A look inside The Complete Singer-Songwriter
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter, offers some tips on how to keep your ideas flowing. Courtesy of SonicBids Blog we have a inside look at some of these tips. Read below for more!
Every songwriter needs a nudge sometimes to keep writing. There’s no better way to learn and grow creatively than by simply finishing songs, but that can be easier said than done. What do you do when inspiration is not sweeping you off your feet, and the song ideas that you come up with seem dull and hackneyed?
One approach used by many songwriting groups is to play different kinds of creative games that involve writing a song according to specific parameters and setting a deadline. Yes, this is a form of songwriting homework, but the process of writing to spec like this can be playful and fun. It’s a relief sometimes to be given direction rather than always having to find your own way, and it will lead you to very different songs than you would typically write. Here are a few types of games that can help keep the ideas and songs coming.
The simplest songwriting game is to start with a word or phrase and write a song that incorporates it – the word or phrase doesn’t have to be the title or even a central element; it just needs to appear somewhere in the lyrics. This is the game notably played by Jason Mraz and the email songwriting group led by Austin musician Bob Schneider. As Mraz told me, his hit duet “Lucky” with Colbie Caillat, for instance, started from the phrase “me talking to you” (the opening lines are “Can you hear me? I’m talking to you”). Everyone in the group takes a turn giving the prompt – which might be as simple as brown or as odd as the nonsense word gumanema.
It’s possible to play this game solo and choose words for yourself, maybe by randomly picking words from a book or introducing another element of chance, but it’s more interesting to do with a partner or group – input from others forces you out of your usual patterns of thinking.
Once I was booked for a songwriter showcase and given the task of writing/performing a song with the phrase “the shortest straw.” At first I was flummoxed – I couldn’t imagine what to do with those words. But before I even had a chance to think more about it, I found myself imagining a character who feels perennially shortchanged in life, and ad-libbing lyrics over an E minor groove. Even though “the shortest straw” is just a minor detail in the resulting song (titled “Prayer”), this assignment gave me the impetus and the deadline to finish what turned out to be a keeper.
When playing this game, I recommend using words for physical/tangible things, and it’s a bonus if they have multiple uses or meanings. For instance, in my songwriting group we’ve used key and ticket (resulting, for me, in the songs “I’ve Got It Here Somewhere” and “Closer”).
You can also use words that define a theme or concept but don’t have to appear in the song itself – the game could be to write about envy, winter, or working in a cubicle. Avoid cliché themes (the road, breakups, Saturday night), and pick something that points the lyrics in an unexpected direction.
2. Storytelling style
Another area to explore in songwriting games is the way the story is told. There are so many possibilities beyond the usual contemporary style of describing your own experiences in first person. Here are a few prompts you might use in a songwriting game:
- Write entirely in second person – not singing to you (as in “I want you”) but placing you at the center of the action, as in the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (“Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly…”).
- Write in third person (he/she), even if the story is autobiographical. Writing about your own experience in third person may help you feel free to tweak the details, like a fiction writer, in order to make a better story.
- Write in first person but make the story specifically and obviously not about you. Tell the story of someone from a different era, or living in a different kind of place, or older/younger than you are. Writing from the perspective of someone of the opposite sex is tricky but worth trying.
- Write in the voice of an unlikeable, unreliable, or otherwise flawed character. Two masters of this are Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, who have brought us inside the heads of some downright scary narrators. Remember that it’s essential to empathize somehow with your character, however awful he or she may be, so that the listener can connect emotionally with the story.
Read the rest of the tips here!