Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 20 (January 2011) – songwriting

The twentieth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 3rd January 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first nineteen episodes (see https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast for earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas and opportunities. This podcast has a focus on songwriting.

Song/lyric writing

  • Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyrics) explains that “Lyrics (in singular form Lyric) are a set of words that make up a song, either by speaking or singing. The word ‘lyric’ comes from the Greek word ‘lyricos’ meaning “singing to the lyre”. The word lyric came to be used for the “words of a popular song”; this meaning was recorded in 1830. The common plural predominates contemporary usage. Use of the singular form ‘lyric’ remains acceptable, yet is considered erroneous in referring to a singular song word as a ‘lyric’.”
  • Molly-Ann Lieken says that the concept of popular music as opposed to classical music suggested that it would be a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ fad that chronicled the times and was then to be disposed of: ‘Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’ as Elvis Costello once put it. Yet songwriters can find inspiration via current events or even tabloid headlines which are often eye-catchingly snappy, and can make great starting points for songs. When John Lennon read about the heir to the Guinness fortune dying in a car crash, it spurred him on to write ‘A Day In The Life’. And other songs inspired by events, such as German rock group The Scorpions’ ‘Wind of Change’, for example celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, have proved they can live on, while The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ inspired by the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, has since been played on BBC radio, having been banned from the airwaves on release: how times change. Classic songs have stood the test of time, and the work of classic songwriters may be heard performed by singers and groups of several generations. Becoming obsolete does not seem to be an option. New-wave giants The Police and Squeeze re-formed in 2007, doubtless heartened by the fact that The Who’s Pete Townshend was still performing ‘My Generation’ while in his sixties!” (The Rolling Stones would also be worthy of a mention here.)
  • Molly-Ann also explains that all songs have two distinct lyrical and musical sections, called A and B sections, that are repeated at least once. The most common contemporary hit song form is the ABAB form. The other is the AABAB form, along similar lines to writing poetry. There’s an interesting article involving Molly-Ann at www.makehits.co.uk/art012.htm and you can buy her book ‘’How to write a hit song’ (which I happen to have) but have yet to read in much detail.

If you write poetry you may find lyrics a fun exercise. ‘How to write great songs’ by Michael Heatley and Alan Brown is a lovely little 384-page spiral-bound book which highlights song-writing essentials (what makes a good song, song structures, music and melody, lyrics, musical styles and song-writing techniques), singer-songwriters (over 100) and biographies, further reading and internet sites. The edition I have is dated 2007 (first print) published by Flame Tree Publishing www.flametreepublishing.com. The lyrics section says “a lyric is not a poem. Make sure that the words work well with the music rather than worrying about whether Shakespeare would approve. Try to establish a context for your song within the first few lines; you may also want to include some original imagery and a character or two within the narrative. Write from the heart: sincerity in the lyrics can make the difference between a mediocre song and a great one. And be careful to keep the tenses, viewpoint and tone of the lyrics the same throughout the song. Ideally the lyric should get better as it progresses through the song. Many inexperienced writers think they’ve cracked it after the first verse and fall down on the second, resorting to clichés to get through. Rewriting may be necessary to solve this. Rhymes are needed to give the song a feeling of completion, while a middle eight after a couple of verses and choruses will pique the listener’s imagination; just as they feel they have a handle on the song, it adds another element, and sets the scene for a dramatic conclusion”. A ‘middle eight’, one of the BBC’s Radio 2 pages (www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/guide/song_middle.shtml) explains, is so called because it is a section in a song that tends to happen towards the middle of the song, and tends to be eight bars in length).

The next 350 pages of the book are snippets of info / tips from various famous songwriters and with its lovely chunky spiral binding is definitely a shelf-gracer. On Wikipedia’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songwriting page, whilst the body of the text itself isn’t particularly helpful, it does have some useful and hopefully interesting reference links at the bottom of the page including an article by Mark Bright entitled ‘How to pitch your songs to industry insiders’.

