Songwriters, Time To Change Time?

Miles Copelands writers retreat in the south of France 1992. I'm 3rd from the left, bottom row. 

Miles Copelands writers retreat in the south of France 1992. I'm 3rd from the left, bottom row. 

I was talking with a songwriter friend who had asked me to listen to a few songs he had been working on, more starts than fleshed out ideas , but some good stuff in there. He writes a lot, not too precious about every nugget but was at a stage where his ideas were boring him. Listening to the songs as a group it was easy for me to suggest one big change in the writing process.Tempo.

This is an age old problem from songwriters in the basement to Music Row. Pick up an acoustic guitar to write and we get all melancholy . Can’t help it! You can start off trying to rock and end up sensitive . It happens. In my friends case he writes alone, acoustic only, and every song tends to end up in the same ballad to mid-tempo mode.

One excuse was that he felt he didn’t have the chops to play fast and fluid. He would tend to get frustrated and slow the whole thing down until James Hetfield morphed into Sweet Baby James.…. every time. I completely  get this and over the years went to great lengths to avoid it. Working from home studios or even traveling to co-write for projects, the solution for me was to gear up for the session. As soon as Macs became portable I was one excited writer. Even in the very beginning you could bring a few loops with you to the writing session, start uptempo and stay there for the duration. You could actually be forced to keep it up!

The first experience I had with this was at one of Miles Copelands ( Sting, IRS Records) writer retreats in the South Of France around ‘ 92.  The artists and writers invited were encouraged to just show up and see what developed. Most brought a favorite guitar but it was basically acoustic and organic. It was amazing but….. hard to summon the groove. The next one I went to I was paired with a great writer and now producer ( Eric Clapton) named Simon Climie. Simon brought a brand new Mac with all of his favorite loops and patches . Whole new game and everyone wanted to hang with Simon! The next time I went I brought a state of the art Kurzweil keyboard with everything pre- loaded and a PowerBook , primitive by today’s standard but the party was on! Up tempo , groove songs, new energy and a great vibe. Everyone was hanging in my part of this old castle .

Glenn Tilbrook, Kye Fleming and myself at the very first Castle retreat.

Glenn Tilbrook, Kye Fleming and myself at the very first Castle retreat.

A side note, I attended the first 3 of these events with guests ranging from Cher ( mind boggling to come down to breakfast and see her every morning) to some of my favorite off the wall writers like Glenn Tilbrook  ( photo with Glenn and Kye Fleming) and everything in between. I know that after the first  4 or 5 events they installed a portable studio to demo ASAP as well as inviting some well known producers. Probably a good idea but might have brought a professionalism to the event that was at odds with the original plan, I dunno.

Eventually I started bringing the same set up to every writing appointment and on every writing trip. Carting the Kurzweil from Franklin Tennessee to London, Paris and Stockholm created some long conversations at customs made a huge difference in the session by allowing us to feel almost like we were in a band and that small sound just got bigger!

Of course now it’s even easier, I use IPad 3 with GarageBand to bring some vibe to the room and stay uptempo .I know not everything has to be written with a groove or ” uptempo positive” (an overused pitch plea) but it can keep a writer from turning into “coffeehouse guy.”

You can still be sensitive while you’re bringin the funk :-) What I advised my friend was from time to time, use an uptempo loop ( GarageBand is well stocked) and just lock into it … all day. Doesn’t matter if you can’t execute the idea you have on guitar at that tempo, it’s all about the energy . Oh… and publishers love, love, LOVE uptempo … I’m positive!

What works for you as a writer to get you out of the same old groove?