JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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My top ten tips from Ten Tips for Songwriters, an e-book published by Tom Slatter.

Earlier this year, songwriting blogger extraordinaire Tom Slatter published an e-book called 10 Tips for Songwriters. In it, 18 independent songwriters wrote out their top ten tips, and if you write songs you really should get a copy for yourself. It’s free, so no excuses! Anyway, I went through the book recently and pulled out the tips I think have the most meaning for me.

1) Throw away the good bits. (Contributed by Edwin Songsville @ www.songsville.org)
In advertising, they call this practice “kill your babies.” Its meaning is simple: if you love a line you’ve written but know it’s wrong for your song, grab your cleaver. I’ve done this many times, and I have always been better off in the end, though the decision can be wrenching and the process bloody.

2) Take a walk. (Contributed by Edwin Songsville @ www.songsville.org)
I can not even remember how many times I have been out on a walk -- maybe to get a coffee, maybe just to get some sun (or fog, as I live in San Francisco) -- and an idea hits me that’s a keeper. Sometimes I’ll go for a stroll with a specific problem to try to solve, but the best ideas seem to come when I’m just walking on an errand and not trying to think of anything.

3) Creativity can be practiced. (Contributed by Errol @ www.geeklovesongs.com
Who knew? It’s true, though. The more creative things you do, the better. I used to believe that if I took on too many creative projects all would suffer. Not true. The creative act seems to be like weightlifting in that the more often you do it, the stronger you get.

Freedom is slavery. (Contributed by Helen Robertson @ http://myspace.com/helenrobertson)

So true. I firmly believe that creativity needs limits. Take them away and you can just go too many places. Bohemian Rhapsody aside, most songs that throw away all convention are just too quirky or self indulgent for others to enjoy. Obviously, if you only want to write for yourself, well, do whatever you want, but it you’re hoping to sell your songs, limits are your friend.

5) Don’t be too much of a control freak. (Contributed by Susan Wenger @ http://www.cinderbridge.com) I confess, I struggle with this one, because I always want things played exactly the way I played them on my demo. But you know what? Nearly every time I have asked for someone else’s idea, the song gets better. For example, Here Comes the Weather was originally going to be a guitar-driven, sludgy slog, a la many a live Neil Young and Crazy Horse song. But Sam Bevan, who is primarily a bass player, heard a piano. He also heard a slower tempo. And so we rewrote the tune in Hyde Street Studio C and now it sounds like this.

6) Before you decide to use a line you’ve written, sing it out loud. (Contributed by Susan Wenger @ http://www.cinderbridge.com) Truer words... I have written countless lines I thought were made of 100% pure Awesome, only to sing them and discover they were made of that much more common element known as Suck.

7) Never doubt the power of harmonies. (Contributed by DF Taylor @ http://dftaylor.co.uk)
I still remember the very first time I attempted a to sing harmony in a band setting. I was in high school and we were rehearsing at my house. I’m 90% sure the band was the powerfully named Pegasus, and consisted of me, Toby Germano, Phil Henderson and Mike Price. I’m 100% sure we were playing Jumping Jack Flash. We taped it and on listening back I couldn’t believe it. My harmony line actually sounded decent. From then on I was hooked. In my opinion, harmonies not only make songs better, but also more fun to perform.

8) Be organized. (Contributed by XEW @ http://xewmusic.com)
My Holy Grail. I will never fully get to the promised land of Organization, but I try. Best tool I’ve found for lyrics is Google Docs because it lets you store all your songs on the Internet and there fore eliminates the problem of multiple files spread across various computers. It also tracks your revisions, every last one, so you can go back and read earlier versions in case you start to get away from your original intent and want to get back on track. Still struggling with how bet to organize my Pro Tools demo files.

9) Do it because you love it. (Contributed by DF Taylor @ http://dftaylor.co.uk)
Obvious, I know, but easy to lose sight of.

10) Have a creative brief for each song. (Contributed by me!)
In adland, every project kicks off with a creative brief which, if it’s any good (a rare event) describes what your ad needs to achieve in one simple, clear, compelling line. My version for songwriting is to complete this sentence: This song is about ______________. Probably way too literal for most people, but it works for me.