Yesterday at around 7:30pm, I wrote my 100th consecutive song in 100 days, successfully completing a songwriting challenge that I commenced on the 9th of May, 2016.
Here’s the result:
With everything from this songwriting challenge still fresh in my mind, I thought it essential that I write up a big reflection of the experience to help me summarise what I have learnt and how I have improved. I am also very passionate about this topic and would like to share my thoughts on this experience and hopefully help others to improve in their own craft.
This was a big personal achievement and I want to ensure that I take advantage of the opportunity to post a good assortment of cheesy motivational quotes.
Please take note that everything written below is based on my own perspective and experience. I am by no means an expert songwriter and there is still so, so much to learn.
If you’ve got any feedback on the following blog post or would like to add your own thoughts, please leave a comment or let me know via the Contact Page.
The Rules – Did I Stick To Them?
For those who didn’t read my original post prior to starting this songwriting challenge, I had to set down some guidelines to prevent me from doing things like cramming 3 songs in one day to catch up etc. Allow me to copy+paste them here and comment.
A maximum of 1hour to write lyrics, melody, structure and record song.
OK, I sort of stuck to this one. Let’s say, 90 (give or take) out of the songs were written in under and hour. In fact, more than 20 or so were written in under 30mins. However, there were about 10 (or so) that took longer. Some took longer because I was stuck on struggle street and feeling completely uninspired (let’s talk more about this later). While others were feeling too promising to put down.
No lyrics can be written in advance. Everything must be created within the hour.
Again, I mostly stuck to this. But sometimes it was too tempting to write down a great line that someone mentioned to me or if I’d read it in a book. In fact, I started to compile a list of potential song titles – something that I’d heard of people like Guy Clark doing. This came in very handy for the few co-writes that I instigated.
No more than 1 song per day. Don’t want to burn out.
If I’m going to be honest, there were about 4 occasions where I didn’t manage to write the song on that particular day. One was due to intoxication, two from circumstance (family stuff) and a fourth from sickness. And let me tell you, the guilt from not completely a song on that particular day was HUGE.
Song must be uploaded on same day that it was written.
Yep, always. If I was in a place without internet, I tethered my phone. If my phone had no reception, I borrowed someone else’s. If there wasn’t any internet and nobody had a phone with reception, I drove the car somewhere closer to civilisation and brought my laptop along. I did my very best to stick to this one.
The Spark of Inspiration
The art of songwriting has many ‘schools of thought’. One of these, is a widely held view that the spark of inspiration (let’s call it that) is sporadic and may not strike for days, weeks, months or even years. Ever heard of ‘writer’s block’? Some established artists are known to have taken years to write an album. Adele with her 2015 release of ‘25‘ is one such example.
I used to believe this. In fact, a new track from my upcoming album titled ‘Deep Dark Hole‘ was written as a way of climbing out of my own ‘writer’s block’.
Having now completed this songwriting challenge, my perspective has shifted. To those reading this right now with ‘writer’s block’, here’s my advice:
Get over yourself. Don’t Be Precious.
Sitting around and waiting for the spark of inspiration to hit is a waste of your time. You need to accept the fact that the song you are about to write may not be your best. It might be the worst thing that you’ve ever written. Got a great chord progression but terrible lyrics? Get something down and fix it later. Bob Dylan, who is accepted by many as the greatest songwriter of all time, has written more than 1000 songs. I can’t even guess how many of those he wouldn’t even like. I know now that the trick is to be consistent and practice frequently. There is always a way to overcome ‘writer’s block’ if the need is there.
With all of this said, the spark of inspiration is a real thing and may hit at the most awkward of times. When it does, take advantage of it. If possible, drop what you are doing and grab a notebook, smart phone, whatever. Don’t let that idea slip away. There were a couple of days where I felt really inspired at a time when I had not sat down to intentionally write a song. One of these was at 9am on one of my days off from work. I wrote this particular song in about 20mins. So, it can happen. Just don’t rely on the spark of inspiration to strike. The world of music will be poorer for having less songs written.
For more information on the songwriting ‘schools of thought’, I highly recommend Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo. I read this book a couple of years ago and still occasionally open it up for a browse.
