Revisiting A Life Changing Songwriting Workshop In Spain

TSA REtreat 2019

TSA REtreat 2019

I’m getting ready to co-host a songwriting workshop with my buddy Eliot Kennedy in Sheffield England this month and it got me thinking about the value of workshops and retreats. For this blog I really am revisiting a songwriting workshop. One I know and love, the TSA Workshop held a few times a year outside of Malaga , Spain. I was there this month, part of my excuse for reposting this blog from 2016 or at least updating!

This pic is from the recent one in September 2019. Martin Sutton does an amazing job and this year I was among some fantastic mentors including Ed Hill who came along with me from Nashville, Chris Neil and the awesome force of nature that is publisher John Saunderson. It may have topped the first time I went (and the inspiration for this blog) but all I can say is…you need to go!! Doesn’t have to be this one but find one that looks like a good fit and put yourself out there!

In Praise Of Songwriting Workshops!

September 27, 2016

No rain in Spain ...well once

September is a month I’ll remember for a long time to come. Most of my coaching is done from my home office in Nashville via Skype and my songwriting clients are all over the world at this point. This is something I’ve loved doing for over 5 years now but…I do miss seeing writers in person, writing more myself and traveling. This month I got my fix.

I was invited by Martin Sutton who runs The Songwriting Academy in the UK to come to Malaga, Spain and be one of 4 mentors at their annual songwriting retreat from Sept 10-17.  I also got the chance through Martin and TSA to have a full day workshop in London on the 19th. This took me right up to my workshop in DC with Kye Fleming organized by our friend Tom Nichols and the Songwriting Association Of Washington. It felt like a mini tour!

In Malaga they had over 30 writers, mostly UK based but a few from Russia and even Norway. Had a chance to write with a different group each day and mentor two other groups per day. Martin, Dominic Roy King and Charlie Dore were the other mentors and some gifted folk. After dinner every group performs the song they wrote followed by pure fun and wine…lots of great food and wine:-)!

DC, London and Spain...the people are all the same...awesome!

These are songwriters investing in their passion, turning information into inspiration every day. This, along with the one day workshop in London and the one I held in DC a weeks later, just reminded me how amazing it is to write songs and to co-write with people for the pure buzz of it. It filled up my well and I got to experience the “non-music business “ part of the music business. People were gracious and giving as well as sponges for anything new. I’ve been to pro-writing camps and although they can be great for networking and a shot at getting a cut, they can lack the pure joy of these events. I got to share my life stories and hear some amazing ones but it comes back to the thing we all have in common, a love for songwriting and expression.

Got as much as I gave for sure and in that sense it was all one big co-writing experience. Although most attendees were close to my kids’ age (and a few who might have done the math and found I could be their Granddad) when writers get together in that kind of spirit nothing else matters but the music and I heard some great music everyday from the writers at the retreat to the ones in the West End of London to the beautiful city of Washington DC. I loved TSA and its people enough to become a mentor on their site to coach their members from time to time.

TSA Retreat 2019

TSA Retreat 2019

Just go!!!

If you haven’t tried a writing camp or retreat, gone to a workshop in your town or in some far off place, I would really urge you to do it. We can live inside our heads as writers and need to much of the time but there’s no substitute for making music with other people, sharing stories and seeing how other writers go about writing a song. I made music but more importantly made some lifelong friends and filled up the well to overflowing. I'm vowing to do more in the coming year.

Here are just a few of the places you can do the same!

The Songwriting Academy ( Martin Sutton and his team are awesome at what they do and what they offer)

NSAI ( with branches in many cities they offer a great chance to meet other writers and though the Nashville chapter, lot’s of information)

The West Coast Songwriters Association ( I’ve done a few workshops for them as well as their big event in September. Ian and Joanie Crombie are the real deal)

BMI Workshops ( Great workshops with Jason Blume and they’ve hosted workshops for Kye Fleming and myself over the years)

ASCAP Workshops ( Their create music seminars in LA are great!)

Berklee College Of Music ( mainly online offerings but check for events)

Sweetwater Music (The worlds biggest internet music equipment provider and has great programs. I’ve been their guest for many over the years)

Songtown ( Clay Mills and Marty Dotson offer some events and great info with a focus on Nashville)

Eliot Kennedy and I are offering a brand new workshop featuring the chance to write with artists and for movies. We sold out quickly but will offer this again in the new year.

iDoCoach Blog

iDoCoach Blog


More and more songwriters are offering their own workshops including me from time to time so just Google Songwriting Workshops to find one near you. Judy Stakee offers cool retreats as does Chris Difford and Dominic KIng. Steve Earl even offers a camp once a year. I’ve seen camps pop up in Yosemite and even Marthas Vineyard. Take the leap and I promise, it will be life changing!

 

My book “Song Journey” around the world

My book “Song Journey” around the world

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

9/27/16

 

if you'd like to stay up with iDoCoach including receiving the latest blogs and my favorite 7 Toolbox tips here ya go!

