Songwriting Resources 4 – Books and things

1. Art of writing

Not about songwriting… But about compelling, truthful storytelling and good writing in general. You: (i) are reading this blog; and (ii) have read this far. So you get it.

On Writing – Stephen King

Bird by Bird – Ann Lamott

Why are these books interesting for songwriters? A few things stick out: daily practice (sorry, that thing again); and writing lots freely and then editing down is easier than perfecting right off the bat (also entitled “shitty first drafts”).

What these have in common is that they use interesting language and a super-relaxed tone. I don’t think that’s the confidence that goes with success – I think probably they got where they are today by finding and sticking with these voices.

And, this was a bit of a revelation, novel writers (these ones at least) don’t know where their story is going when they start out. They don’t have it all planned out. They get the characters and the situation and see where they go. And this is not only OK but much the best way to go. SongExpresso feels better already.

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Read this (once – probably best borrow it). It’s short. And – perversely – usefully thought-provoking. As songwriters, what it shows us is that there are many ways of rewriting lines to give a similar meaning. We’re not interested in writing correctly but in writing beautifully (so for example we can skip the entire chapter on punctuation – hurrah!). So in fact we can go backwards and use some of the “incorrect” forms if they sound right, match our rhythm and convey the meaning we want. Some examples: “The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape” vs. “Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape”. “On arriving in Chicago” vs. “When he arrived in Chicago” vs. “On his arrival in Chicago”. “There were dead leaves lying on the ground” vs. “Dead leaves covered the ground”. “He was not often on time” vs. “He usually came late”. Less vs. fewer, whether vs. if etc. etc. (Anyone still reading?)

2. Online bits and pieces

Sodajerker on Songwriting – “interviews with some of the world’s most successful songwriters”. It’s well researched and the enthusiastic interviewers Simon and Brian do a great job of keeping a low profile and allowing the guests to tell their stories. They really do get names that SongExpresso wants to hear from – not just from today but from down the years since the 80s. They also have a Spotify playlist for the songs featured in each episode, at the charmingly named “tinpanscally”

Sold on Song – by BBC Radio 2 – sadly discontinued but happily archived (that’s what the web is for – though it seems a shame that the audio seems not to have been preserved). Just look at the song list. BBC Radio 2 is supposed to be for over-26s (and of course as it isn’t refreshed this is drifting backwards in time) but these are must-listens.

 

What would you include in these categories? SongExpresso will be refreshing and imposing some much needed order on these pages soon. Recommendations (but not spam) always welcome and SongExpresso will review the worthwhile ones here.

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Songwriting Resources 3 – Daily Inspiration

We’re chefs, right? Taking ingredients, even complete dishes, and combining them or adding a twist to produce something fresh and inspiring. As chefs we can’t go back to Freddy’s for the ribs every day. Or to Campagnola for the pasta. We need to be experimenting – yes, but we risk experimenting with the same old stuff if we don’t feed ourselves with the new stuff. 

If we’re open-minded, read lots of things, talk to people, practice and experiment then eventually we’ll have new ideas. Maybe. But we can jumpstart the process of finding new ways – our own ways. Travelling the world – yes we need to do that; but can’t always do it daily. Checking out the work of other chefs – yes, and if we can get recommendations and reviews all the better. 

Here are a few SongExpresso resources for having an idea that you didn’t wake up with:

1. Reddit

Just to lurk or to converse. SongExpresso doens’t really go for the posters who put up songs saying “please critique my work”. But good luck to them – actually it’s pretty brave (especially on Reddit where critiques tend to range from scathing to mildly abrasive). But check out the following. If you follow these subReddits you are sure to see something that you hadn’t thought of before:

http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/ (personal favorite – nothing directly to do with songwriting)

http://www.reddit.com/r/writingprompt/ (not sure why we need two of these but this one is more down to earth and less mind boggling) (or not)

http://www.reddit.com/r/SongwritingPrompts/ (if really stuck why not? Also good for free writing or object wriing)

http://www.reddit.com/r/WriteDaily/ (a bit like object writing but with more accessible themes)

http://www.reddit.com/r/POETRYPrompts/ (kind of the same but with a tendency to more obscure themes).

