Ryan Adams: Let Your Ego Come Out to Play

I love this video of Ryan Adams revealing his daily songwriting method, that he calls ‘Stacks’. It basically involves taking one reference book (like the Roget’s International Thesaurus) on one side, and another random book—a novel perhaps—on the other side. Open each to a random page. Scan the page of the novel until a line or image catches your attention, then use it to create a version of that image. Go to your second book. Scan the page until you find a word or image that pops out at you…keep going, and fill in the blanks.

Adams says:

“Inside of me is some piece of information that is relevant. It’s relevant because I’m alive and because there’s electricity in my brain and I’ve seen things all day. But maybe they have’t become this beacon for me yet of something ideal. But if I scan information I’ll find what that is…like Madlibs, the ego will always come out to play if you can get the Id to tell it to…I just created this thing for myself based on this information that I chose that’s already relevant to me because instantly it reminds of someone…; and it will force me to fill in the blanks.”

It’s a beautiful approach that trusts in your own experience to join the dots.

 

 

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Driving Around the Road Cones: Two Easy Strategies for Moving Beyond the First Verse

Almost all songwriters I know experience a type of road block in the process of writing songs. Paradoxically, this block seems to happen when you have a really good idea that you are particularly excited about. Put your hand up if you’ve ever written a verse and a chorus…and can’t seem to write a second verse! (Okay – hands down.) You labor for the next hour, week, month, but everything that comes out feels like you are simply dressing up the same idea in different clothes. Or worse – you are taking off the ball gown and putting on the jeans.

Thanks to ASCAP for once again publishing this article I wrote on two easy strategies for moving beyond the first verse. You can read the article in its entirety at the ASCAP We Create Music Blog.

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Eagle Rock Fall Songwriters Retreat

 

EAGLE ROCK SONGWRITERS RETREAT – OCTOBER 8 2011

 

Former Berklee Songwriting faculty Keppie Coutts presents the Eagle Rock Fall Songwriters Retreat on Sunday, October 8!

 

Fall Retreat will involve a series of creative exercises and time-proven writing techniques in the morning, equipping you with processes to bring your unique perspective and voice to the page. The afternoon will consist of song listening and feedback, giving you insight into the tools, techniques and strategies used by professional songwriters to generate ideas, develop, revise, edit, and fine-tune their songs. Fall Retreat will be a small and focused group, building strong connections, community, empowering participants to develop their creative processes and write the best songs possible!

 

In order to keep the retreat focused, the group is limited to 10 people, on a first come first served basis. REGISTER TODAY to secure your spot, by visiting www.kcsongstudio.com or by emailing kcsongstudio@gmail.com.

 

COST:

$80 Early Bird Discount (signed up by September 15)
$100 (after September 15)
$90 (Member Affiliations – West Coast Songwriters, Berklee Alum, previous attendees)

 

Getting Fruitful Feedback – (Eagle Rock Songwriters Retreat this weekend!)

One the most important things in the journey of a songwriter is being part of a community who can give you helpful feedback. Your friends, parents and audience will always be more than willing to tell you how much they love your songs (aka how much they just love you), and sometimes how much they don’t. Alas, while this feedback can be a joyous validation or an ego-rattling slap, it rarely helps your songs actually improve. There is hope! Other songwriters with the experience and vocabulary of songwriting are often the best community to tell you a) what works and why, and b) what could use development and why. The WHY part is so important, and requires more than just “I wasn’t feeling it there”.

I encourage you to seek out opportunities to be with other songwriters, whether it’s local organizations, regional camps or workshops, or annual conferences. Berklee College of Music has a wonderful online school (berkleemusic.com).

In the spirit of this community, I am hosting the first Eagle Rock Songwriters Retreat this coming Sunday, in east Los Angeles. If you are in the area and would like to come along, follow this link: kcsongstudio.com/workshops/spring-workshop-sign-up

Popular Themes in Songs for Film and TV

Songwriting is much like script writing in a lot of ways. Movies and TV shows always have a different set of characters, situations, tone and ambiance…but the reason that we watch them are for the developments and changes in characters, and most importantly for the relationships. A lot of the relationships involve chemistry, infatuation, coming together, growing apart, fear of loss, letting go, nostalgia….

