Posts Tagged ‘songwriting


Still working on the ‘hit’ song

Still finding the lyrics a real bummer… However, I have got a full rough draft of verse and lyrics, so I did a test run on the vocals today. It means I can start mixing around the vocals with all the other parts. It’s sure taking me a long time to get this song done, though…

And just for fun, here’s my latest ‘Strugmo’ cart…

Hit song fame


It’s all about unity…

I got a few insights from a songwriting presentation recently, the main one being that the fundamental ‘rule’ in all art, whether it’s songwriting, painting or writing etc, is unity. Which means that each element of the work of art must work together to support the main idea, message or emotion.

It makes sense, and seems obvious but it’s the hardest thing to do. Like with songwriting and arranging -it’s easy to put in bass, guitar, vocals with lyrics, drums and percussion -but how well do they work together? Does the guitar solo fit? Is the drum beat the most appropriate? Do the lyrics really match the emotion of the music? Is there groove in the bass, and does it work with the whole song or is it doing its own thing? Does the structure of the song work well with each section building on the previous, or are they kind of separate?

For example, I heard one demo from a music student recently and I was impressed with the production quality and especially the range of different instruments and sounds. I noticed the intro had an Indian feel with sitar and Indian drums, but then later in the chorus there was a Latin feel with South American percussion and later even a Middle Eastern drone.

It was impressive at first, but you don’t walk away after hearing the song with a single impression of the song. It was all hazy, complicated and easy to forget. It didn’t convey a single emotion or tell a story or inspire with a single melody…

And isn’t that always our problem at first? Making things complicated? Trying to do too much. Trying to prove ourselves or be over enthusiastic.

You may have several elements to work with and consider, but it’s your job as the artist/creator to take those elements and make a complicated thing simple for the listener/viewer/reader in order to impact them in the way you intend to. I suppose it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Like they say about the experts in a field: they make something difficult look so easy and simple when it’s not.


New demo called ‘Just to Be’

I’ve upload on Myspace  the second demo version of the song ‘Just to be’ which I cowrote with Lily C when in Taipei back around 2004. You can read about it on my music blogs and hear the song…

and my blogspot:


back from short break and musing on commitment

 A job I’ve gone for recently stressed commitment -they needed the definite commitment to work for a certain period. And that got me think again about my glory days in the band.


Back then ‘commitment’ was something I didn’t really understand, or I should say, there were several factors about commitment that I hadn’t grasped that I should have if I really wanted to get out of the band or see it to its full potential.


 The thing is, the band did all right -we managed to write over a dozen songs, play some of the pubs around town, and cut a 12 song demo (in two live studio sessions). I felt good about the musicianship -we all played our instruments well for the songs, and we had developed our own style. The singer had a good voice and had a natural talent for melody, and the bass and drums had that chemistry that makes for a really good rhythm section.


We had good comradeship and by and large have still maintained good friendships to this day (though the band is long defunct).


But those achievements were over a five year period.


And the pub scene during Sydney back then in the 90’s was super competitive (I’m guessing it still is today). In arts and culture, if you really want to make an impact, you’ve got to show extraordinary commitment unless you’re just super naturally talented.


If you’re in a band or you’re a songwriter, how much commitment do you have? Or think of it like this, is it worth someone else’s time to commit their professional time and effort into your art? How can you expect someone to do that, if you’re commitment and dedication is lacklustre?


When our band was doing the circuit, it was easy to fantasize about some A&R guy walking into your show, and at the end of it approaching you with their name card (seems that’s less likely to happen today). But if you think of it in terms of commitment, if you’re only practising once a week or every two weeks and you haven’t written more than 20 songs, how can you expect some record company guy to invest in that?


If you’re a songwriter and hope to ‘sell’ a song to an artist via a publisher, but you only play around one hour a night, is that the sort of commitment that will inspire a publisher to invest in you?


Sometimes we like to think we’re more talented than we actually are, that we can kind of ‘wing it’, that some A&R guy or publisher guy will one day just happen to come across our song and that’ll be it. We think our songs are better than they are, because friends and family compliment them and it sounds a little like the Beatles.