Inspiration and Motivation
Writing a song is a very personal thing and everyone seems to have their own method. The way that I do it is not necessary the ‘right‘ or ‘only‘ way. I encourage anyone who is looking to write more songs to do some research and experiment. This is the best way to keep things fresh. Here’s an insight into my own process throughout this songwriting challenge:
This was the most tried and trusted way for me to start writing a song. Before I picked up an instrument or searched for a melody, I would sit down and see if I had anything to say with lyrics. If nothing came out, I’d try one of the other methods. At least the door was now unlocked.
I write all of my lyrics using a journal app on my iPad called Day One. The beauty of this platform is that it syncs across my devices and can store information such as location, weather and time. It’s nice to think that I can look back years down the line and reflect on the circumstances that led me to writing particular songs.
I would write my lyrics based on:
- A theme, idea, feeling or memory. This could influence the structure, the perspective, the location, the tense.
- A pool of brainstormed words relating to above
- A rhyming scheme or rhythmic flow.
Sometimes the lyrics came at the exact same time as the chords or melody.
It’s a funny thought that at least 5 of the songs started with just a melody that came to me while I was having an early evening shower. After the first two times of this, taking a shower before I sat down to write a song became a bit of a routine. Maybe it had something to do with relaxation or bathroom tile acoustics. Who knows?
When writing with the melody as a springboard, I would sing the line over and over, figure out how it goes on the instrument, and work out chords that could fit. Some of my theory knowledge came into play here. Happy to do a blog post going more in-depth with this if the demand is there.
The majority of songs that were written based on the chords/accompaniment came about due to the use of alternate guitar tunings or experimental chord inversions. I found this to be a great way to keep things sounding fresh and exciting. This was especially true with the songs that I wrote on the Guitar-Uke.
The important thing to do when working out a melody over the top of some chords is to sing nonsense phrases. There were many occasions that the first line to come to my head provided a direction for the rest of the song. I often found myself weaving the remaining lyrics around the first line.
If I was completely stuck and none of the above seemed to be working, I would sit down and try to write my own lyrics to a song that I like. I wouldn’t learn to play the song on which the lyrics were based but try and evoke a similar mood through the chords. I highly recommend this process to anyone completely stuck for direction. Learn from what others are doing and try to improve on it (if possible).
This songwriting challenge was not easy. Putting an hour aside every single day for more than 3 months is a difficult ask. I found myself constantly thinking about what I could come up with when the time of day arrived. Even while writing this post, I feel guilty that I am not composing a song. Maybe I should be? NO. I’m imposing a ban for a couple of days.
Besides the whole time and routine thing, the biggest obstacle that I faced throughout this songwriting challenge was self-doubt. As most musicians, artists, and people who work in creative fields know, self-doubt is part of the package.
I spent the majority of time leading up to a new song fretting about how I could make it a good one. I even went into some writing sessions having surrendered to the fact that the upcoming song would suck. Most of the time, I proved myself wrong. There are many songs that have reached the final stage of their development through an iPhone recorder on Soundcloud, and some that having only just started to get a taste for the real world.
What’s that phrase?? … Ah! Found it.
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” – Stephen McCranie
I’ve got so many ideas about what to do with these songs. Prominent ones include working with a band to develop arrangements, working with a Producer(s) to flesh them out some more, or taking it solo and recording them myself. In summary, I’ll be making 2 albums from them. I’m not sure how yet, but it’s going to happen. I am confident that I have at least 2 albums worth of solid material. If all goes to plan, I’ll be putting both of these out next year.
Help a guy out and listen through the playlist a little? Any extra ears that I could get in narrowing down the songs would be invaluable. The best way to do this is to like them through Soundcloud and make a comment on the track.
Wow. What a journey. I have definitely come out of the other side as a better songwriter. I’m not saying that my choice of words has changed or that any song I have written previously is less good. I feel that I am more confident in my ability to build the foundations of a song. I am more confident in my ability to create a near finished work with very little to start from. I know now that if I push my self creatively, I can produce the goods. Writer’s Block will never be a problem again.
Would I recommend it?
YES! I strongly believe that the more songs there are in the world, the better place it will be. If you are thinking about pursuing this challenge, stop thinking. Thinking could lead you to make excuses. I am happy to help out, share my experience and answer any questions that people might have.
Thanks for reading.