The Writers & Artists Yearbook lists two song-writing magazines: Founded in 1986 the ‘Song-writing and Composing’ is a quarterly magazine which is free to Songwriters Guild members – (www.songwriters-guild.co.uk) and ‘The Songwriter’, a monthly magazine founded in 1967 and published by the International Songwriters Association based in Limerick in the Republic of Ireland. Do take a look at their website (www.songwriter.co.uk) as it’s packed with hints and tips from a variety of songwriters including John Lennon, Joni Mitchell and Ami Winehouse. There’s also the American Songwriter magazine (www.americansongwriter.com) which, as the saying goes, is available in all good newsagents.

‘How to write a hit song’ by songwriter Molly-Ann Leikin is “the complete guide to writing and marketing chart-topping lyrics and music”. Sections are ‘Song structure – the lyric’, ‘the melody’, ‘rhyming’, ‘the all important title’, ‘collaborating’, ‘making time to write’, ‘stimulating creativity’, ‘overcoming writers block’ (Molly-Ann claims that writer’s block is caused by fear or anger, or both!), ‘publishing your songs’, ‘making money in the meantime’ and ‘seasons’. Molly-Ann explains that “a hit song is usually less than two and a half minutes long and has a specific structure, a musical and lyrical pattern that repeats. It does however have to have a focus. We need to know what it is about. Each line of lyric in your song has to relate to the title. It should add something to embellish and enhance our understanding of the subject matter. If you were writing a song about shoes you wouldn’t suddenly throw in a line about a lawn mower unless the shoe was mutilated by one. One of the exercises that Molly-Ann offers is to write the words ‘little red schoolhouse’ and list every picture or feeling those words evoke in you; ask yourself 50 to 100 questions like these: “Is the school old or new?; In what county is it located?; Is it in the country or city?; How big is it?; Does it need paint? If so, where?; What season is it?; Is there a weathervane?; Is there a bell? If so, what kind?; Is the school on a hill?; What century is it?; What time of day is it?; Are there any animals nearby? If so, what kind?; Are there any flowers and trees? If so, what kind and what colour?; Are there steps into the school?; Are there children outside?; What are the children doing?; What are the children wearing? Describe every detail of their appearance – from haircuts to frayed collars to shoe laces.; How old are the children?; Are they happy? If not, why not?; What is remarkable about the sky above the school?; What kind of desks are inside? Are they new?; If not, is anything carved on them?; Do you hear anything? Smell anything?; Is the teacher old or young? A man or woman?” It may not make the most interesting song but it does make you think about a seemingly simple object.

Back in 1969 (and reissued many times since) Futura published, under the genre of poetry, a book of Beatles lyrics. It contains almost 200 of their lyrics “to form one volume of poetry”. It continues: “From the ambiguity of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ to the surrealism of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, from the style songs of John Lennon to the psychedelic brainstormers of Paul McCartney.”

Radio 2 has another great page, this time of song-writing tips (www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/guide/song.shtml). To the right there are a variety of songwriting related links under the headings of Songwriting Guides, Performing, Working with Other Writers, In The Studio, Publishers, Record Companies, Management and Staying on Track. www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/guide is a great page. There are tips in a variety of headings including ‘Writing a song’, ‘Working with other writers’, ‘publishers’ and ‘staying on track’ which says “Success won’t happen overnight. Learn to keep your confidence and to take setbacks on the chin.” If you’ve had any rejections yourself then I’m sure you can relate to that.

Music-related publications

‘How to write great songs’ by Michael Heatley and Alan Brown mentioned earlier. Others include ‘Lyrics: Writing better words for your songs’ by Rikky Rooksby, ‘Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure: Tools and Techniques for Writing Better Lyrics’ by Pat Pattison, ‘500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics’ by Herder & Herder and ‘Successful Lyric Writing: A Step by Step Course and Workbook’ by Sheila Davis.

Music-related websites

There are hundreds, probably thousands of lyric websites (within the 309 million results for a ‘lyrics’ search on Google) and the first one is www.lyrics.com which has lyrics old and new, and is probably the easiest to remember and one I tend to refer to.