Songs are very much the same thing – taking common and universal experiences and emotions, and using a unique and interesting set of characters, scenarios and timbre to express them. Luckily, the Film and TV market desperately needs music and songs to accompany the visual scenarios. At the Taxi Road Rally in November 2010, Robin Frederick, author of ‘Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV’, enumerated some of the common themes for which Music Supervisors are constantly on the prowl:

Themes:

–       love relationships (all kinds; romantic relationships and all the stages involved in those; family love; friendship love)

–       becoming and individual (coming of age)

–       uncertainty

–       fear of letting go

–       discovery

–       conflict (frustration, anger, hurt, rebelliousness, helplessness)

–       good times and celebrations (joy, comfort, giving, sharing)

–       rebellion

–       isolation (nobody knows who I am)

Try using any one of these as a starting point for a song. Use the tools of Sense Writing to spend 10 minutes using one of these themes as your launch pad, and see what images, sounds, smells, tastes and visceral descriptions are conjured.

Juicy Details

The first and most basic tool in your kit as a songwriter is your own completely unique perspective and experience of the world. Maybe you have thought ‘every song has already been written’, and it has! The universal themes of uncertainty, coming of age, love won and lost, rebellion, frustration, fear of letting go, discovery, conflict, isolation, celebration and ceremony continue to squeeze our little pink hearts and tickle our minds into reverie and action. The task of each songwriter is to imbue those universal experiences with the juicy details that make up your specific experience of them!

The best way to turn on you inner songwriter is an exercise I call Sense Writing. With Sense Writing, you will choose one image to concentrate your writing on. Once you have chosen your image, you will spend 10 minutes with your pen on the page describing this image and associations with the image. However, you will focus your writing on using your SENSES to describe it.

As songwriters, we are a special bunch who are blessed with not just five, but an alarming SEVEN senses with which to spin our word pictures! The SEVEN senses of the songwriter are:

Sight

Sound

Smell

Taste

Touch

Organic

Kinesthetic

Organic? Kinesthetic? Waaa….? I hear you ask…

The organic sense is the feeling and sensation you experience inside your body. When you are nervous or excited, this might be the shot of adrenalin that shoots like fireworks from your stomach to your throat. If you are drinking coffee, this might be the warm trickle that cascades down your throat, and puddles in the center of your stomach.

The kinesthetic sense is triggered anytime your perceptual relationship to the outside world is affected. This can be hard to grasp, and is best shown by examples. Some good examples might be dizziness or vertigo cause by heights – like when you are walking across a bridge and you look down between the slats at your feet. It might also be the dizziness you feel after a few glasses of wine, when you lay your head on a pillow and world starts to swim around you. It might also be when you are on a train looking out the window, and the external world seems to rush, like a horizontal waterfall, in a streaming shower of green and brown. Or even better – your kinesthetic sense goes wild when another train passes you by faster than the train you are on, and you all of a sudden get the sense that your train is travelling backwards!

DO IT NOW!

Sense writing should be no longer than 10 minutes. Do not stop writing! But do not write past 10 minutes! Sense Writing is a daily practice, and is best done in the morning.

Before you start, a good idea is to write the 7 senses at the top of your page, and make sure that you hit on as many as possible during the 10 minutes.

Here are some examples of images to get you going:

  • Objects: coffee cup; favorite t-shirt; couch; tree
  • People: teacher; doctor; dentist; chain smoker; professional dancer; actor on a stage
  • Places: airport; bus station; bed room; botanical gardens; circus
  • Moments: coming home at 3am; New Year’s Eve; my 7th birthday party

How to use Sense Writing

  • daily exercise – activate your inner writer.
  • mine your sense writing and collect your golden nuggets in a separate notebook.
  • when you have a song idea, sense write on objects, images, or people related to your idea.
  • when you have a section in a song, and you are looking for unique, interesting and vivid imagery for that section.