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I'm currently coaching writers worldwide, online, one on one and taking new clients for the fall. Visit my website for more info www.idocoach.com or write to me at mark@idocoach.com

Check out this interview in the recent edition of M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. His book, Song Journey, was released in April 2019 and went to #1 in 6 catagories on Amazon.Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Organic Networking For Songwriters From The Book Song Journey

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

As a Songwriter, Use “Organic Networking” to Get Yourself Out There

The following is adapted from Song Journey.

Many of us songwriters are introverts. Let’s face it.

If you’re working in solitude, collecting your thoughts, and trying to channel that perfect melody, you’re probably not doing it in an office surrounded by people. I don’t think of writing as a group effort, but I do think of the music business like a team sport.

This is where the attributes of being an introvert, the stuff that allows you to dig deep, goes from being an asset to a detriment. We write in a vacuum, but your aim is to show your baby to the whole wide world. We need someone to sing our praises and, most of all, we need someone to sing our songs! How are they going to hear them?

It’s getting harder and harder to be an introvert in the music business. There was a time when a songwriter worked his or her magic, passed the song over to a publisher, the publisher played it for a label, producer, or artist, and they recorded it.

The songwriter only had to get dressed to go to the mailbox to pick up the ASCAP check or go to an award ceremony to get whatever you call the shiny thing you take home. Perfect for the Howard Hughes in all of us, but that model no longer exists.

You don’t want to hear this, but being a successful songwriter means networking.

Take a deep breath. It’s OK. We’ll get through this together.

In this article, I’m going to share some stories and strategies to get you out there networking in a way that’s manageable even for the most introverted of us.

Why You Need to Get Yourself Out There

While a good publisher might give you the space you need to do what you do, and not have to do the things you don’t, these publishers are few and far between. Really far between. These days, they want to see a writer who can bring more.

Can they play live? Can they self-promote? Can they make contacts on their own? Can they work social media? Can they discover other writers to write with? Can they forge a friendship with a producer/artist/manager? Can they bring their own funding?

The good news? You can still be introverted and succeed.

The internet is the first tool for that. You can create a platform, website, fan page, and fan base all while wearing the same old shorts and ball cap you wore when you wrote the song. You can reach out and not leave home. You can network that way.

The Power of “Old School” Networking

That said, from personal experience, there’s no substitute for “old school” networking. Going out to hear live music, connecting with other songwriters and artists. Touching base with everyone you know in the business, keeping your name in front of someone, even when doing that seems sort of creepy by an introvert’s standards.

Self-promotion is hard for most. In my career, I’ve always had sort of a grudging respect for the networking writers. Some were more networker than songwriter, some a hybrid; those are the ones who seemed to be incredibly successful in the music business.

I will share with you that I fell somewhere in between over a long career. I networked as much as I was comfortable with but probably not enough. Didn’t like to attend dinners, parties, or events, unless I was getting an award of some kind. I missed out on great opportunities by not “putting myself out there,” but I felt I could only do what I do well on my own terms. I was lucky to find a good team before the era of free agency.

Look to Create an Organic Network

The co-writer you had, the songwriter you met in an online songwriting group, the guitar player you know, your best friends’ friend who works in an entertainment law firm in New York—these parts of your songwriting path are more important than you think.

Together, they form your organic network.

So many of the contacts in my songwriting life started with the smallest of connections. These have proven to be the gift that keeps on giving. Quite a few friends I made in the beginning of my career are friends to this day. I didn’t give much thought at the time to growing old with these folks. That’s not on your radar when you’re out to conquer the world, but looking through my contacts, I see I’m still in touch with many of them.

Two Examples of Organic Networking

If you want an example of how powerful an organic can be, here’s two examples.

One of my first managers, Joe Halderman, introduced me to Peter Frampton, for whom Faith Band opened. Terry Barnes, who worked with Joe, is the brother of Faith Band drummer Dave Barnes, with whom I played. Terry ended up President and CEO of Ticketmaster and introduced me to one of my songwriting heroes, Lowell George of Little Feat. John Cooper was the sound man for Faith Band. He now mixes Bruce Springsteen all around the world. John introduced me to Wynonna Judd.

Then there’s Torquil Creevy, whom I met in England when I was an artist signed to Riva Records. Torquil moved on to Miles Copeland’s publishing company and offered me a deal when he got there. Torquil introduced me to songwriter Billy Lawrie, who introduced me to his sister Lulu of “To Sir with Love” fame.

Billy, Lulu, and I wrote “My Angel Is Here” on Wynonna’s album Revelations. Torquil also introduced me to Nick Battle at Windswept Pacific Music, who got some of my best cuts including “Wayward Soul” on Joe Cocker platinum album Across from Midnight.

Leaving the Nest

It’s just as important to continue to stay in touch with your connections as it is to make them in the first place. Cultivate the friendships; touch base from time to time. Keep your info updated. You never know where an old friend will land in this business, and someone you shared a moment with years ago can reenter your life.

I’m not suggesting you “work” your contacts as much as work at keeping up with them. Along with your family and your talent, they’re the most valuable asset you have.

Leaving the nest is the “tipping point” for most writers, myself included.

