how I almost gave up on my songs, but luckily didn’t)
When I first heard the story of how ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ got into Pat Benetar‘s hands despite the publishing company hating it so much that they made the studio delete the demo tape – that story struck me deeply. No pun intended. Besides the obvious underdog winning theme I had no idea just how much it would affect me until this year. It was at least 10 years ago at Canadian Music Week that I was inspired and moved by Eddie Schwartz‘s fight for his song to have a life and it was clear, he truly loved the song and his love for it was infectious.
His story then made me take notice of the song ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)‘ by The Proclaimers and how 5 years after the album and single were released it became not only a number 1 hit in North America but a song that will live on forever as it continues to get played at events from weddings to political events year after to year after it was featured in the movie Benny and Joon. I knew there was something special to these stories and why they resonated with me but I couldn’t place my finger on it for years.
A friend of mine once said to me after a break up; “there’s nothing like the next one to get you over the last one”. I laughed at the blunt truth of it but also realized how he was poking fun at the ‘running away’ part of the situation. I then correlated that with how I approached my songs. I used to think ” I’ll release it and if it doesn’t get to where I want it to go right away – then I’ll let it go and start writing the next one”. That always made me feel better and the newest song was always my ‘best’ song ever! But was I giving the songs I really loved the proper commitment and time? Not really.
At shows people would often request certain specific songs that I had long forgotten about or had decided that their time was over because in my mind they were ‘old’. But I started to take notice. I thought certain songs were ‘old’ but what about the people hearing me for the first time? Or even the people that HAD heard my songs before but only a handful of times live – for them it was a familiar but fresh song and welcome because they’d heard it before. Suddenly I was realizing the importance of continually sharing the songs I loved no matter how ‘old’ I thought they were.
I had a strong feeling for one particular song, This Is The Soundtrack, that I co-wrote with a friend of mine for my second album back in 2008. It was a song that was written backwards from the chorus to the verse – the melody in the chorus was undeniable and it was where the idea originated from. From the start it was a song that began writing itself and really took a life on of its own, it was a magical experience writing it and I believed it had a strong chance to be a single on my album and be a song that was going to be fun to perform live. When it was finished, I played it for everyone I could like a kid at show-and-tell in kindergarten!
When it came time to release the album in Feb of 2009, radio-tracking was a part of the plan to expose the song to a wider audience but money ran thin quickly and even though it got picked up by a radio station in Vancouver and played for over a year – it never really got the national exposure I was hoping for and after the year was over I gave up. In my mind time had run out for radio because the album wasn’t a new release anymore and it seemed all but over for that song.
But I loved that song. And I didn’t want it to be over. And even though radio play across Canada was my dream that hadn’t happened yet for this song – I couldn’t put it away. I started to remember why I got into the music business in the first place – to share my music with as many people as possible. I continued to play it live at every show – even after I released two more albums – an EP and a full length – I played it to all my audiences because I wanted to share one of my favourite songs.
In the fall of 2012 I decided that I would move to Germany to develop a fan base there. In October 2013 I played my last show in Canada and though it had now been officially 5 full years after the release of ‘This Is The Soundtrack’, towards the end of the show I played my song. By this time the song had evolved into something totally different from the original recording, but right from the first chords the approving hoots and hollars was as if the crowd knew the song like it had been on the radio – that familiar ‘aaah – I know this song’ feeling, that ‘I’ve been waiting for this song all night’ feeling, that ‘I love this song’ feeling was present. I knew right then – this is what it feels like when you believe in a song and you keep sharing it no matter what you’ve done with it…it’s always between you and your fans and its your job to get it to them and not give up on them.
For the Proclaimers it was a movie, and countless others its been TV, Commercials and Radio that have kept their songs alive along with live performances.
Two months into staying in Germany I signed a record deal and the first single chosen by both the label and myself to hit radio was my favourite song. The song I almost gave up on but couldn’t quite let go nearly 5 years later is now getting a new life and a new chance to be exposed to over 80 Million people in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This is just the start – the possibilities of its afterlife are actually impossible to predict with licensing opportunities to commercials, tv and film. So love your song and believe it can make an impact on your future yet to be discovered fans – A great song is a great song and time can’t take anything from that. Be like a kid at show’n'tell and as determined as Churchill who once said “never, never, never give in….”
Writing songs can be tricky business. Whether you’re a songwriter, or someone who enjoys listening to songs, at one time or another you may have wondered about the songwriting process. For me, a song always start with an original idea, a moment of inspiration, whether it’s a guitar part, a melody or a lyric, and from there it grows into a finished song. I’ll share with you two examples of songs I’ve written that appear on my debut EP “Everything Gives”, and how the songwriting process for each was very different.
I wrote Above The Clouds in about 15 minutes on a cold winter night in Regina back in November 2012. I was playing around with finger picking at the time, which is how the song started. I was plucking a chord progression, trying to let my intuition guide me. I started humming a melody and I quickly had a verse and chorus idea I liked. I often get a feeling, a sense of what I want the song to say and then I try and run with it. I had just flown to Regina from Vancouver to visit my girlfriend (now my fiancé). I missed her and the words that came out felt simple but natural. I tried to edit them at one point but ended up going back to the original lyrics, because that’s what ultimately felt the best. I think the simplicity of the lyric made the song relatable, and I’ve since played it for a number of wedding ceremonies over the past year.
Nobody But You took over 5 years to finish. The song started with a guitar riff and a melody idea but the lyric did not come so easily this time. I had some words for the chorus but every time I tried to write down words for the verses it didn’t seem to work. So I let it bubble and stew inside me, hoping that by giving myself more time the right words would eventually come. Leading up to recording “Everything Gives” in January 2013 I knew I wanted to include Nobody But You, but I still hadn’t finished it. Sometimes the best way to help finish a song is a deadline. I started gathering all the different lyric ideas I’d written over the years, and ended up splicing together old lyrics with new ones. I also changed the order of the verses to make the story more cohesive. I was really happy with the finished song even though it took me 5 years to complete.
