Songwriters.....what is the one piece of advice or tip you most treasure?

Discussion in 'Songs in the key of Gretsch' started by YouFellowRebels, Jun 29, 2020.

  1. YouFellowRebels

    YouFellowRebels Gretschie

    Jun 17, 2020
    So I’ve been working on songwriting skills for the past year and a half more than I have in my life. I’ve played guitar for 21 years now, and decided I’m tired of waiting on others so I need to become a songwriter. I’ve started attempting to craft lyrics seriously for the first time in my life and to find melodies for them. Recently I’ve been digging into interview with some of my favorite songwriters (one of my favorites is Dan Wilson’s tips he posts to Instagram)....which lead me to wonder this question. For those of you who craft songs, what is the best piece of wisdom, advice, or a tip you’ve received or read somewhere? What would you tell another songwriter if you could share one thing?
    blueruins likes this.
  2. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    Years back I had a great conversation with Paul Cotton.

    He had this to say about writing and performing a song. I want folks to go on a 2-3 minute vacation from reality. If my song can do this for a person, I wrote a good one.

    Pretty simple, but not! Lol

    It is a process that works in strange ways. I've been putting together a few over the last couple of years too.

    For me, it'll end up nowhere other than giving me a vacation coming up with one, and just working on playing different versions.

    Best to you on your quest.
  3. YouFellowRebels

    YouFellowRebels Gretschie

    Jun 17, 2020
    I really like the idea of that. If you can capture somebody in what you’ve created enough that they forget about the world you’ve got some magic for sure.

    I feel like I’ve been trying to write a song a day of late in hopes that sheer quantity while in a creative mind will improve me and I can weed through them when they stop coming...
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  4. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Try the opposite - work out some riffs and melodies that you like, think of how it makes you feel and write some lyrics.
  5. new6659

    new6659 Country Gent

    Great songs tell a story.
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  6. TubeLife

    TubeLife Gretschie

    Jan 23, 2020
    This a great advice. Everyone has different routines and ways of writing, but this ^^^ is how I like to do it.
    YouFellowRebels likes this.
  7. calebaaron666

    calebaaron666 Country Gent

    Aug 15, 2018
    Portland, Maine
    I write down stuff I may think up, or I hear people say or I read somewhere.
    I’m always adding them to an ongoing list of song titles.

    If I’m playing guitar and I find a riff I like, the FIRST thing I do is record it so I won’t forget it (I used to use a tape recorder, now I use my phone).
    I then try and find the next riff, then the next one, and the next one, over the course of how ever long it takes, whether it be an hour, a day, week, month, year, whatever..

    Once I have something that may be worth keeping, I’ll refer to my list of song titles and choose one that best fits the feeling of the riffs.
    Then I’ll begin the humbling task of writing lyrics that may, or may not, have anything to do with the title. However, during this process the guitar riffs may transform to better fit the words.

    I’ve been using this method for a long long time.
    I’m not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, but it works for me.
    Waxhead, new6659, section2 and 5 others like this.
  8. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    "Don't give up your day job"
    Groutsch, Frank_NH, pilgrim and 9 others like this.
  9. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    Yep, and thank God I'm retired. I can spend more time doing all the above.
  10. lathoto

    lathoto Gretschie

    Apr 23, 2020
    “It’s what you leave out that lets the audience use their imagination." ~ Guy Clark
  11. blueruins

    blueruins Country Gent

    May 28, 2013
    Savannah, GA
    No right way to write a song.

    For me the music usually comes first. Like Caleb, I will find something I find musically intriguing and record that so I don’t lose it.

    One thing that really helps me is to put on headphones and walk while listening trying to capture a good melody for the riff. I find that the rhythm of physical motion enhances musical creativity. Paul Simon sits in a room with a notepad and repeatedly bounces a raquetball off the opposite wall to the same effect.

    I find it very important to visualize what atmosphere the music is conjuring...for me the words have to be inspired by the mood.

    Often I will start with just a melody with what I call ‘marker words’. Just nonsense words that fill the space until I can replace them with good and meaningful words. Whittle away at the words until I find the ones that are right. Sometimes lyrics won’t make exact literal sense but I know when they’re “right” and it feels good!