As a young writer, I headed to New York, Boston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, London, and finally Nashville. It was hard, but I dug in. Learned from everyone I could, read every book, played every bar, wrote with anyone who asked. Anything to just be able to call myself a songwriter and believe it. Every name went into my book.

If you’re a songwriter, ask yourself: how bad do you want to succeed? If the answer is, “like I want to breathe,” then be open to the idea of networking.

I promise, if done the right way, it’s not as scary as you think.

For more advice on networking as a songwriter, you can find Song Journey on Amazon.

If you'd like to stay up with iDoCoach including receiving the latest blogs and my favorite 7 Toolbox tips here ya go!

http://idocoach.com/email-newsletter

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. His book, Song Journey, was released in April 2019 and went to #1 in 6 catagories on Amazon.Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.


How To Write A Killer Melody!

IDoCoach Blog

IDoCoach Blog


The following is adapted from Song Journey.

If you’re a songwriter, I’m going to share a hard truth with you.

Do you know how the average listener learns your song? Chorus melody.

That person in the car wants to hear something they can sing. Not the whole song, not your well-crafted lyric, not your infectious track…they want to sing something now!

Once they have the chorus melody in their head, it’s about the title.

Think of it this way. You call your best friend and say, “Hey, I just heard the coolest song.” He says, “Yeah? Sing it to me.” You sing a bit of the melody, and then he asks the title of the song so he can learn it, too.

If he gets it, he may focus on what it’s actually saying in the chorus. If he digs deeper, he goes for the verses and the other parts. It’s all about the chorus—in this case, the chorus melody. Most listeners will never get past the singing-the-chorus stage.

You want to make it one of those ear worms, a “can’t get it out of my head” melody. Doesn’t matter if you write music first, lyrics first, or write to tracks, no matter.

The melody is still king.

How do you write a killer melody? Let’s look at some strategies that might help.

Create an Environment of Freedom

One of my favorite tools for melody is to create away from the guitar, my main instrument. I might sit in my studio and play keyboards, might start with a drum loop to get in a groove and go from there to laying down a chord change. I’ll start singing something over the changes, and it may even feel pretty good.

I’ll record it just in case, but what I really love to do is record those chord changes and get away from my studio. I know the act of creating a melody might come from doing it while you’re playing, but for me, singing it over the changes I’ve recorded away from an instrument gives me more freedom to experiment with my melody.

Anytime you can create an environment of freedom with your melody, instead of being part of a performance, can only be great. Just starting your melody from some note other than the root of your chord can create a more interesting melody.

If the root note of your chord is a C and you sing a seventh over that to start, you’ve already created some tension and made the melody more interesting.

Another method to creating interesting melodies is to pick up an unfamiliar instrument. In short, don’t be afraid to suck. Play like a kid and see where it takes you.

If you get out of your comfort zone, you can’t rely on your usual tricks, and you just might find some melodic magic. That’s why I like to move away from my guitar.

Deconstruct Hit Melodies

Deconstructing melodies is a good shortcut to making your own great ones. Take a current song and spend some time making notes, asking yourself these questions:

  • Where does the melody start out?

  • What’s the highest note?

  • Is there tension and release in the melody?

  • Where does it show up?

I’ve even picked a melody out on guitar and visualized it as a box or a graph:

  • Where is the lowest note in the melody?

  • Where is the highest?

  • How do the notes in between relate to those highs and lows?

Visualizing the melody is a good tool that doesn’t require a theory background.

Test Your Melody

Once you have a melody in mind for the verse and chorus, try flipping them. Is your chorus melody really a stronger verse melody? Is your bridge melody a cool chorus melody? Might be worth a cut-and-paste just to see.

At the end of the day, make sure you can’t get the melody out of your head. Can you sing it in the car, on a walk? My favorite test is if someone who has been in the general vicinity while you’re creating it starts singing it. Second best is when you play it for someone and later on you hear them humming it.

I coach quite a few lyricists and not all have a knack for melody. I get them to write a lyric to an existing, familiar melody. It can give structure for them so that at the end of the day they have a lyric. Inspired by an existing song but not connected to it. With apologies to John Lennon and Elton John, “whatever gets you through the write.”

Tips for Creating Something Fresh

So how can you come away with something fresh, interesting, and impossible for someone to get out of their head? I’ll pick my top five to focus on.

1. Rhythm

Nothing gets more boring than hearing the same melodic rhythm throughout the whole song. There are some things you can try, from doubling up the number of notes in the chorus to trying the opposite. Short notes in the verse, long notes in the chorus, halftime in the bridge, stops, builds, anything to mix it up.

2. Length of Phrase

Similar to the rhythm fixes in that you want to mix it up. If every melodic section has the same number of lines and words per line, it’s going to get old quick. Try tapping out the words and make sure your sections are not all the same.

3. Range

Another place your melody can bog down is the range, or lack of range. One of the reasons we respond to some songs and singers is the emotion they put into the melody. If your melody is rooted in one area throughout, it’s hard to get it to take off.

