Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When "life" sometimes gets crazy....

I've been silent for a few weeks..."life got crazy."

Well, that's a normal state of affairs, but this was crazier-than-usual, with health issues / surgery for my husband (who is normally incredibly healthy) - so, I've been in caregiver mode.

Sometimes when things like this happen, it's all you can do to "just hang on." Yet seeds still get planted, and your Creative Self stores away things for a more fertile time.

In the meantime, I came across something today I'd like to share. This came to me via the ASCAP Daily Brief (powered by The Dean's List). This is an excellent email newsletter, written by Dean Kay and available via ASCAP ( The newsletter gives links to music news and articles; in this case, an article on musicians and social networking and a reference to (and interesting comment by) songwriter Leonard Cohen:

"In the magnificent volume Songwriters On Songwriting, in which Paul Zollo interviews legendary songwriters about their craft, Leonard Cohen describes his creative process: "It takes me months and months of full employment to break the code of the song ... I try everything to ignore it, try to repress it, try to get high, try to get intoxicated, try to get sober, all the versions of myself that I can summon are summoned to participate in this project, this work force." He proceeds with a tale of how it took him a decade to write Anthem, offering detailed explanations as to why he chose one word over another....


Something to chew on....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Just want to get some sleep 3

A good example of when I learned about songs having minds of their own happened some years back, when my daughter was a grumpy, teething one-year-old. It was close to Christmas, and I was up most nights walking the floors with her, trying to comfort her when her gums were aching.

In the wee hours of one morning, my sleep-deprived brain pondered the various Nativity scenes with the Holy Family, Baby Jesus in His Perfect Babyness, and Mary and Joseph the serene parents of a newborn. Hmph. I don't care if Baby Jesus IS the Son of God, He was also Son of Man - hence, He must have had colic. And later, teething pain.

My sleepless brain started to spit out this crazy song, "Rock dat Baby Jesus." It was about the REAL Nativity Scene, complete with smelly sheep and noisy angels keeping the Holy Family awake at night. Silly, yes; but it helped me to smile a bit during a very trying time.

The next morning, after a few hours of sleep, I sat down at the computer and started typing. My unconscious mind had been busy while I was asleep, and I knew when I got up that I had to write this silly song. But what happened as I wrote was that this silly song began to change as I wrote. It became a lullaby, sung by a very human mother and her love.

Later that evening, my husband and I were getting ready to go to a Christmas party, and it hit me while I was getting ready - I already had the tune for this developing song. I had been singing a wordless "la de da da da" to my daughter over the previous nights - and with some tweaking and reworking, it fit perfectly. The song became "Rock My Baby Jesus," and you can listen to it here. (If the link doesn't work, go to and click on your choice of the high-speed or low-speed modem.)

Babies (usually) wait until they are ready to be born. So do songs.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Happy synchronicity...

"Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner." (Thank you, Wikipedia.) It's a Jungian thing, and more than mere coincidence.

There is also a name for inventions, ideas, etc. all popping into existence close-to-the-same time in different places (and by people who haven't been in contact with one another). And no, I don't remember the term for it (but it may well wake me up in the middle of the night).

This type of thing happens with songs - with any creative effort, really.

I was at a friend's hone studio yesterday, listening to some recorded tracks. One song in particular jumped out at me (heck, they were ALL good!) - very moving, beautifully performed.

It also happened to be on a topic that had been nudging my brain lately.

Now, this might not be so surprising if it were a timely topic, like something going on in the world, the environment, in politics. But it wasn't. In fact, it was 260-year old news. Whoa!!

Once, I would have thought "dang...someone else wrote it already. Oh well" and shelved the idea. But consider this: What are the odds that 2 people who know each other have song inspirations about topics that are so similar -- but so far removed from present day reality?

Sounds synchronistic to me. Now, I just keep writing.

If an idea is powerful enough to make several people sit up and get inspired, well.... it's powerful.

Keep writing. Say what you have to say. The song will have its own way, no matter what!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Just Want to Get Some Sleep...2

Technology is wonderful...when it works.

Did I say that already in this blog? Possibly...I say it at least once a day, because it's true. Over the past few weeks, I have fought computers at home, at work, and my cell phone. All of these things, as friend/music partner Joshua reminds me, are "tools." "Tools," he says (with the earnest attitude of the True Believer), "are to make our lives easier."

"Yeah, as long as they work," I snarl in response.

We both agree that there is a limit to the "probation period" of such techno-gizmos and that too many manufacturers rush their latest creation to market before it's truly tested (can anyone say VISTA?) or troubleshot. (Troubleshot? Is that a word? Songwriter's rule: It's a word if you need it to rhyme with something.)

I will resist griping about the computer that friend/music partner/and-did-i-mention-computer-guru Joshua has been grappling with. (Not one, but TWO failed hardware components...which means I can't even blame Windows this time.) But the cell phone...argh!!

BTW, you may wonder what this has to do with songwriting. It's a tools thing. Tools make our lives easier. Or they should, at any rate.

So, this Pantech Persuit (which my son is going to inherit quickly, because he picked it up, played with it for 30 seconds and Got It) must be charged every night. So, I leave it plugged in and turned on, sitting, screen side down on my bedside table.

