"Dear Band Aid, I have a songwriting question. I can easilly come up with a few lines of little ditties in my head but then I cant turn them into full songs. What should I do." -Jane in Narberth, PA
don’t fret, Jane, because this is something that happens to every newcomer to the songwriting game! actually, the hardest part of songwriting is coming up with the little “ditties” (or “hooks” as they’re called in the biz), so if you’re already able to do that, you’re in pretty good shape. that is the one thing of songwriting that can’t really be “faked”. it’s gotta come naturally. but turning those hooks into songs is something that just takes practice. when starting out, i’d recommend keeping your songs as simple as possible. whatever song element comes into your head (be it a chord progression, vocal line, rhythm, whatever), just make a little song entirely out of that thing (maybe just repeat it a few times). don’t worry about creating a “verse/chorus/bridge” for it. use what you have and build on that bit. and if nothing is coming to you, just bang on the guitar/bass/keyboard/voice until you hit something that sounds good! it won’t really be a full-fledged “song”, maybe just a “sketch”, as it could be very short and not have much structure. BUT after you do this for a while, you will probably have learned a bit about your own style, how you make the pieces fit together, maybe you’ll even be able to string some of your sketches together into full-blown songs! and i have also noticed that, often times working on a sketch, and just spending time listening to it over and over, will lead me to think of new hooks that can fit with the sketch, and BOOM, i’ve got a chorus part! it is a little different for everybody, but i don’t think there’s any special secret to learning how to turn a song idea into a song — it’s simply a matter of putting in the time and effort! but a lot of times, if you really love songwriting, it doesn’t even feel like work! hope that helps.
first of all, sorry for missing yesterday’s post! i got swamped at work. but i am back today with some really good advice! and here it is:
"what if i get tired of playing a song that is generally deemed my band’s "hit"?" - sam in denver, co
this is a GREAT question! i think every band that gets even a little bit of local success has to deal with this problem. for some weird reason, there’s always one song that fans seem to gravitate towards. sometimes it’s not even the one you’d expect (or hope) they would. in one of my first bands in college, we had this song (can’t remember what it was called) that was basically a rip off of some Pearl Jam song, and people would just go nuts for it. maybe because they thought it was a cover, i don’t know. anyway, it was fun to play at first, but after a while it was the only thing people wanted to hear. sometimes we would end up playing it twice (once we played it four times!) all of us really hated that song, but what could we do? we were quickly becoming one of the more popular bands on campus. we thought we were going places, so we just let it ride. eventually we just weren’t having fun anymore, and called it quits. since then i have dealt with this problem in one of two ways, depending on the band and the situation. one way is to simply stop playing it altogether. i wouldn’t recommend this method if it’s a band that you really think is gonna make it big, because if you have one song that people really respond to, that is what’s gonna get an A&R guy’s attention. if you just stop playing a hit song, it is guaranteed you will lose about 75% of your audience at shows. so i’d only recommend this if it’s just a band your having fun with, and you want to keep it going for fun. the second way is to actually change the way you play the song. like the music, or the style, or the words. somehow make it interesting to play again. now, be advised, doing this all at once may be tricky. suddenly playing a drastically different version of the hit song will definitely lose you some fans. what i have done, and this always works, is to change it very gradually. start by just changing one small thing- a phrase in the guitar solo, or a lyric in the chorus, etc. every time you play a show, change a little something else. basically, ease your fans into the new version. that way you don’t alienate your fan base, and you get to still have fun playing your songs! hope that’s helpful!