There are a million hits that feature the same chord changes from verse to chorus with the chorus being an octave up. Instant drama. Range can also serve to create moments in your melody. Think of singers such as Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and those times the melody takes you to new heights in the song.

4. Your Comfort Zone

Learn to leave it. For me, this means trying different instruments, different tunings, but most importantly, listening to music that’s different than what I’m working on.

For instance, if you write rock, listen to classical, jazz, country, opera…You’ll be surprised by how much will creep into your melodies. I’m not talking about sitting down and dissecting every style of music. Just let it seep in. You are your influences.

The wider your influences, the more chances of blending them into something unique.

5. Subconscious

Don’t sit down and say, “This melody fits here because of the chord change,” or “This is just how I do it.” Take some time to let that subconscious in. That’s where it can go from being “nice” to being magical. It’s also one of the ways your voice as a writer comes in.

One simple trick: record your melody at any stage and just let it loop. At home, in the car, running errands. Just give it time to be the best it can be.

For more advice on writing a killer melody, you can find Song Journey on Amazon.

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. His book, Song Journey, was released in April 2019 and went to #1 in 6 catagories on Amazon.Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.




Want To Write A Hit Song? 4th Excerpt From The Book "Song Journey"

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Want to Write a Hit Song? Here Are 3 Strategies to Get You Started.

The following is adapted from Song Journey.

So you want to write a hit song—where should you get started?

Keep in mind, no one can guarantee a hit. No label, no producer, no artist, and no songwriter. Max Martin misses, Diane Warren misses, Ryan Tedder misses. They all miss more often than they hit. There is no formula. But there are things you can do to up the odds of your song getting heard, cut, and if all the stars align, becoming a hit.

In this article, we’ll look three strategies to improve your odds of writing a hit.

#1: Do Your Homework

Start by listening to the hits and look for patterns. Are you hearing more and more songs about affirmation? I want to see you be brave, strong, beautiful, happy?

Since the beginning, songwriters have known one of the quickest ways to a listener’s heart is to lift them up with your song. There’s a fancy term called second-person positive, basically a lyric that makes someone else feel great about themselves.

Think about the Joe Cocker classic, “You Are So Beautiful.”

Nowadays, every publisher, producer, and artist in Nashville wants “up-tempo positive.” The reason for this is the sheer volume of ballads and mid-tempos they get. When a couple writers get in the room with an acoustic guitar or a piano, they seem to turn into Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. It’s hard to create that energy unless you plan for it, but your chances of getting that hit improve by giving the powers that be what they want.

#2: Deconstruct Current Hits

Go beyond just listening to current hits or learning to play them. Do things like write down the structure, print out the lyric, and make notes about the production.

I’m always amazed at the songwriting clients I get who will say they want to write a huge song but pay absolutely no attention to current hits. If you’re writing pop or even new country and are still creating long intros, lots of verses, using only one hook, and aren’t familiar with terms such as post-chorus, you might have a harder road.

Try going one step beyond deconstructing and create a playlist with a couple of hits along with a song of your own. Try to pick songs that might have something in common with yours, but the idea is to be objective. Does your song hold up to the others?

If not, why? Go back to your notes. What’s different?

The point is not to clone but to get this info into your subconscious so the next song you write is at least informed by structural ideas that are more current.

Even though you’re listening to the radio and learning the structural and lyrical as well as musical content, remember the songs you’re hearing were probably written and recorded as much as a year ago or more. If you set out to write something exactly like what you’re hearing, you’re likely too late. So what can you do now?

#3: Add Yourself to the Mix

Try to take it all in and then add yourself to the mix. What makes you different as a songwriter? Can you bring something fresh to your songwriting?

You could argue there’s nothing new under the sun, but I disagree.

Music goes in cycles, styles change, and old becomes new every once in a while. Our job is to tap into a listener’s head and create something a whole lot of people love at the same time. It’s not easy, but the chances get better not only by honing your craft, but also by learning what came before (even if that’s only a month back). It all goes into your toolbox as a songwriter and gives you the best chance of writing a hit.

For more advice on writing a hit song, you can find Song Journey on Amazon.

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.



Song Structure , 3rd Excerpt From My Book "Song Journey"

iDoCoach Blog

iDoCoach Blog

Learn the Rules of Song Structure (So You Can Break Them Later)

The following is adapted from my book “Song Journey.”

Song structure is important if you’re a songwriter, but what I’ve found is that there is no singular way to structure a song if you want it to be a hit. There’s also some confusion around the right way to structure a song so that it connects with today’s market.

In this article, I’m going to lay out the rules of song structure, not for the purposes of boxing you in while you’re writing—but so you know what rules to break later on.

A Simple Explanation

The best, simplest way I’ve heard song structure explained is this:

  • The info, the story, and the details are in the verses

  • The pre-chorus builds the tension and makes you want to hear the chorus

  • The chorus is the BIG FAT IDEA.

  • The bridge is the scenic route on the journey

  • The post-chorus reminds you of the BIG FAT IDEA without restating it

Before we get a little more technical, this framework gives you the big picture.

