What I learned about songwriting (first year of FAWM and 50/90)

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I decided to post a blog consolidating what I learned about songwriting this year. I thought some of you might be interested in discussing the topic: https://amandaroseriley.com/50-90-recap-what-i-learned-about-prolific-songwriting (I went on a little long, but at least I put each point in bold!)

Anything you agree or disagree with? Anything else I should have included or tips for next time? Personally I am tapped out and probably largely taking a break from songwriting until February! I might spend some time developing my musicianship in general in the meantime, though.

Good write and thanks for sharing! Also I signed up for your mailing list. Not sure how I missed that before. Some observations from my own experience.
- I highly agree with experimenting. About a fourth of my keepers that I play out started as an experiment. Also at accepting that, as I have learned more than ninety percent of my songs will not be keepers. However I learn something with each one and need to write the less-than-keepers to get to the keepers.
- LOL at naming the inner critic and the deal as a means to achieve greatness.
- Burnt out, as I am in the middle of processing that feeling right now but I kind of feel like for me it is more a result of overwhelm with personal life changes, two bouts of one week illness (one near the end of the FAWM, one near end of 50/90), and the overall external stuff we all are experiencing. Some of that I turned into song and as far as overall number of songs, this year is probably about average compared to the last five. For inspiration my face-to-face activity has been replaced with Zoom meetings, social media, and live streams. Reading also helps me.
- Writing tools help a lot. In addition to a rhyming dictionary (I like ones that also have near/slant rhymes) and thesaurus, I also have books with lists and prompts. A dictionary is helpful for exploring alternate meanings of words.
- Listening to other's 50/90 songs gave me at least a dozen song ideas. Some were in songwriting games, some were sparks that led to a while new song.
- To finishing a song in one sitting I would add that a time limitation really helps. Yes that writing a new song from scratch is easier than major rewrites of a song from years ago that I have forgotten or feel meh about.
- Go silly FTW! It's a great way to get unstuck Smile

nice account. i agree with most of your conclusions/approaches to what came up for you and could really relate to your experience. i have never got to 50 songs in 50/90 - really well done! thanks for sharing your thoughts on it, i enjoyed the read.

Well done. Some very sound conclusions and solutions.

dzd's picture

Yeah nice write-up and agree, but just having no plan is nice too. Just turn Sally loose and try not to backseat drive too much if stuck, and just speaking for here and fawm, don't worry about offending anyone too much, mark it NSFW and explain a bit in your liner notes if you feel the need, if they go farther than that, that's their own fault Smile ...... this is one of the few safe havens left on the internet, where expression is still just expression, if someone is offended, they'll mostly and more than likely just keep it to themselves.

IA's picture

"If you want to improve your writing, a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary are invaluable. It doesn’t mean your vocabulary is inadequate, and it’s not cheating."

This I found interesting because there are so many different things different people consider cheating. You shouldn't use autotune or compression. You should practice and perform everything in one take. You shouldn't look at the lyrics while singing. You can't use old ideas. You can't write I-IV-V progression in 50 songs in a row.

I suppose it depends on your goals. If you're trying to convince everyone of your vast vocabulary, then I suppose using a thesaurus is cheating.

But what I've learned is that you should cheat as much as possible. Let me repeat that.

You should cheat as much as possible.

It's a challenge against yourself. So who are you cheating? If cheating leads you to the best possible outcome, you have to cheat. Actually, it's your duty as a creator. Cheating is breaking the rules. But what rules? Who set them?? Are there people who will enjoy a piece of music less if you used autotune in it? Absolutely. And those people can go fall down in a flight of stairs. I make music for me. If I don't enjoy the end result, then I failed. But I also learn from my failures, which means I enjoy more and more of my songs as the years go by.