"if i am a very bluesy rock and roll themed band but want to branch out to people who aren’t white men in their 50s, should i mention in the liner notes of our albums that rap is a large influence?" - dan in indianapolis, in
this is a pretty good question. lots of bands wonder “how can we get a more diverse fan base?” there are a few ways to go about it. the first, which you suggest, is to simply say that you are influenced by a wide range of artists, while not really changing your music to reflect it all that much. many of the punks (especially the art punks) of the 70s and 80s took this road. many of them even claimed to be influenced by jazz players, visual arts of the past (like pop-art or dada), little-known french poets, obscure philosophers, and historical events! all the while they basically just played a few notes on bass and guitar over a dance-like beat (maybe with some noise loops on top). and the crazy thing is that it really worked! once these bands started namedropping these crazy things, people who hadn’t really been into rock music in the past started getting into it, because they believed that it was becoming highly cerebral, or enjoyed analyzing the meeting of the cerebral and visceral in a musical setting. so if those bands could get away with that, i am sure your blues band could get away with citing rap as an influence! the only trick there is getting the word out that your band believes in all this stuff. putting it in the liner notes is a good start, but then you also have to schedule interviews, put it on youtube. basically repeat it as much as possible. your other main option is to actually incorporate these things into your music, so people can tell that it is an influence just by hearing it. this is what the Beatles and Rolling Stones did with Indian musics during the whole “world music” craze of the late 60s. you might think this would be hard to do, but remember, those bands were pretty successful and all that they had to do was play their normal songs with a sitar! it can be that easy. if you want to try to incorporate a hip hop element into your blues band, i would recommend playing a couple tracks to a stark backing beat, maybe sampled from an old blues rock song! that would be a cool way to tie in the whole hip-hop/blues thing, and maybe even get you some younger fans!
"what if my friends dont like my songs?" - gem in albany, ny
well, it would have helped if you were more specific, but it’s ok, i’ll address this question from a number of perspectives. 1) if “friends” means “bandmates”, well then this is what being in a band is all about. you can’t expect everyone in your band to be 100% behind all your songs all the time! everyone brings something different to the table. i would say you should take one of your songs to the band that they don’t like and say, “ok, let’s try to re-work this until we have something we all like.” that’s why it’s great to be in a band, and that’s how all the best bands work! it is a unification of tastes and ideas. if you don’t want to do that, then i suggest you find a place in your band that isn’t songwriting, or go off and form your own band with people who like the kind of songs you write. 2) if “friends” means “friends”, then this is a thing every musician has to deal with! typically, friends outside of your band will probably never like your band. by and large, people jsut aren’t that interested in music. so at first, you know, it’s eay to get friends to come out to your shows and they are excited, but it will mostly jsut be to see you, and maybe try out a new experience. but, pretty soon it gets very difficult to get friends to come to your shows (i’m guessing you’re just discovering this now, but it is very common), because it just doesn’t suit them. that is why the “scene” exists. a music “scene” is a regional group of people loosely bound together by the fact that they all play music at the same venues, maybe share band mates, etc. but they aren’t really friends. these are generally the people who are gonna come to your local shows, but just because they want to be at the venue or on the “scene”. they are not really your fans. BUT it is generally very good to know people in the scene and be familiar with them to say “hi” at a show, becuase many times they are booking shows at other venues, or running record labels for local bands, or have blogs, or whatever. it is the machine driving local music. SO my advice to you is to forget your friends when it comes to your music. don’t invite them to your shows, don’t send them links to new songs, and vice versa, NEVER invite scene people to hang out with your friends. keep your music life and your social life separate. i’ve said it in posts before, but mixing the two things is dangerous. it is basically mixing business and pleasure, and some one is going to get burned. sorry i didn’t exactly answer your question, i wish you had been more specific!
"what do i do if i am not the principle song writer in my band but i want to sing a song in it?" - gavin in toronto, on
man, i’m guessing your singer in your band has a real ego problem if you’re coming to me with this question! i hate to give this kind of advice, but i am just gonna have to tell you to “man up” and ask him straight up, “can i sing on this song?” if he is the tyrant i think he might be, try to get the other members on your side and stage a “coup”, so to speak. let him see the error of his ways. in my experience, bands work best as a democracy. sure, there’s always one or two guys who kind of take the lead and do the songs, and some guys are ok with taking a back seat and playing along. but if you’re in a band where you’re afraid to bring up something that’s bugging you, well, you’re probably not gonna make it very far. make sure he knows that. i think the same thing happened to George Harrison when he first started to write songs for the Beatles. John and Paul would laugh at him when he played “Don’t Bother Me”. But eventually he got Ringo and George Martin on his side and John and Paul grew to love “Don’t Bother Me”, then after that he was allowed to include a couple of his songs on each album. maybe that isn’t enough for you, though. if that’s the case, i would recommend just quitting to start your own band! hope it works out for you. ego singers are always a problem, but they can be fixed with a little determination.