Current Song Structures

There are so many ways to structure a song, but staying current is a good place to start writing hits. Listeners’ tastes change, and song structure usually reflects the changes.

In 1967, the Doors were stretching the limits of radio with seven-minute songs. These days, you’re more likely to find them in the three- to three-and-a-half-minute range, sometimes without any of the old building blocks such as bridges and pre-choruses.

A good exercise is to deconstruct the songs that move you, just for the structure.

Take notes on how the song is constructed. Next time you sit down to write, consider the song you tore apart when you build your own.

It’s an eye-opening shortcut to see how the big boys build. Keep doing this, and what you learn gets in your songwriter DNA. You get better quick.

Getting Started with Structure

If you think of the parts of your song in terms of A, B, and C, it’s easy to track:

A is your verse, B the chorus, and C the bridge.

There are more parts to consider such as the intro, pre-chorus, and post-chorus, but for now, use these three as your standard. Common forms are:

A, A, B, A, B, C, B, B

A, B, A, B, C, B, B

You don’t see many A-only songs today (think “I Walk the Line”). Early folk and country utilized this structure, but it’s disappeared as listeners look for multiple hooks.

Start with the basic forms, but mix and match. Does your song need a bridge? Would it work to start with the chorus or a part of it? Better with pre-choruses or post-choruses?

A good guide is to take notes on the song structures you’re hearing on the radio now. In coaching songwriters, I tend to see quite a few A, A, B, A, A, B, C, B, B; four verses.

I generally ask them to give some thought to paring this down to three whenever possible. Songs in most modern music are shorter these days.

Plus, it’s always been a matter of “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.”

Check the running time of your song before you sign off on it. This can help you decide what needs to go if you’re looking at a four-minute song. Think of the listener in this case. You might want to use more repetition and less new information.

Another structure that almost feels like cheating when it works is to start your song with the chorus or a portion of it. If you can hook a listener that fast, the chances of their channel surfing in the car go way down.

Think About Moments

When I’m structuring a song, I try to think about moments. We’ve all heard moments in the performance of a song. Think of singers with big voices; Whitney Houston, Adele, and Celine Dion come to mind. They can bring out the raw emotion in a song, but you can be thinking about those moments as you create yours.

What are the real moments, the emotional highs and lows in my song? How do I want to feature them when I’m putting the song together?

You can create a moment with a modulation. Tread carefully here; you can also create a cringe-worthy moment that you can’t get back. Space (silence in your arrangement) can be built into the structure and doesn’t have to rely only on the singer.

Know the Rules, Break the Rules

Try to let the song dictate the structure rather than any rules you come across. You’re looking for happy accidents, and mixing up the structure might provide.

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” was created by crashing two different song ideas together. Lennon had the trippy part but was stuck on finishing when McCartney played him an unfinished song of his own. The “woke up, got out of bed” section was a perfect counterpoint to what Lennon had written.

When I first read that story, the technique went directly into my toolbox.

Daniel Levitin, an American neuroscientist described what Lennon and McCartney achieved really well in his book This Is Your Brain on Music:

Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it’s emotionally flat and robotic. The artist artfully manipulates our expectations with a semi-resolution that straddles surprise and release.

Yeah, what he said.

For more advice on song structure, you can find “Song Journey” on Amazon. Its currently #1 in multiple categories worldwide!

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.



"When Is Your Song Done? From My #1 Amazon Book "Song Journey"

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To Know if Your Song is Done, Ask Yourself These Questions

The following is adapted from Song Journey.

You have a song you feel great about, one that you’re positive is ready for demo.

Now what? As I often tell the songwriters I coach—slow down. Before you rush to the studio, you need to take some time and be sure your song is done.

When I hear “I wrote this in ten minutes,” I’m scared because it often means the writer I’m coaching had ten minutes of inspiration but zero minutes of editing.

Do you know what one of the big differences between amateur songwriters and the pros is? Rewriting. It’s hard. That’s why so many novice writers don’t do it. “The fun is in the inspiration, not the perspiration.” I hear you, but there are no points for fast.

Most of the pro writers I know and work with are master craftsmen. They take their time. There’s an old saying about writing: “You write your first draft with your heart…You rewrite with your head.” Use your head before you stamp a song as “done.”

In this article, I’ll walk you through some steps to decide if you’re at that point.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Here are a few things I might ask myself before signing off on a song. These are tough questions to ask about a song you like, but it’s best to ask them at this stage.

Is it relatable?

You want to write about something people really care about.

Am I showing or just telling?

Include enough color and detail to make a listener see what you want them to see.

Is there a better concept out there?

Don’t settle if there’s a better, more unique way to tell your story.

Does my song breathe?

Make room for the lyric and the melody to coexist so it’s not a challenge for a listener.

Is my chorus memorable?

You want your listener to go away humming it.

Have I been self-indulgent?

Just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean it has to be in the final version.

Is the intro a hook or just a space to fill?

Your song has to grab listeners right away. Don’t waste their time.

Is my bridge a real departure from everything else?