    I’m sure that you have noticed that much of songwriting is a gift from somewhere beyond your physical reality. I think it’s important to reflect on what you’re using these gifts for. It’s a heavy responsibility.
  12. S.R.Cash

    S.R.Cash Gretschie

    Aug 29, 2019
    Ontario, Canada
    I write down a short form 'story', or a collection of thoughts when I feel an idea is brewing. Taking away some words can result in a song, or adding them can result in a short story. I also do the riff and rhythm thing, than add lyrics that seem to fit the mood afterward. Like others say, a good song is just a tiny version of a good book. Tell a story and make it interesting.
  13. YouFellowRebels

    YouFellowRebels Gretschie

    Jun 17, 2020
    Thanks for all the responses! Figured this could be a fun discussion in general, and hopefully helpful to more than just me.

    I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon, I’m a stay at home parent. My writing time is usually whatever time I get before my son wakes up. Plus I quit my day job for touring when I was 22 and ended up broke in Florida eventually calling my parents for a favor and a plane ticket home....though crossing the country twice was worth it.

    I’ve enjoyed all the insight. I think I need to try making a story first. That is my weak spot. I feel like I’ve mostly written topical, so they are more about a thing than an event or story, and I’d like to make a the story that others can connect with.

    That songs just come from a magical place is also something I agree with. I’m much in the Tom Petty camp there. Whenever I’ve read or heard him speak on the topic he usually says that you can’t say I’m writing a song, they just kind of appear from this magical place in the universe at the time they want to.

    I come from more of a rhythm guitar background so I often craft the chord structure then at times just feel words come that fit that structure and form the melody and lead part from there. Other times I have a song recorded on the music side and scroll my notebook until something feels like it fits and flows.

    I’m enjoying reading everybody’s tips, keep them coming! It’s fun to hear thoughts on such a simple, yet complex topic.
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  14. mrcoffee23

    mrcoffee23 Gretschie

    Sep 23, 2009
    Virginia, USA
    Make the personal universal. Avoid cliche in language or concept.

    Find a new way to say the same old thing.
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  15. mrcoffee23

    mrcoffee23 Gretschie

    Sep 23, 2009
    Virginia, USA
    If you're working a story or experience lyric, knock out the verses easily by following the present/past/future timeline.

    First verse describes the present situation to set up the story, second verse talks about how it was in the past (usually better situation than present), and the third talks about the hope (or lack thereof) for the future.

    Remember that in order to create drama, we can move back and forth in time. Time doesn't have to be linear, but the dramatic arc has to be an arc. Manipulate time to achieve the arc.
  16. YouFellowRebels

    YouFellowRebels Gretschie

    Jun 17, 2020
    Makes perfect sense, yet I wouldn’t have thought of that!
    mrcoffee23 likes this.
  17. Trash Kidd

    Trash Kidd Country Gent

    Dec 14, 2015
    London U.K.
    I think I come from the same school as my friend @calebaaron666 ;)

    I’ll write ideas down all the time. Stuff I hear, phrases I hear. I even wake up in the early hours of the morning & put lyric ideas in the notes app on my iPhone.
    I also record riffs/music ideas on my iPhone so I don’t forget them..
    I tend to tell stories too... some pretty dark. The baby I love you, be my girl stuff isn’t really me..

    The most important rule is though.... That there are no rules.. Do what comes naturally.
  18. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    I heard someone say something about making it specific makes it universal.
    YouFellowRebels likes this.
  19. mrcoffee23

    mrcoffee23 Gretschie

    Sep 23, 2009
    Virginia, USA
    Keep in mind that specific and personal are two different things. Once is saying 'write what you know' (personal) and the other is saying 'don't be vague' (specific).
  20. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    Try writing songs on another instrument. I've heard various songwriters mention this.

    I find writing on the bass very productive, I think because I hear, or imagine what I would play against the bass line.

    Someone was discussing why they force students to take piano as a second instrument, most notation and theory is derived from the keyboard. They have pianists choose a woodwind, usually, it forces you to think differently.


    As for lyrics...brainstorming, something I was taught in school, but I was shown its observational power in a 20th Century Fiction course. You write out everything you want to say and everything you know about a subject, you end up with something that looks like what is known as a word cloud. Everything, emotions, colours, sounds, smells, textures, names, metaphors. You can usually read the song straight from the paper.

    Advanced techniques are grouping seemingly unconnected or random words together into themes, or grouping ideas together, or words and ideas together; finding hidden connections in your word soup; superimposing other groups of words or structure.

    [It's especially useful when collaborating.]
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
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