Making Music asked professional songwriters all around the country, from newcomers to veterans, for their favorite songwriting tips.Make your own songs sizzle by embracing these songwriting tips from the pros.
“A stubborn perfectionist, I was once advised to just write now, edit later, and I have stuck by that ever since. When inspiration hits you, let that guide your writing, and don’t pause to second guess yourself—the best moments in songwriting come from those unexpected thoughts.”
Hailing from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Seadar Rose’s soulful Americana music evokes the open space and dramatic textures of the Grand Teton Mountains. She is part of the singer/songwriting duo Screen Door Porch whose latest album The Fate and the Fruit was released in May.
“Always carry a personal tape recorder (or a phone with recording capabilities to capture any and all ideas that come to you. You should then create a system to store and catalog your creations. I really value spontaneous creation and many times I see it as the best way to create from a subconscious angle. To me, being creative is a bit like dreaming. You need a recorder to help you remember your unconscious musical ‘dreams.’ By the way, I wish there was a way to capture dreams. Wouldn’t it be awesome?”
In 2002, Gervasio Goris sailed from Argentina to Miami to launch his songwriting career. He recently released a new solo CD, Together, under the pseudonym Herbieman.
“The best rule is that there are no rules.”
Billy Montana grew up in Upstate New York, where he studied agriculture at Cornell University, and then worked on a vegetable farm for seven years before landing a deal with Warner Brothers Records. He moved to Nashville in 1989 to pursue the songwriting dream full time. Now working at Curb Records, he has written hit songs for many big name artists including Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory,” the Sara Evans’ smash “Suds in the Bucket,” and the Grammy-nominated “Bring On the Rain,” recorded by Jo Dee Messina.
“Most of the time, my songs are simply inner dialogue put to music and melody. It’s all about communication, and I have a certain fondness for interpersonal relationships and the dynamics of people, and the way we connect with one another; so, I usually write as if myself or the character is speaking to someone specific, directly, honestly.”
Raised in Southern Louisiana, Jodi James taught herself to play guitar and piano, and began writing songs at age 21. The young singer/songwriter’s first album, This Fire, was released in 2009.
“What to have in your songwriting bag when you go to write: 1. Yellow pad and pen. (Old school, to use in case your iPhone breaks); 2. Tea bags and a banana. (Got to keep up your energy); 3. Remember, start with stupid lyrics. Let them come out and the good lyrics will follow.”
Jack Tempchin penned or co-wrote a total of five multi-platinum hits for The Eagles, including “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.” He has worked with Glenn Frey for many years and co-wrote the title track from Frey’s new CD After Hours, which came out in May. Tempchin’s songs have also been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Tanya Tucker, and many other artists.
“Hard Rhyme! Rodney Crowell and Harlan Howard both gave me this advice when I was a young writer. This is a ‘tool’ which should be used like a ‘rule.’ You will be surprised how fresh it will make your writing. As an example: if you have this brilliant line that ends in a word that has only one or two true hard rhymes, look how creative you are forced to be to get to one of those hard rhymes! This has pulled more great lines out of me than any other writing device ever.”
Chuck Cannon grew up in the low country of South Carolina and his music echoes the R&B, rock and roll, gospel, and country music he grew up listening to. His songs have been recorded by a diverse array of stars ranging from Paul Carrack to Willie Nelson to Night Ranger. His solo albums include God Shaped Hole and Love and Money.
“Lyric writing is at least two processes. Process one is ‘flow’: you want to keep ideas flowing, keep the pen moving, don’t worry about rhymes, just get it out—no restraints or second thoughts; Process two is ‘edit’: You look through what you’ve got for the best parts, try to rhyme it, move it around, see what you liked best. Then, repeat both processes as many times as it takes to finish the song. If you try both processes at once, that is, try to edit/critique while brainstorming, you will shut the writing down and only have an empty page.”
Texas-based singer songwriter Owen Temple says he is a “songwriter out of the narrative folk tradition.” His sixth album, Mountain Home, is a collection of songs and stories about eccentric characters set in small towns and on the fringes of big cities.
“Let song inspirations come to you naturally; they make the best songs. Also, go out and listen to every great writer you can and invite people to co-write with you.”
Etta Britt is a Nashville blues and soul singer/songwriter. She has shared the stage or recording studio with greats such as Waylon Jennings and Conway Twitty. Her debut solo album is Out of the Shadows.