2. Juxtaposing stuff

http://www.Poets.org/poetsorg/poem-day great selection of emotive modern poems – you can read one a day right?  SongExpresso thinks you should – and will return to this.

http://literaryjukebox.brainpickings.org/ a bold venture – the great brainpickings.org will never run out of thought-provoking material. SongExpresso finds the songs generally on the soft and folky side – but that’s a taste thing. In common they have quality and emotion (perhaps inevitably in order to be selected to be part of a literary project). No matter. Come here and see two things that didn’t together before and think about each element and their combined effect.

3. New Music

We used to have to wait for a particular new music DJ on the radio; now we can create our own station. 

http://www.stereogum.com/ There are a million music websites and blogs out there. This one is perhaps a bit edgier than most – SongExpresso guarantees you won’t have already heard everything on here.

https://www.kexp.org/live/ There are a million music stations and podcasts out there. But SongExpresso has never been bored by these short live performances.

http://www.soundopinions.org/ There are a m… you know. This one’s a keeper (a few too many sponsorship messages for SongExpresso’s liking, but someone needs to pay the royalties).

http://grantland.com/contributors/brian-koppelman/ Not just about music. And sometimes a teeny bit mutually self-congratulatory? But BK does like to ask probing questions about motivation and what it’s really like to be the artist.
 

Do you use any of these or any other ones? Recommendations (but not spam) always welcome and SongExpresso will review the worthwhile ones here.

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Songwriting Resources 2 – Songwriting blogs

Guess what? SongExpresso does not have any monopoly on amazing songwriting ideas. Here are a few really good blogs for finding others:

 

  • Nicholas Tozier: He’s into practice, discipline and focus. And language. And finishing songs.
  • USA Songwriting Competition: Not so much for the competition itself, but the blog almost always has top level professional guest bloggers who (again almost always) have something non-obvious to contribute.

 

Do you use any of these or any other ones? Recommendations (but not spam) always welcome and I will review the worthwhile ones here.

 

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Songwriting Resources 1 – Essentials

On these pages will appear the things I use and like. Maybe some of them will work for you. I don’t get anything for recommending them! Send me your favorites and I’ll look into adding them here.

“Ideas Notebook” / “Ideas Journal”

Not optional. My mind is not large or fast enough to remember all of the ideas that come to me. Also, you can’t predict when or where inspiration will strike. And you need it to be digital i.e. searchable. We are incredibly lucky these days to have smartphones, tablets etc. etc. that do this. My favorite is Evernote. You can add text notes, record sounds, pictures (e.g. photos of handwritten notation or tabs), webpages (it has a sister widget called Clearly that cuts out most of the junk from web pages just leaving the bits you want to read), emails and almost anything else. The first drafts of this post were written in Evernote. (Yes, you can use a paper notebook – but: Is it really portable? And do you promise to: (i) write legibly; (ii) be disciplined about writing in different sections for different categories of things; and (iii) remember where things were or even copy out on a regular basis to ensure you can find them? I am old school for some things, but I am not good at any of that. And I refuse.). There are others (e.g. OneNote). Doesn’t matter which one, but you need to find one, get one, and use it.

Thesaurus/synonyms dictionary

Compulsory (see what I did there). The “I’m sure there’s a better word for that” book. I have always used Roget’s Thesaurus (though never quite worked out why the part you need to look at first is at the back). But I also have an Oxford Thesaurus which goes from A-Z. For now I use paper ones. No good reason for that.

Rhyming dictionary

Also not optional. I have a Penguin Rhyming dictionary (also have to look in the back first – what?) – and probably would like to get a bigger one. There are some good smartphone apps out there: I used to really like “RhymeNow”, but it seems now to have stopped working on later versions of iThings. “Prime Rhyme” is OK though words appear apparently in random order and mixed syllable lengths. It also has definitions which might be interesting sometimes. “Rhyme” is the best pick out there for me at the moment – it’s not the most beautiful but it has free version and a paid version with more settings and no ads.

 

Do you use any of these or any other ones? Recommendations (but not spam) always welcome and I will review the worthwhile ones here.

 

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