Last night the muse nudged me. Just an idea, a phrase. She does that a lot, just a phrase, a teaser of what's to come.

Instead of fumbling for the pencil and paper, I slid open the keyboard on this little green phone-pod and typed myself a note. Hit save, hit the pillow.

This afternoon, I scrolled through my notes, and saw that one. I had completely forgotten about it until that moment. OH! YEAH! WHAT A HOOK FOR A SONG!

Technology IS wonderful when it works! And it worked! For some odd reason, the glow of the keyboard was enough light to enable me to type a few words. I could READ it the next day. Do you know how many scribbled middle-of-the-night ideas have been lost because I couldn't read them later? And - even better - I WENT BACK TO SLEEP!

So I felt a bit better about that little phone today. Instead of going back into the box and back to AT & T, it's going to my son (who loves it already) to support his Texting Habit. In the meantime, I'm heading back to AT & T for something a little "smarter."

Think about your songwriting tools. Do they make your life easier, or do you fight some of them?

Monday, August 2, 2010

I just want to get some sleep.

It can happen in the middle of the night, and often does.

For me, it happens a lot in the morning, when I'm half-awake-half-asleep.

Your brain goes on these excursions, and comes back with some wild creative stuff. Sometimes it is a simple idea, an "ah ha!" that you make a note of and then move on. At other times, it is an idea that will NOT let go, and it starts to really disrupt your life.

"But I don't have time to deal with this!" you think. "I have to study for this test / pick up the kids / finish this report / make this presentation / cook supper / etc."

"Why can't the muse visit at a more appropriate time?" "I have GOT to get some sleep!!"

It is a juggling act. Sometimes we complain that we don't have enough ideas, that we have Writer's Block. Other times we complain that the ideas are plentiful - but they show up at the wrong time! Or, just as bad, they are the Wrong Ideas!

"I wanted to write a love song...and I keep getting this protest song about government bailouts!"

Well, the song is gonna tell you what it is; just go ahead and write it. You won't get any peace until you do, anyway. Mind, it doesn't have to be perfect - but you do have to get it OUT.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stirring the Creative Pot 2

OK, I’ve told you how to get ideas to come to you is to just keep writing. “But I don’t know what to write about!”

No? How about writing about not knowing what to write about?

Here’s a technique that can be adapted to many things, but I’ll start by explaining it from a lyrics point of view. All you need is a pen or pencil and some paper, and a bit of quiet time. If you can set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes, so much the better.

Then, start writing about anything at all. ANYTHING. And – (here’s the catch) – don’t stop writing. I don’t care if you write “I don’t know what to write is this woman nuts there isn’t anything in my head to write about and if there were it couldn’t get in because I’m writing about not knowing what to write about is this writers block I’ll bet even Mark Twain had writers block and….”

I’m willing to bet that you will get very bored with writing about “I have nothing to write about” after a few minutes and your unconscious mind will start to throw out suggestions of more interesting things to write about – and so by all means, start writing about that.

You can use this same technique with an instrument. Pick up your instrument and start playing – but not a “known song.” In other words, “noodle.” Again, keep noodling for a while. (Chances are you already do this.) If you find yourself playing a theme or hook that you’d like to use in a song, just make a note of it so you won’t forget, and keep going. This works for vocals – just sing syllables, sounds, lalalafaladozaladazap…

Final, important step: Don’t judge what you just did. You might have found something that has promise; keep track of it. You might have the start of a song, and the next part might be just around the corner, or it could be a couple of years in the future. It doesn’t matter; stick the idea in a file where you keep such ideas. You can always come back to it later. Don’t worry, if the rest of the song is ready to appear, it WILL find you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

But…what if what I write is garbage?

Well, that’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it? I usually get frustrated with my own songs, so I know how THAT feels.

Keep this very important thing in mind: Not every song (or song fragment) that you write will be what you consider good. Nor will every song you write even be finished.

If you dismiss it before you’ve halfway written it, however, you’re not giving it (or yourself) a chance at all.

The critic/editor inside of our heads is our own worst enemy – far, far more vicious than Simon Cromwell could ever be. This Critic is going to be screaming its head off when you head down this road.

Know what?

The louder it screams, the closer you are to reaching a new and better level in your songwriting.

Unfortunately, this Critic causes the abandonment of many a fine song, and the disillusionment of many a songwriter. Write in spite of it.

Know these very important facts:

There are many, many songs inside of you; an infinite amount.

Some are better than others. You will write all kinds – great ones, sucky ones, mediocre ones, and Oh-my-God-where-did-THAT-come-from?

You will have good days (and weeks and months) and bad days (and weeks and months). Just keep writing.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (and many other wonderful books on creativity), puts it this way: “Just show up at the page.” If heeded, this single concept will help you tremendously.

Another concept that she discusses in her books is that God is the Ultimate Artist – and artists love other artists. God didn’t make just a few flowers; God said “Wheeee! This is fun!!! Let’s make MORE!” and got started with pansies, tulips, roses, buttercups, lilies, and….well….you get the picture.

The Creative Source is endless. It is always there to be tapped. The more you write, the wider your own creative channel becomes – and the more songs you will be writing. Some may be the roses, some may be the ragweed.

Judge not. Write on.