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!