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The Songwriter’s Guide Includes the Following:
1) The Introduction so you know what to expect in this guide.
2) The Common Song Subjects Template so you have foundational inspiration.
3) The Song Sparks Template so you can ignite your creative fire.
4) The Story Telling Template so you can construct narratives that flow.
5) The Song Outline Template so you can map out your song structure.
6) The Supporting Ideas Template so you can expand on an idea you already have.
7) The Universal Themes Template so you can explore empathetic subject matter.
8) The Song Critique Checklist so you can be sure a song has all elements it needs.
9) General encouragement, tips, and inspirational quotes from me as your mentor!
As my friend Steve Gillette likes to say, “We are going to work on getting all the sled dogs to pull in the same direction!”
My goal in providing these educational resources is twofold: one is that you will build the confidence you need and the second is that you will have tools at your disposal to create compelling songs at any moment. From this point forward, you are a songwriter! Own it, be it, do it, write it! James Taylor said of his songwriting, “I started being a songwriter pretending I could do it, and it turned out I could.” Remember, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right. It is just a matter of perspective. Being a songwriter is a mindset.
In the ninth grade I was kicked out of the school jazz band and gave up on music for what I thought would be forever. Then, when I was eighteen a friend of mine dragged me to a Grateful Dead concert. I ended up buying a fake ticket from a scalper and didn’t even get into the show, but I had an enlightening experience in the parking lot that would change my life forever. It was in that moment that I learned a secret that would enable me to embrace my creativity and pursue my life as a songwriter. Since then I’ve written hundreds of songs, recorded 15 original albums, and performed thousands of shows. In that parking lot I realized that I held a power that couldn’t be taken away from me. It was so simple and yet I wasn’t able to put it into words until years later when I heard these words by Napoleon Hill, “My search led me to the study of the spiritual forces which all of us are blessed. It was in this field that I came upon a clue which has helped me help millions of people find their earthly destinies. I want to
describe my discoveries in the simplest terms possible because it will reveal to you why it is true that whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” It is from that headspace that you need come from to create anything of great worth. I never even went in to see the concert and I went home an entirely new and invigorated person!
Your mind is like a radio antenna. When you can open yourself up to the right frequency you can dial in your song craft. You can turn it on and get tuned in! By being in the right headspace you can channel it. The song is already written. You just need to find what channel it’s on by tuning into the right frequency. Then your song becomes a vibration that gets sent out into the world and interacts with those tuned into that frequency. This holds true for any genre of music and any art form. Billy Gibbons knew that when he said, “There’s an invisible presence of a stream of ever- flowing creativity that we overhear. All you have to do is pull up the antenna and dial it in. This presence allows you to maintain your sense of origin and move forward.”
Imagine songs deep in a well and when given the proper tools you can tap into that well. The more you do it, the more it flows, and with practice you will eventually become a flowing spring! You are reading this now because you want to tap into the well and let the songs flow. A common misconception is that every song you write will be good. That is not the case, but by allowing yourself to let the song well flow you can build experience and enough material to mix and match your ideas until you have a song that will sing out throughout the ages. Tapping into your creative self is only step one. Step two is to access your organizational brain (the editor) and go back to make sense of what you’ve received.
And so songwriting is like building a home. You need the building materials (the creative mind) and you need the right tools (the organizational mind) to create your shelter. Once you have the right tools; the better builder you will become. This guide acts as the tool box you need to help you build your song house. First, you will need to free yourself from self-doubt.
You know those little voices in your head that are always incessantly telling you can’t do something? That an idea you have is silly or stupid? Those voices that tell you that if you say or do something people will think you are weird? I call those voices The Itty Bitty Nitty Committee and they have no power over you! Nitty, meaning nit-picky. As my oldest daughter often says, “Don’t judge.” I would even add to that and say, “Don’t judge, just do.”
The key to writing a great song is to allow yourself the freedom to let the ideas flow, then come back with your organizational mind to edit later.
My friend Erika said it best after participating in a song writing workshop I was a part of when she wrote, “I’ve dimmed my light for so long. I’ve told myself that I’m wrong. It’s kept me from writing my song and letting myself be seen by the world. The fear of being put down kept me locked up until now. Now, I want to Shine!”
It’s time for you to shine! You are a songwriting superhero! You can learn to use your voice and express yourself. Your message can literally save the world! I believe that. I believe in you. I’m here to tell you that I know you have something important to say! Your ideas and experiences are unique! Let go of the boundaries others place on you.
"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt
“Sometimes you write the song, sometimes the song writes you.” -Guy Clark
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” -Albert Einstein
“Songwriting is my way of channeling my feelings and my thoughts. Not just mine, but the things I see, the people I care about. My head would explode if I didn't get some of that stuff out.” -Dolly Parton
“My kids are starting to notice I'm a little different from the other dads. “Why don't you have a straight job like everyone else?” they asked me the other day. I told them this story: In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, "Look at me...I'm tall, and I'm straight, and I'm handsome. Look at you...you're all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you." And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, "Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest." So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.” ― Tom Waits
“I think songwriting is the ultimate form of being able to make anything that happens in your life productive.” -Taylor Swift
“If you pour your life into songs, you want them to be heard. It's a desire to communicate. A deep desire to communicate inspires songwriting.” -Bono