@Amanda Rose Riley - Really interesting blog, and good for you for getting your trophy!
One suggestion of yours I find to be really true for myself is to try to write the song in one sitting. Now, that doesn't work all the time, but seldom do I spend more than a few hours on a song.
And I too use a rhyming dictionary - the Rhymezone website. Not for all my songs, but I bet one out of every seven or eight has a Rhymezone rhyme in it.

It's a great post.

I think we all find out our own way and maybe then shift too from time to time.

Of all the variations, I nevertheless write every day, it's just not a problem for me.

However, rather than piling them up (then "doing" as in a "method"), when an especially interesting one comes up, -- I develop it then and there and if can in one sitting, if even to "demo" or some audio to remember then come back. But then, come back *next session to get it to a "demo" developed track. So, maybe not a "produced" track but not a bounce/scratch/partial track either.

Doing that develops other skills and as some well known folks have done, -- they si/sat, write/wrote what came to mind, recorded, and then "that" became the "Record".

-- Also, it was not to long a post. I was able to skim read it quick and not miss anything. It would have to be well written for me to then, not have to stop and decipher Smile it. So, well done.

Oh, the other thing I do is not put off some "collaboration" since "busy"... I tend to, based upon context, drop everything and engage it (to some extent). By doing that I did not miss out on some great work. It can be a bit much and a stretch. However, if I have documented the lyrics I had, or the partial demo, then it will be there when I come back. Moreover, engaged later then, "more-better" Smile too.

Good read. I concur.

Glad some of you got something out of it, and thanks for reading!

@AndyGetch It's hard for me to get inspired by video rather than real life. I have enjoyed performing and watching live streams, having virtual dinners with my friends, etc. but I just miss gathering in person, especially large gatherings. I truly think the human mind is just built for it and there's no substitute. At the end of the day no matter how much I do online, I'm still just sitting in one place looking at the same computer screen and I have found it personally impossible to trick my brain into thinking that's interesting. Not to be a downer! I'm not miserable, just uninspired and bored of this. Also on the subject of burnout, I'm not convinced that constant writing is the ideal method of writing for me personally. I think I work better if I do some spurts but then take long breaks. I just run out of ideas and steam if I don't.

@dzd I do think you're right about just writing with no expectations or worries, but of course that's a lot easier said than done. And it's probably easier for some than others. I think that having anxiety issues makes it harder for me, but I have definitely seen improvement and I'm sure it'll keep getting easier the more I do it.

@IA That's a really good point. Some of it is about what you're trying to prove, but also your tastes. But I do think any rule can stop a great song from happening. To use one of your examples, I didn't *limit* myself but I *was* disappointed in myself for writing 50 songs in a row that largely used the same chord progressions. But if I had limited myself to writing a different or unique chord progression every time, I might not have written anything tbh because I don't know that many chords and I'm not that inclined to learn them! And yet, even using the same chords I came up with a lot of tunes that I thought were great, and I would never have those otherwise. And anyway if that repetition really bothered me I could always go back and alter the chords later. But better to get that song out asap in whatever form is easiest and worry about rules later, if ever.

"...largely used the same chord progressions. But if I had limited myself to writing a different or unique chord progression every time, I might not have written anything tbh because I don't know that many chords and I'm not that inclined to learn them!"

Why not do both? Do some songs as they come. Find some more adventurous chord progressions and use/adapt those to write to as well. Try all sorts of things to see if something *cough* strikes a chord *cough*

I was feeling stuck/burnt out etc., and tried all sorts of new manners of things to help.

@tcelliott In my case it's unfortunately because trying to be interesting or adding extra musical challenges doesn't motivate me, it adds pressure and I get stressed out and end up putting it off and not doing anything. It's different if I have unlimited days to play and explore, but not if I've set myself a deadline. Everyone is different, though -- in my case I think this issue is partly my anxiety issues (which I'm always working on) and partly because being interesting with music doesn't come naturally to me and I don't really find it fun. For me the fun is more in expressing emotions and ideas in a straightforward way, and making it musically interesting and original is the part I have to work really hard at.