What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

Sometimes the best way to learn is to go it alone. Sometimes the best way to learn is with help and guidance. Songwriting, as it turns out, is best learned with a mixture of the two. Let’s talk about why.   Do You Need to Work with a Songwriting Coach? It’s a question I get asked a lot as a songwriting coach, and a good one: is working with a songwriting coach essential? And the short answer to this deeply existential question (for me, at least) is no. It’s definitely not essential. But a longer answer is no, but it’s definitely a great way to make great progress with your writing. With the right mentor you’ll make much better progress than you would alone. With the right mentor what might take you months to figure out one your own, you might figure out in a session or two with your coach. And sure, that old saying is true: songwriting can’t be taught, only learned. But an experienced and skilled coach is going to help you learn all that stuff faster and more efficiently. They’re won’t let you avoid making the mistakes that all songwriters make early on – they’re just going to help you make them faster and make sure you learn good lessons from them. See, if you didn’t know already, making mistakes is the way you really master something. You’ve probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 Hours Rule’ – that says the trick to mastering anything is 10,000 hours of practice. Well, let me expand on that with Ed Bell’s lesser-known ’10,000 Mistakes Rule’ – that says...
How to Find More Time to Write

How to Find More Time to Write

I get it. There’s never enough hours in the day. Juggling work, friends, family, exercise, time off, Stranger Things is tough. It’s easy for your creative time to end up last on the list. But here’s the kicker: you’ll find time to do it if it’s important enough. Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. Beyoncé. Richard Branson. The Dalai Lama. You. Whether you get what you want done has nothing to do with how long it takes the earth to rotate and everything to do with how you prioritize. Here’s how you change your mind about what’s important and make sure you give your creative work the time it deserves.   First Things First: Decide Writing Is Important You don’t have to say it to yourself in the mirror every morning. You don’t have to write it on a hundred Post-its and stick them round your house. All you have to do is decide writing is important to you. And how do you know that’s true? You get to decide it’s true. You get to decide that even if there are a handful of other important things in your life, writing is one of them. You get to decide that even though writing can be tough, most things worth doing are tough sometimes. You get to decide that living the kind of life you want is totally up to you, and if writing is an important part of that, goddamn you better find some quality time for it. If it’s not true, by the way, that’s cool. It’s totally cool. If your passion is scuba diving...
107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

Songs prompts, oh, song prompts. If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan. I’m not really into writing by numbers. I think spoon-feeding is great for babies but terrible for songwriters. And I think the most important thing a songwriter – well, anyone – can learn is to think for themself. That’s why most of the content on the site is about the big, fundamental ideas every songwriter should know about. (Including this article about how to come up with your own song ideas.) But, you know, sometimes songwriters get really stuck. Sometimes songwriters have no idea where to begin. Sometimes songwriters get so stuck they just sit curled up in a corner murmuring ‘HELP ME’ to their pot plants.     And if that’s you, I have some good news: I made you a big list of songs you can write. Specifically, 107 songs you can write. Do I hate myself for doing it? Of course. A little. But will it help you out if you’re really stuck? Of course. So we’re good.     If you’re new to the site I recommend you read my article on how songs tell stories, and how a song’s style, idea and hook work together before you do anything else. They’ll help you know what to do with the song prompts I’m about to give you. You can also download a nifty (and printable) version of the list here. Otherwise, have a browse. See which song prompts inspire you. Go write some songs, live your dream, change the world. And remember: these ideas aren’t gospel. You can use the song prompts as is....
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be Creative

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be Creative

Sometimes it feels like the world is going crazy. The Nazis are back! A third of millennials will never own a home! Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water! And don’t even get me started on politics. But that’s only half the story. In fact and in facts, we live in the safest, most peaceful, most technologically advanced era in human history. We also live in the best period of human history – by far – to do something creative. Let’s talk about five reasons why.   It’s Never Been Easier to Make New Things In Mozart’s time, making music was just for rich people who either were the aristocracy or who were lucky enough to work for them. Well, sucks to be you Mozart, because these days you can get started entirely on your own and without spending a fortune. Seriously. You can pick up a decent instrument for less than $100. You can create an entry-level recording studio by plugging a decent mic into your laptop. You can make professional-sounding music in your bedroom, on the subway, on a plane, in the middle of nowhere. You have access to a huge library of sounds, beats and synths online, sometimes for free. You can shoot a great-looking music video on your phone. You can make all kinds of amazing things with the tools you probably already have and not much else. And that’s not even to mention the incredible and unprecedented freedom people alive today have. OK. I know it doesn’t feel like that when your alarm goes off at 7am Friday and you have to lug your sorry...
Five Reasons Why Being a Songwriter Sucks (And Five Why It’s Awesome)

Five Reasons Why Being a Songwriter Sucks (And Five Why It’s Awesome)

Sometimes being a songwriter sucks. Sometimes it’s awesome. Let me try to explain why.   — Five Reasons Why Being a Songwriter Sucks —   1. You never feel good enough You’re too close to the thing you’re working on. You’re the last person on earth who can judge it objectively. And because you made it, you know all the bits that weren’t as good as you hoped. And because you have high standards, there are plenty of them. Worst of all, you can’t just try ‘positive thinking’ your way out of this. Because you’re a great writer, you know the thing you make can always be better. There’s always one more rewrite you can do. There’s always one extra tweak you can make. Ad infinitum. That means at some point you have to call it a day and call the thing done, even if you’re not completely satisfied. That’s all you can do. That, and hope you do a bit better next time.   2. You spend way too much time on your own Most people spend most of their working day surrounded by co-workers (e.g. cubicle dweller), maybe even customers (e.g. ice cream man), maybe even masses of the general public (e.g. town crier). Most writers, on the other hand, don’t. Sure, there are co-writing sessions and meetings and rehearsals and days in the recording studio. But some days it’s just you. Just you and the blank page or screen. Just you and your lingering feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing. Just you and your thoughts and your optimism that those thoughts might help...
How to Finish a Song

How to Finish a Song

The trouble with finishing a song is that songwriting is hard. Possible, manageable, achievable. But hard. It’s hard because songwriting, like any kind of creativity, means making something that doesn’t exist yet. And the trouble with making something that doesn’t exist yet is that – because it doesn’t exist – you don’t know how to make it. In a nutshell, that’s how creativity works. And that’s why creativity is hard. There’s no formula. There’s no rulebook. There’s no IKEA-style instructions. You just have to figure it out. One of the most common questions I get asked both through the site and as a songwriting coach is ‘How do I finish a song?’ And the honest answer is, you keep going. You finish a song by coming up with ideas until the song’s finished. I know that’s not a sexy answer. I know that’s not an exciting answer. I know that’s not an answer I can explain in a three-step WikiHow article with nice pictures.     If you’re confused about your song’s structure, I suggest you stick to a simple Verse-Chorus structure – like Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus or Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. If you’re not sure what to put into your song’s verses, have a think about your song’s story and try brainstorming details about that story – no lyrics yet, just words and phrases! – that might inspire a full lyric. If you’ve written your first verse but are stuck on your second, think about a shift in time or place or topic you could use to frame your second verse. What other focus could help inspire you to write something new? If you’re struggling to...

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