And we think this for two reasons:


The first is the fact that we’ve grown up listening to our favourite artists’ finished product. We fail to appreciate how much they’ve put in to get where they have. Like the Beatles cutting their teeth in Germany or the years INXS spent on the road touring the dingy pubs of Australia. We take it for granted. We think it’s just about writing a song, putting on drums bass and keyboards, going into a studio, and Bob’s you’re uncle.


 And the other reason is because we hear the media spin those success stories. You know, someone writes a couple of songs, sends one off to a songwriting competition and wins it, or a band of 15 year-olds flippantly go into a band comp after only being together for 5 months, and win it.


Sure, it happens, but it’s a headline-grabbing story because it’s the exception rather than the rule. And there are people who just have that natural talent or spark (or looks) that attract the music industry execs. Chances are you’re not one of them.

 And I’ve learnt over the past year, it’s better to read the industry books than the media hyping the success stories. The industry books -how to be a professional songwriter, how to tour a band, how copyright works, will help you understand the value of commitment, because so much of the music industry is about collaboration.


Whether it’s being in a band, or a songwriting team, you’re going to want to work with someone who’s committed as you are. It’s a lot to invest, and you don’t want to be held back halfway through a project. You don’t want people bailing out when the going gets tough, because that’s probably the key point before a breakthrough. And you don’t want someone making empty promises, failing to deliver their part on the lyrics, or put their money on the line for equipment when you have.


  I speak as a hypocrite, of course. I’m not in the music industry, but I’ve learned from the shortfalls of being in band. What were those shortfalls?


I guess at the root of it all, we each in our own mind had a different expectation and desire for the band. I wanted to give it my best shot at success, others I guess were happy to have it as a ‘serious hobby’, and that really was a fundamental difference.


The chain is as strong as its weakest link.


If it’s just a hobby, you’re not going to go the extra mile to get any better. There’s only so much you’re going to do for it.


 But I’m not blaming other members, the responsibility is all mine. I was just deluded back then, but it’s easy to look back with 20/20. The band wasn’t the problem, the problem was me, because I failed to recognise the commitment level of the band. I got too dreamy-eyed, thought it could be more than it could, and invested all my “musical hope” in it.

 Looking back on it now, I should have kept the band but just matched the commitment the others had to it, and collaborated with other musicians, worked on other projects, and perhaps taken up courses about recording or the music business. I should have explored other avenues, rather than put all my eggs in the one basket.


But the problem then was I was held down by foolish romantic ideas of ‘being in a band’ and I failed to see that the band was limited by its own cap on commitment, not the failure of A&R guys to ‘discover’ us.


Anyway, I’ll continue this in a next post…


Lyrics that Stop Making Sense

After reading through ‘Successful Songwriting’ (see previous post here) I still have many mixed thoughts and reactions to it. In a way, it’s kind of opened up ‘Pandora’s Box’, because I’ve been listening to songs more critically than before.

For example, it goes through in detail concepts of ‘lyric framing’ and the VVTS -the voice, viewpoint, timeframe and setting. In conveying a singular idea or ‘happening’ in a song, it’s important for all these factors to be consistent and logical to the listener. If a song starts out in first person ‘I saw you the other day…’ and then in the bridge it’s suddenly third person ‘he saw her standing by the ocean…’ the listener feels disorientated.

So I was listening to one of my favourite bands the other day, The Divinyls, and I love a lot of their lyrics, but listening carefully I was picking up inconsistencies in the some of the lyrics. But does it really matter? Especially with rock n roll? I mean, a main ideal about rockn roll is rebelling against the establishment, finding your own freedom and voice -why should you go to a bloomin’ 6 week workshop on writing lyrics examining your ‘AABA’ and your ‘VVTS’… Punk even more so captures the independent spirit -get out of the classroom and into garage and just play and vent.

