A songwriting crime… I’ve been re-evaluating a lot of my songwriting and creativity techniques recently, trying to push the boat out a little bit more. It’s true; you only get the best out of your skills if you develop them and keep the process fresh. Here are ten crimes that I’ve learnt can hinder the songwriting journey:

Crime 1: It’s a crime to rhyme. That is, unnecessary rhyming. I thought I’d try using this technique more in my work but it has backfired spectacularly as the rhymes have been cheesy and crude. Only use rhyming if you are ultra confident!

Crime 2: Not getting a second opinion. Always get a colleague, musician, friend or mentor to listen to your work. Another point of view can help you develop a song or help you see where the weak spots are.  Make sure it is someone who is supportive of your work and that you trust implicitly.

Crime 3: A lack of ideas is the road to nowhere. Make sure you are as creative with lyrics as possible. Don’t explain an idea using one set phrase; try using as many adjectives, similes and metaphors as possible. The English language is one of the most descriptive in the world. Get a thesaurus and go for it. It will help stop the song from becoming boring.

Crime 4: Write in haste, repent at leisure. Don’t rush a song, try living with it for a few weeks or so before you unleash it on the unsuspecting public. This way will know if it is a song that really works as you will have had a chance to sing it through many times. Rushing can lead to mistakes and you don’t want to release that into the world.

Crime 5: The key is stuck in the lock. That’s right you’re stuck in the same key and all your songs sound the same. If this happens there are two things you can do to get out of the rut: firstly transpose the song into a different key signature. For example, if I’m in C major, I go up a tone to D major and try singing the song in that key to see if it works. Secondly, in your practise time find some cover songs to learn in a variety of different keys. This will help you to broaden your music theory knowledge and become more confident with challenging key signatures.

Crime 6: I haven’t got a clue. You know that feeling when you start writing a song, and you get to the chorus and you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know what you’re singing about. That’s the time to focus on one topic; try describing the song topic in one sentence. If you’ve got more than one sentence you might have too many ideas.  

Crime 7: I’ve just written a well known song. We’ve all done it, written a fantastic song and then realised that it sounds exactly like a song you’ve just heard on the radio. Don’t panic, we’ve all done this, so you’re not alone. The song can salvaged, it just needs some lyric rewrites and some new chord progressions. As one of my university music lecturers once said “there’s nothing new in music”. Do remember though that plagiarism is illegal!

Crime 8: Screeching and growling. The song is either too low or high for you to sing.  As before trying changing the key until you find a suitable one for your vocal range. We all have a particular area of the voice where we sound fantastic – so find your “golden” spot. Karen Carpenter was known for her tenor vocals but she actually had a large vocal range and could sing very high. When challenged as to why she only sang her hit songs in the lower range she replied “the money’s in the basement”.

Crime 9: Not crossing the bridge over troubled waters. I’m lazy, I hate writing bridges because it involves having to think of a new aspect to a song.  However, if your song needs some oomph or it just isn’t long enough try adding a bridge. You can bring in some new musical and lyrical ideas here.

Crime 10: The sock drawer should only contain socks. Sing your songs; don’t leave them at the bottom of the drawer where no-one can hear them. They are your gift to the world. Your song might help, uplift, console someone; or help them to see their situation in a new light. A song that is never sung is a crime…

But hey, don’t take my word for it. You could probably add a few of your own crimes to this last too. Creativity is a muscle, keep on flexing it!

 

Views: 95

Comment by Wilhelm Olivier on February 11, 2013 at 6:51am

A great post, I will include this link to a group that I run for Gospel Artists on Facebook.  Have commented on so many of these points that you articulate so well.Yes the list is not exhaustive but we will give opportunity to our conscience to convict us.  lol.

Comment by Helen Sanderson-White on February 11, 2013 at 9:58am

Thanks Wilhelm! Glad you like the blog; I think we all struggle with the same issues when it comes to songwriting. I would love for you to post the blog on Facebook Group - which group is it?

Comment by Helen Sanderson-White on February 11, 2013 at 9:59am

Thanks Wilhelm! Glad you like the blog; I think we all struggle with the same issues when it comes to songwriting. I would love for you to post the blog on Facebook Group - which group is it?

Comment by Wilhelm Olivier on February 11, 2013 at 1:27pm

True that, humility is what is lacking at times.

I'm not a songwriter though but interact a lot with songwriters and see the issues from the outside looking in.  At times when I comment, because I'm not a song writer some think I have no right to comment.....

The group on Facebook is called Gospel Artists Zimbabwe.  I started it as a tool for connecting artists and also 'fans' to what is happening in the Gospel arena in Zimbabwe.  It is an uphill struggle because for some reason Gospel artists in Zimbabwe are: 1. not marketing savvy. 2. suspicious of others. 3. do not collaborate.  4. tend to be denominational centric.  Having said this, these are generalisations, however we have a generation of gospel artists who have done well but there has not been a mentoring of an upcoming crop of Gospel artists.

Comment by Helen Sanderson-White on February 11, 2013 at 4:06pm

Commenting is good as long as it is constructive and can help the songwriter better themselves and their work. Keep doing what you're doing with the songwriting group, change is also slow but be encouraged that you can make a difference. One of them problems that a lot of artists encounter is isolation and you are actively trying to discourage this, so that is great!

Comment by Al Hilgendorf on February 12, 2013 at 6:15pm

Excellent post, Helen! 

al

www.everydaypraise.com

Comment by David D Waggoner on February 24, 2013 at 3:30pm

I have committed a few of those crimes myself.  (ok - almost all of them! LOL!)

But on your last one - #10 - how do you balance not keeping a lid on your compositions with not committing the sin of self-promotion?

Comment by Helen Sanderson-White on February 27, 2013 at 8:18pm

Hi David - good to know I'm not alone on songwriting crimes!

Re point 10: self-promotion is always an interesting area. I don't that it is sinful if the musician's goal is to bring glory to God and promote the Gospel. However there are always cases where the musician is out for personal gain and glory and it's one of those areas where we have to constantly check ourselves to make sure that our motives are in line with God.

In some of the churches I've worked with I've put together songwriting groups to encourage people to share their songs and also to encourage the gift of creativity. This is also a great way of helping people develop spiritually as well as musically and gives the group an opprtunity to help people who are struggling with any unhelpful motives or direction.

Unfortunately promotion is part of artistry and creativity even for worship music.Without promotion songs would never reach the church and be used by people across the world. I suppose you could say it's a worldly activity that gets used for our spiritual gain and development!

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