If it’s not, consider if you even need a bridge.

Is there too much information in my song?

Info belongs in the verses and bridge.

If the story continues long into the chorus, it’s a great way to lose a listener.

How long is my song?

This is where you have to be realistic. If you’re pushing four minutes, it’s too long.

How interesting is my idea?

The title (the expression of your idea) needs to pull someone in.

Have I studied current song structure?

If your song sounds great for the 1960s, it might not work for today’s market.

Do I LOVE IT?

If you don’t love it, it’s not done.

Ways to Test Your Song

If you play live, you can use your audience as a focus group for your song. These are the people who hopefully would be buying what you’re selling.

If you don’t play live and don’t have a publisher yet, give your lyric to a friend and ask them to come back and tell you what your lyric is about. If they can’t, ask yourself if you’ve written it clearly or if the idea is more in your head than on the page.

Before I make up my mind on a lyric, I might try it from another perspective. Is it better written in second or third person? I don’t know, but I might try.

Have I compromised anywhere in my song? Made the right choices?

Does the song move me? Believe me, the best ones will move you first, and if they do, the odds of the song moving someone else are great.

The Four Stages of Creativity

If you find your song still needs some work, it’s easy to get discouraged. After all, you thought you had a finished song, and now you’re facing the reality that your beautiful creation still needs more work before it’s ready for the spotlight.

To get you writing again, let’s look at a process for sparking creativity.

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman is credited with coming up with the four stages of creativity, which John Braheny mentions in his book The Craft and Business of Songwriting as well. When I’m coaching, this is how I explain them:

  1. Preparation. Here you intentionally look for things to write about: lines, titles, making your list. You’re preparing to write. Maybe not today, but in the future.

  2. Incubation. Let these ideas, lines, and titles marinate.

  3. Illumination. Remember the stuff about the good stuff? The real details? This is where you put in the good stuff, the real details that elevate amazing songs from average ones. Begin to shed light on this idea you found.

  4. Verification. Bring the editor to the table and put him to work.

So how do these four stages work?

First, if I can say I looked for the best idea possible for my song, let it sit awhile rather than settling on the first thing that came to mind, started writing my lyric with the real stuff and did not just begin by making my lyric look good (clever words and rhymes) on paper, and left the editor/critic out all along the way until step 4, I’m good.

I don’t necessarily think about these stages while I’m writing.

Instead, I wait until I’m happy with my song and then double-check these stages to make me that much more confident that I’ve written the best song I can.

Don’t Stop Until You’re Truly Done

Done is fun. There’s nothing better than when you’ve finished a great song, having reached the point where you sit back and feel like you’ve performed a magic trick—pulled something out of thin air. It’s great to be a songwriter at that moment.

But getting to that point requires more than ten minutes of inspiration.

For more advice on knowing if your song is done, you can find Song Journey on Amazon.

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.



Excerpt From The Book "Song Journey" On lyric Writing

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The Mantra Every Lyricist Should Live By

The following is an excerpt from Song Journey by Mark Cawley

As a songwriter, what’s a good place to start once you have a title or an idea of what you’re going to write about? Prose. But, instead of jumping right in, try closing your eyes, thinking about your idea, and then writing what you see.

Don’t rhyme, don’t worry about cadence or how cool it looks on the page, just write.

If you’re writing a song about meeting the love of your life, talk about the time of day, name the place you met, what the weather was like. Color of her hair.

Even the smallest detail can make the difference between a generic lyric and one that comes to life. If it’s a car, what’s the make? These details make up the real stuff. Write the real stuff because it’s the good stuff. You can make it pretty later.

If you have one mantra as a lyricist, let it be “Show. Don’t tell.”

I wish I’d invented this, but I’m not that smart. Any Nashville writer knows this truism, and it applies to every kind of lyric. If you’re telling, you’re just reporting.

“Just the facts” is not a good idea here. You want to paint a picture, and you do that with color and detail. Make the listener see what you want them to see.

The late John Braheny wrote one of the best books on songwriting I’ve ever read called The Craft and Business of Songwriting. In it, he uses this example to illustrate the point:

Look at three objects — a car, a book, and a musical instrument:

  • My great 1982 Porsche 928 with a broken right taillight.

  • My paperback with a blue cover and the words Gift from God printed in gold.

  • My old white Telecaster with a broken B string and a missing volume knob.

Now you see ’em…

  • My Honda

  • The book I’m reading

  • I play an instrument

…and now you don’t. That is the power of “Show. Don’t tell.”

How much color and detail is too much? In Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Neil Young, Shakey, he wrote a piece where he compared a good lyricist to a “stager.”

My daughter, Morgan, has her own interior design business here in Nashville and gets called in occasionally to be a stager. Her job is to look at a house that’s on the market and put herself in the buyer’s shoes. Is there too much of the owner’s memorabilia or tchotchkes in the house? Is it too sterile? How can she make the house inviting so the buyers can pick up on the vibe but also see themselves living there?

A good lyric writer adds just enough color and detail so the listener sees what you want them to see. If there is not enough color and detail, the listener is left to only imagine.