  • www.wordhouseanthology.com is ‘an anthology of fiction inspired by music’. It’s an American site run by Matthew Wayne Selznick who has appeared on, and been mentioned in, many podcasts that I’ve listened to. The anthology is available in paper book, electronic book and CD formats.
  • www.basca.org.uk is the London-based British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors’ website.
  • www.howtowriteasong.net by Peter Franklyn also has tips as well as a 6-min ‘You Tube’ video on writing lyrics (currently Lesson #4 on ‘hooks’) – his approach is to make things simple (sounds good to me). By putting ‘how to write lyrics’ into a Google search brings up many other websites packed with hints and tips.

Ideas

Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts which are listed on my ‘sentence starts’ blog page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Take a poem or song lyrics that you’ve written, fitting it to a piece of music you like;
  • Words easier to remember when to music. If you ever want, or need, to remember a poem short story off by heart then how about picking a tune that you know well and replacing the original lyrics with yours. 🙂 Alternatively, you can use lyrics as inspiration for your stories. Songs are quite often complete stories and there’s no reason why you can’t use the story (not the actual lyrics obviously) for your own purposes.
  • Have a look at song titles. Titles are not copyright so it’s perfectly fine to use them although you may be limited if you pick something too specific e.g. Wham’s ‘Wake me up before you go go’. Sometimes all it takes is a spark of an idea for a story to start and once you get started…

Other stuff

Looking on the National Association of Writers’ Group’s (NAWG) website (www.nawg.co.uk) some months back I came across a hilarious page entitled ‘The Writer’s Ten Commandments’ with a few embellishments from me (apologies in advance to anyone of a devout religious faith):

  • Thou shalt love, honour and respect thy Writing. Thou shalt not heed those who utter evil words or falsehoods about thy Writing but shalt uphold thy Writing by word and deed at all times.
  • Thou shalt abhor the virgin parchment and shall fill it daily with words from the depths of thy mind and thy heart and thy soul that others may marvel at the wisdom and beauty and depth of thy Writing.
  • Thou shalt strive for excellence in thy Writing. Thou shalt watch over thy spelling, punctuation and syntax in thy Writing with the eyes of a hawk. Thou shalt read and reread thy work, fearing errors shall evade thee, and make thee a laughing stock among thy peers.
  • Thy shalt not be envious of thy neighbour’s Writing, but shall devote all thine emotions to thine own Writing.
  • Thou shalt not harbour resentment should good fortune smile upon thy neighbour (when they get an acceptance), rather offer praise, so that praise may be heaped upon thee in thy good fortune (when you do).
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s quill, nor his ink, nor his parchment (or computer), but shall strive diligently with all thy might to gain sufficiency unto thyself.
  • Thou shalt not cast aspersions upon thy neighbour’s Writing (unless asked to do so in a critique group) but remain content that thine own Writing is beyond reproach and imputation (unless in a critique group).
  • Thou shalt remember thy good fortune and be charitable to those less gifted (practiced) than thyself. Thou shalt not hazard thy Writing by being solicitous over others, remembering at all times that thine own Writing shall take precedence over all things.
  • Thou shalt take up thy quill with a good heart, a cheery smile and an eager step, knowing thy good fortune to be thine own master as a Writer.
  • Thou shalt keep thy workplace seemly, knowing that it is as a glass to the byways of thy mind.

The Poet’s 10 commandments are the same (substituting writing/writer for poetry/poet).

The podcast concluded with On This Day in History and a poem by one of my favourites; Shel Silverstein called ‘Snowball’:

I made myself a snowball… As perfect as could be… I thought I’d keep it as a pet… And let it sleep with me. I made it some pyjamas… And a pillow for its head… Then last night it ran away… But first, it wet the bed. You can read this and more of Shel’s poems (my other favourite is ‘It’s dark in here’) at http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/shel_silverstein/poems.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other episode transcripts and summaries can be found at https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast.

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