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?

songwriting challenge rules

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 

  4. 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

songwriting challenge spark

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.

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo


Inspiration and Motivation

songwriting challenge 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:

Lyrics first:

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.

Melody first:

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. 

Chords/Accompaniment first:

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.

Emulation:

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).


Obstacles

songwriting challenge Obstacles

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

What’s Next?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Marketing Your Live Gig - A reflection by Sam Newton

 

On Wednesday 25/6/14, I attended a free for members event organised by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) titled ‘Marketing Your Live Gig 101‘.

Due to afternoon/evening private teaching commitments in previous years, this was my first time attending one of APRA’s events. So before I outline the night, let me just say how happy I am to have a service like APRA available for the Australian music community. As I mentioned above, this event was completely free for songwriters registered with APRA (free membership) – including beers and finger food prior to the actual Panel Discussion. Good form APRA.

APRA-AMCOS_logo

The night was made up of 3 unique industry players:

Joe Gould

Drummer and key organiser in Sydney-based ‘The Crooked Fiddle Band’. These guys are completely self-managed and have done huge things as an independent act over the past 8 years.

Adam Lewis

An industry all-rounder, Adam has been a long running FBi radio presenter, venue booker and gig promoter, as well has having significant experience in A&R , media and communications, music writing and DJing. Adam is currently the full-time Booker for Goodgod Small Club on Liverpool St in the Sydney CBD.

Nik Tropiano

A music veteran of over 17 years, Nik has owned and operated his own independent label and is currently working as a manager and publicist. His credentials are pretty huge. For more info, look him up.

The Event as a whole:

The event in total went for 2 hours, with 1 hour for networking, free beer and snacks beforehand and the second hour for the discussion. I would highly recommend attending future events for the entirety of the 2 hours as I met and traded contacts with some great people. I see this as a hugely important ingredient to success in any industry.

The Panel Discussion:

The speakers that APRA organised for this discussion brought some great knowledge to the table and I found myself leaving the building with a stronger understanding in this area than I had walking in. Each of the speakers answered questions and points raised by Greg Morrow, who coordinated the flow of the discussion, openly and honestly. The only area that I thought could have been elaborated on a little further was the actual process that can go into marketing an independent artist’s gig (or more specifically – tour) campaign on a very low budget. When I asked a question regarding the use of a checklist, the speakers (Nik directly) responded that there ‘was no simple checklist’. I was pretty skeptical. Surely there was some protocol that you could follow to guarantee heads at the door, assuming your music is any good and you have some descent recordings. I guess this is something that you have to figure in the end through experience.

Resources by Joe Gould

The point from above did get cleared up later by Joe, who mentioned a fantastic eBook by a NZ artist called Blink. The book is called ‘DIY TOURING THE WORLD‘  costs whatever you’re willing to pay. I’m just about to start reading it, so I can’t vouch for how great it is just yet. However, fellow panel speaker Adam also raved about the quality. If that’s enough for you…

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK.

Click here for a Review of the Book by NZ Website ‘The Corner’.

Joe, as the legend that he is, also mentioned a page that he made on his website with some fantastic resources. Among these is a checklist style spreadsheet, which can be used as part of a marketing campaign (just what I was looking for) and some other useful links.

I highly recommend this page: Joe Gould from The Crooked Fiddle Band’s Resources

The Importance of Quality Engagement:

A strong recurring point being raised amongst the panel was the importance of engagement in various mediums with the community that your music exists inside. This means going to gigs and making contacts relevant to your genre or style and following them up digitally as well as physically. This is the main area that I plan on resolving with my own music career. I mean, how can you expect to build and grow an audience without some performer loyalty and reliability. From today onwards, I will go to at least one gig per week. I am going to meet people and become a frequent and active member of the Sydney Music Community. While I did feel this as important before, APRA’s event has cemented my feelings.

Another related area of engagement that the panel emphasised, was the weakness of the Facebook Like. The speakers wanted to make sure that the audience understood that all marketing campaigns must make use of various mediums and Facebook is no be-all, end-all solution. Nik even brought up the point that while one of the bands that he manages, ‘Regular John’, had sold more than 20,000 copies of their previous record, they only had 2,000 Facebook Likes. Following this fact, Joe jokingly put forward the idea of messaging every one of his Facebook Fans (The Crooked Fiddle Band) and telling them all to Unlike the Page if they weren’t actually emotionally invested in the Band’s musical endeavours. While his idea of ‘cutting the fat’ from the area of social media engagement sounds tempting (my thoughts on the ‘Like‘ is pretty much in agreement with Joe), I dare him to follow through. No matter what anyone says, Facebook Likes still look impressive. And perhaps if there was a better way of personalising the gaining of a Like, it’ll carry more weight. What if fans were contacted directly once the Like occurred? Would this be too time consuming for the artist? Or perhaps too pushy from a Fan’s perspective?

Marketing Your Live Gig through Blogs:

While a simple google search can yield some great results if you’re looking to start pushing your music out to the tastemakers of the industry, Nik Tropiano mentioned a fantastic website resource that is so good that I’m kicking myself that I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s called Hype Machine. This site is an aggregate for a number of influential music blogs out there. It tracks song plays across these blogs and can work as a database to find a musician’s niche audience. The blogosphere is definitely an area that I am looking to get my music out into.

The Importance of a Mailing List

The final point that this Panel discussion pushed, which is one that I’ve only recently been trying to improve myself, is the use of a Mailing List. If there is one thing that someone can take away by reading this post/reflection or attending the event, it’s that the Mailing List is the only true way to directly engage with fans on a digital spectrum. From my experience, Mail Chimp is the best one around.

www.mailchimp.com 

Be sure to Sign Up for mine on the right —> 

OR SIGN UP BY CLICKING HERE.

 

I hope that my reflection on Wednesday night’s APRA event will be of some benefit to other artists looking to get their music heard and people at their shows. I believe that Marketing Your Live Gig is an important step towards a successful career as an independent musician. If you have any extra thoughts on some of the topics that I’ve discussed, feel free to share them below.

A Big thank you to APRA for continuing to be an awesome part of the Australian Music landscape.

 

Speak soon,

-Sam