I know you’ve heard a song and felt it was telling your story. That’s good lyric writing. Too much detail and it’s only the writer’s story. Just enough and it becomes yours.

For more advice on writing good lyrics, you can find Song Journey on Amazon.

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Songwriting: The Real Stuff Is The Good Stuff

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This article was first published in USA Songwriting Competition and is, in part from my book “ Song Journey” to be released on April 2nd, 2019.

There is no one way to write a song. You may write melody first or mix it up but for our purposes, let’s start with writing your lyric.

 Prose

What’s a good place to start once you have a title or an idea of what you’re going to write about? Prose. Think about the title, say it out loud ... a bunch. What does it bring to mind? Got something? Take a few minutes and write the idea in prose. Don’t rhyme, don’t worry about being clever, just write a couple of lines describing what you’re going to write about. Lennon and McCartney could have written, “” Penny Lane” is about the images of everyday people on the street in my town and what they mean to me.” 

Prose serves a couple of purposes. As you write your lyric, check your prose to see if you’re still writing about one thing. Is everything supporting your idea? As you try to write, prose may reveal there's really nothing there. This has happened to me more than once, and I’m usually grateful I was saved from spending all day on a non-starter of an idea.

 Write…don’t “ write” !

The next step is a biggie and usually a big mistake. You begin to “write.” I mean write in a bad way. You don’t want to sound like just anybody, so you try to sound like a “writer.” I always think of the famous Saturday Night Live skit with Jon Lovitz as the Master Thespian. Just search YouTube for a few moments and you’ll get the idea. You don’t want to feel the sweat in your lyric.

Instead of jumping right in, try closing your eyes, think about your idea, and then write what you see. Don’t rhyme, don’t worry about cadence or how cool it looks on the page, just write. If you’re writing a song about meeting the love of your life talk about the time of day, name the place you met, what was the weather like? Color of her hair? Even the smallest detail can make the difference between a generic lyric and one that comes to life. If it’s a car what’s the make? These details make up the real stuff.  Write the real stuff because it’s the good stuff. You can make it pretty later. 

Remember the editor? Still dead. What do I mean? If you begin to self-edit in the moment it’s toxic. I’ve mentored songwriters who have found themselves stuck simply because they were focusing on a line or an idea way too early. Before they had enough on the page to even begin to think about the editing process. Write first, edit later. Much later.

 It’s the one thing

Hopefully you’re filling up that page now but once in a while, take a look at the prose you wrote earlier. Does everything in your lyric still support your prose? Does your third verse introduce a cat into the story of two people falling in lust? Hard choices, but the cat probably has to go. Again, most lyrics are about one thing. Prose can help you remember what that thing actually is.

I was pleased to be voted the #4 Songwriting blog worldwide recently. Check it out here.

if you'd like to stay up with iDoCoach including receiving the latest blogs and my favorite 7 Toolbox tips here ya go!

http://idocoach.com/email-newsletter

I'm currently coaching writers worldwide, online, one on one and taking new clients for 2019. Visit my website for more info www.idocoach.com or write to me at mark@idocoach.com

ae262035-df7d-4f8e-8307-0c61ff5c2c82.jpg


MARK CAWLEY IDOCOACH.COM

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Song a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN. Mark had written his first book, “Song Journey” to be released on April 2nd, 2019 based on his coaching and adventures in songwriting.



 

A Minimalist Approach To Songwriting

iDoCoach Blog

iDoCoach Blog

This is my workspace. Yep, it’s pretty clean and clutter free. I’m a minimalist these days. Now, I’ve had elaborate home studios and every piece of gear I could get my hands on over the years but, something changed. 

It began with our daughters going off to college. A disclaimer here. We lived in the Temple Hills area of Franklin, outside of Nashville, and our daughters enrolled at Belmont University, about 20 miles away from our home, but lived on campus. This was a great house for our family but it became apparent it was way more than we really needed. So we downsized, townhome style, which meant getting rid of a bunch of stuff. If you’ve ever been in this situation you know you have to make some serious concessions. Some things you can’t imagine living without…until you do.

Over 13 years later I have to say there is a freedom in decluttering. Even when it comes to songwriting. I found myself having more fun with less and less gear. Gear is great and served me well but I had hit a time of less is more in every way. Almost as if the fewer options I had the clearer the mission became. You know the saying a great song should hold up with just an acoustic guitar or piano? Maybe, but I do know it’s a terrific test of a solid song.

As I moved into coaching writers online, I took this new found approach even further. I created a workspace made up entirely of essentials. A great, simple desk*, laptop, pens, pencils and a few favorite coffee mugs. It felt like the more uncluttered the space the more uncluttered the thought process.  My wife gave me the little “inspire” piece in the picture and that’s been a huge part of my coaching decor :-) 

The great American choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote one of my favorite books called “The Creative Habit” and one of her suggestions for creating good work habits was to choose one thing to take away from your normal routine. To start, just for a week. Maybe something that seems necessary but might really be a distraction. She chose clocks. By not having them in her studio her eye wasn’t drawn to the limitation of time. She felt it freed her mind - her subconscious was able to be a little more creative. 

