Songwriting Chat

I was doing puttering around my house one day doing nothing. Suddenly, it occurred to me that ‘ship’ rhymes with ‘Depp.’ This made me giggle.

I checked in with Rach, a teen I was producing at the time, pointing the rhyme out to her. “What do you think? Depp/ship. Silly or a song?”

Back from Rach, “OMG! Too funny! Write it!”

So I wrote it.

Our Johnny Depp song has nothing to do with the scruffy actor person or his ship. The song is about tolerance and acceptance. The people around us may be a little imperfect around their edges, but if they’re kind and sweet to us, we should appreciate them. Simple as that. No brainer.

From our Johnny Depp video

Blame the Fairies

Some people are naturally strong songwriters. It feels as if fairies hand us our songs, things come that easily. We get an idea, then, boom! But we are the super lucky ones. I thank the heavens daily for my strange and wonderful ability.

Most individuals need to practice – like with anything else, to come up with strong material. One needs to learn how to structure a melody to make sense on a person’s voice, to make sense with the lyrics, and also, not to be too predictable. It’s a sweet trick; writing a song, both personal and relatable, that doesn’t sound like everything else out in the cosmos. But great news; if a song presents a imaginative and/or unique point of view, there’s a great chance it will spread it’s wings. In the business, it’s called ‘having legs,’ but I prefer ‘wings.’ Deep or light, no worries. It just needs to be a gem.

Zo being a fairy

I’ve coached a lot of young songwriters. The instincts that make for a special writer are far and few between. Don’t believe what you’ve heard about ‘throwing a song together.’ A thrown-together song won’t be timeless. It’ll more likely be predictable and kind of a dud long-term. Even if you’ve got a hit, a year later, it will have fizzled. Why? Because, like most art, integrity rules. Pay attention. What songs have stayed with you, and spoken to you, forever? Write that kind of song.

What not to do…

Here is what I have bumped into as a coach with the best of young  writers:

Many are too lazy to finish a set of lyrics. Two verses, and, at best, they’re half-hearted with the third. Don’t do that! Words are not filler.

Many are too lazy with the music. Grab a beat, find a hook that’s catchy, but not fresh. Sure, that can work, but your track will sound like a copy of something else. Why bother? It’s been done. Observe me as I’m yawning.

What the heck is going on?

The state of the industry is deflating these days to any skilled songwriter. The way things now work, it’s been decided no one needs to be Joni or Dylan or Springsteen – to aim that high. We can all just team up in groups of four to seven and ‘come up’ with songs. There’s very little writing from life experiences – less self-expression as art. Firework was written by a team of five. Many artist add there their name to a list of songwriters to get writing ‘cred.’ The songwriting world has changed. But for the better? 

Please don’t think that way. Be more like Billie Eilish and her brother. These brave siblings turned down the two mega-producers who’ve been producing most stars, choosing, instead, to keep their own stamp by doing things old school, not just plugging in. That’s such a rare choice these days – and these two stand-up musicians have proven the closer-to-the-heart approach can still work in spades. Fingers crossed the industry trends back and follows their lead. 

Being human…

I wrote Fearless after a conversation with an elusive-natured friend left me unsettled. I was just trying to get back to myself – not necessarily trying to make any big point. Another friend had just referred to me as ‘fearless’ and the word had somehow planted itself in my head.

These days, I get so much appreciation for my Fearless song, it explodes my heart. “Fearless is exactly me!” “Your song saved my life!” It’s so very humbling.

Never underestimate the value of your story. If you write with an open heart, your truth will speak to all.

From Fearless

lookin’ ’round, keep noticin’
bits of you ‘n lots of me
in every stranger’s face I see
we’re all so very human

Spin your tale, perfect your chops, and don’t ever be lazy. Polish and perfect until you get things just so. The fairy dust is often in that final touch. Good luck!