Now, even the author cites top-forty songs that were commercial hits but had woefully inconsistent lyrics… Yes, in one sense, lyrics don’t matter so much… if the beat’s good, the melody’s catchy… people like to tap along hearing it in the car… I mean, this goes for me as well -it’s the music I’ve been really interested in. I’m a guitarist -I’m really looking forward to the guitar solo…

But no, that’s all wrong! Lyrics do matter! Well, that’s the way I’m beginning to see things now. If the lyrics are consistent they can draw the listener in emotionally, allowing them to get more involved in the story -whether it’s the singer expressing a particular feeling or idea, or something with more of a story and plot-line. If the lyrics are inconsistent, then even though the music may be good, the lyrics, in a way, alienate the listener because of their vagueness.

Ever come into a conversation between two people half way through? If you don’t know the pretext, you don’t know what they’re talking about -so you feel ignorant and alienated. If they fill you in, then you can become involved…

The best pop songs will have the melody, the good mix AND the lyrics that draw you in and make you think. But don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned my indie/arty roots yet -I’ll talk about that a little later…


Book I’m Reading: Successful Lyric Writing

Book I’m Reading: Successful Lyric Writing

Often when I look through major bookstores for books on songwriting, I’m not impressed enough by the selection. Many guides out there use up 50% recapping the music theory you learnt in school. You know, major and minor chords, common progressions, the twelve bar blues etc. Another 30% consists of superfluous tips on how to get inspiration to write a song, like ‘write down how you felt the first time you fell in love’, or ‘List ten things in the world that make you really mad…’

So, it came as rather a surprise when I stumbled upon something that I’d find really useful in my local library (and I’m not in big city). Sure, it’s a little outdated, but the author really knows her stuff, and it’s a detailed look at classic lyric and songwriting (from around the 30’s up till the 80’s). Here’s the title and blurb on the front cover:

“Successful Lyric Writing” by Sheila Davis. “A step-by-step course and workbook. A complete guide to writing professional lyrics: the theory, the principles, the song forms.”

If you’re a keen songwriter for popular music in the major genres, but you can’t explain the difference between a chorus and a refrain, then you’ll definitely find this useful. I’m not classic pop or rock -more indie, but I’m still finding it fascinating.

For instance, it doesn’t just map out the song forms… (I’ve heard of the ‘ABAB’ and ‘ABAC’ before) -but it gives the reasoning behind the song forms, citing many examples. In fact there were many classic songs I knew of but hadn’t understood the form of the song. Do you know what form ‘Yesterday’ is or ‘Eleanor Rigby’? Or even ‘The Star Spangled Banner’? Do you know the best forms for story telling, or for expressing one particular emotion?

For a book that just focuses on lyrics, it really is jam-packed, and lyrics are one of my neglected areas. But the stuff on song forms is useful from the perspective of the complete songwriter (lyrics and music).

The book also has practical exercises for you to do -ideally it’s done in a class situation, but if you’ve been songwriting for a while and you want a bit of guidance from techniques used by the masters of song in the Twentieth Century, then this is a great book.

I have no idea if it’s been republished and updated and is commonly used in workshops to this day or not. I just happened to stumble upon it in my library, but it’ll still be ‘googleable’.


A song called ‘Here’

One thing about living in Asia and especially China, is that I couldn’t help notice the difference in style of popular songwriting. They like their melodies sweet, chordal structures ‘cute’ and everything well-balanced.  It’s different to the blues influenced music of Australia and especially the wild, earthy sounds of Aussie pub-rock.

Anyway, I sometimes let it influence the way I was writing at the time, and this song ‘Here’, as well as another song called ‘Winter in Shenyang’ which I’ll upload soon, are examples of that.


I can’t believe I’m standing here now
A long long way from home
A long long time has gone

Longings of affection are sown
A long long way from home
And when these days are gone…

And the memories bring me back to you
About me and you
They all flood back
But what can I do?

Never have I felt so alone
The winter sheds its snow
The willows dry and cold

And though your face is bright in my heart
It’s glow begins to slow
And when these days are gone…


Copyright 2009 Donak RV