So what am I suggesting? Give some thought to where you create with an eye to just the essentials. See how it feels to purge here and there. Maybe you can maximize your creativity with a minimalist style.

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

Image: iPhone

Bottom photo: Eric Brown

* Desk: Urban Woods

I was pleased to be voted the #4 Songwriting blog worldwide recently. Check it out here.

if you'd like to stay up with iDoCoach including receiving the latest blogs and my favorite 7 Toolbox tips here ya go!

http://idocoach.com/email-newsletter

I'm currently coaching writers worldwide, online, one on one and taking new clients for 2019. Visit my website for more info www.idocoach.com or write to me at mark@idocoach.com

Check out this interview in this edition of M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!

Mark Cawley iDoCoach.com

Mark Cawley iDoCoach.com


MARK CAWLEY IDOCOACH.COM

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Song a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN. Mark is in the process of writing his first book, “Song Journey” to be released in early 2019 based on his coaching and adventures in songwriting.



Investing In Your Songwriting

iDoCoach.com

iDoCoach.com

I get lots of my inspiration for articles and blogs from things my songwriting coaching clients bring up in our sessions. Last week I had a writer say they couldn’t afford to pursue their songwriting because they simply didn’t have the funds. He let me know he was giving up . Period. I understand the discouragement but it opened up a conversation about why his bank balance and passion were related. They don’t have to be.

Usually when I’ve heard this it’s a case of too much money spent in the wrong places. Demoing songs that weren’t killer and face it…trying to polish a turd sometimes. No amount of money spent on production is going to make an “ok” song suddenly transform into a killer song. Do this often enough and you not only end up broke but pretty discouraged. Maybe to the point of giving up on your passion. That sucks.


The Plan

So, what can you do? Have a plan. Anytime I’ve met with my publishers over the years to play them a few new roughs the conversation turned to the need for a plan. A little strategic thinking. Who’s looking for a song like this? Do we have a path to get it to the producer, label or maybe even the artist? Does it need to be a full-blown production? Is it the type of song that could shine with a minimum of instrumentation? Guitar/vocal? Keys/vocal? Does the type of artist it suits actually take outside songs? Does this put a potential artist in a favorable light? Is there an artist that you can see slipping right into this song? All these questions are huge and ones you can ask yourself if the person trying to network the song is you.

We all love our babies but not all of them need to go to Ivy League schools. Some are community college songs, some are vocational school songs, and some are minimum wage songs. Think hard. Is your song worth an investment right now, as is? Pro songwriters don’t demo everything they write and neither should you.

Where To Invest?

Maybe that hard earned money would be better spent on attending a workshop, NSAI membership, joining songwriting groups, one on one coaching, new gear, a few books. Maybe it’s even saving up for a move to a music center. Whatever helps you get better is a good investment in my book. Maybe it’s music school. Some great ones out there, Belmont here in Nashville, Berklee in Boston, University of Miami, IU in Bloomington Indiana. Will a degree in music or songwriting guarantee a return on your investment? Nope. But all of these things improve the odds.  My point is this path you’re on is not about a roll of the dice. Nothing’s harder on the spirit then gambling and losing…big.  It’s about growth.  Gaining knowledge that you can eventually turn into inspiration gets you closer to a plan, a better shot and hopefully a sensible budget. It’s for sure that understanding all you can about your path helps keep you from having unrealistic expectations.

I’m not much of a believer in a plan B when it’s comes to the music business, you have to give it everything but … you can be smart about using your resources. At the end of the day, you have to invest in yourself and your talent but you can invest wisely for the long run. That’s a plan.


Your Passion

A last note about your wallet and your passion. My father-in-law passed away a few years back. A great guy with a huge passion for golf. The other thing he had was a realistic expectation. He knew to make a living for himself and his family he would have to be one amazing golfer. He’d have to sacrifice everything for his passion for it to become his career. Would he have loved to be a pro golfer? You bet. Somewhere along the line he probably felt he couldn’t afford the commitment. Did he give up the sport? No way. He played for the love of it, played as often as he could, invested in new clubs, golf outings, travel, books and instruction. I think he was happy to budget wisely to support his passion. He got better and better and enjoyed the game more and more as years went on. I’d call that another wise investment.

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

Image: Shutterstock

I was pleased to be voted the #4 Songwriting blog worldwide recently. Check it out here.

if you'd like to stay up with iDoCoach including receiving the latest blogs and my favorite 7 Toolbox tips here ya go!

http://idocoach.com/email-newsletter

I'm currently coaching writers worldwide, online, one on one and taking new clients for 2019. Visit my website for more info www.idocoach.com or write to me at mark@idocoach.com

Check out this interview in this edition of M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!

MARK CAWLEY IDOCOACHIts

Mark Cawley iDoCoach.com

Mark Cawley iDoCoach.com

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN. Mark is in the process of writing his first book, “Song Journey” to be released in early 2019 based on his coaching and adventures in songwriting.