Whether it takes you 5 minutes or 5 years, remember to stick with it, follow your gut and enjoy the process, because in the end you might end up writing a great song.
Every writer experiences the dreaded “dry spell” – a stretch of days, weeks or years when words refuse to come. Sometimes it’s because they are too difficult to utter, or perhaps the sense that no one is listening overwhelms the creative spirit. Sometimes the drought is occasioned by events so cataclysmic that the period of incubation before which they can be expressed seems to stretch into infinity. For the writer, words are the vehicle of identity and without them, we are shipwrecked high and dry in a desert where water of the soul is either memory or a mirage.
That’s how I felt when I moved back to my hometown of High River, Alberta, following a sad split with my ex, producer and touring partner John Ellis. Without him by my side on stage, much of the fun seemed to have gone out of playing, and I was tired of fighting the business on my own. With my mom in the last stages of a terminal illness, I turned my attention toward her, finding that at the end of the day there were no words or musical notes left. I decided to follow her example and seek a career in health care, taking a job as an aide and applying for practical nursing training at a nearby college.
Trading my orchard home on the Thompson River for a cut-out condo in small-town surburbia seemed a hard pill to swallow. I’d hoped to find a small garden cottage near the river, but I just couldn’t afford it and settled instead on what I fondly dubbed “Pleasantville Gulag” – a series of fake-quaint condos arranged in a prison-like quadrangle, softened by the camoflauge of artful landscaping. I felt surrounded by strangers I was too shy to approach. It wasn’t home but it would have to do.
High River wasn’t quite home either, not anymore – since I’d left 25 years ago, new neighborhoods had sprung up every direction, along with chain stores and big-boxes, the better to keep business out of the historic downtown. The changes I saw there were for the better – murals adorning the old brick buildings which housed funky coffeeshops, art galleries and stores and well as the now-legendary Gitters Pub, where music was played six nights a week. That’s where I went to exercise my musical demons and make a few new friends. For a full year, though, life centered around hospitals and care homes, school and study. My old life of writing, recording and touring seemed a distant dream.
In April, 2013, Mom died. The first wave of grief passed and the flotsam of her life was cleared. Then a dark Thursday in June came, when the waters of the Highwood River rose with a torrential downpour and the lives of those who lived in High River changed forever. After a three-week evacuation, many of us returned to find our homes totally destroyed, and others left with damage that would take years to overcome. Many lost their livelihoods as well, as businesses all over town were devastated.
I returned home with a crowbar and a hammer and no idea where to start with the gooey mess that used to be my basement. Before I knew it, those neighbors that had seemed so distant were working right alongside me, tearing out my mucky insulation and drywall. During the first three days back, everyone in the Gulag worked together to make our homes clean and mold-free. Luckily, the condo development had flood insurance, and the repairs to my basement were covered. If I had gotten the little cottage in West High River that I’d wanted, I’d have been ruined. And I discovered a community to which I now feel I belong. After three years of tumultuous upheaval, it seemed for once that trouble had passed me by.
For twenty years the craft of songwriting was an integral part of my identity. Every major event that flowed through my life was examined through the lens of the creative process. I would begin a song not knowing what it would teach me about it’s subject, and by the end I would have an answer of sorts. Some songs were constructions; others came purely from the source, almost fully formed. These are the moments a songwriter lives for. Writing a well-crafted song is an enjoyable enterprise, but true fulfillment comes when we get the sense that we are an instrument ourselves of something larger. At that moment, it’s not about career, or hit songs, or having our picture in the paper. It’s about getting something right, and not necessarily by our own power.
This was the experience I had when the song “High River Strong” came to me. At first I intended only to play it for friends, but by their reaction I realized could raise more spirit, and perhaps some money, by recording and releasing it. At first the thought overwhelmed, knowing what I do about the work involved. But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. My first choice was to work with my friend Leeroy Stagger, who I knew to be a very busy man. I decided that if he could make the time, so could I. He replied to my text with immediate enthusiasm and offered to round up players. We contacted my “husbeen” John Ellis and engineer Sheldon Zaharko in Vancouver to help. I thought Johnny and I would never work together again, but here he was bringing his incredible talent to my cause without hesitation.
Local radio, as well as the Calgary Herald and other news outlets got behind the release. We threw up a website at www.highriverstrong.org where people could download the song in return for a donation, and a put together a compilation CD featuring the tune which I placed in local stores. I rounded up a group of local musicians who donated their talent for a series of benefit shows, where I was reminded just how much fun it is to be onstage making music with friends for enthusiastic listeners. Since those shows we’ve continued playing and have decided to form a band, something I never envisioned doing again. Never say never!
Together we raised a few thousand dollars for the flood fund, but more importantly gave the town a positive, hopeful anthem to honor and commemorate their experience. My sense was that a river of inspiration flowed through me, bringing hope not just for my neighbors but also for myself as an artist. I am still pursuing a career in health care, feeling that having a new life to write about can only fuel my contribution as an artist. I am not so interested in chasing the brass ring of the music business any more, but glad to know that the well of creativity in me is alive and well. All of the attention and ego-satisfaction I craved now pale in comparison to the realization that what really matters are those things of the spirit that can’t be kept in a basement box to be swept away according to the whims of fate. With everything it took, the High River flood brought me renewed faith in the generosity of friends, the unexpected gifts to be found in hardship and the enduring power of song, and for that I will always be grateful.