This awesome panel discussion with 3 prolific songwriters and members of the Female Musician Academy will give you practical ideas on how to get inspired to write, write more often, try new things in your writing process and create lifelong writing habits.
Cayla Brooke is from Vancouver BC, Canada. She’s been writing since she was 14. She writes whatever she wants but her songs always tend to have an old-school jazz sound and Motown feel. She manages the Female Indie Musician Community together with Beth Matthew and is also leading a Songwriting Challenge in the group.
Carol Nicodemi is from Queens, NY, and originally from the Bronx. She is a folk-jazz singer-songwriter and children’s. She wrote her first song during her teens for a neighbor whose husband passed away. The neighbor was really touched by that song and Carol was inspired to continue writing because of that.
Michelle Shafer grew up in Connecticut and currently lives in Chicago. She wrote her first song when she was 17. She typically writes rock punk blues and Americana.
Beth Matthew has written about 25 songs her whole life. She wrote her first song when she was 16. Her genre is contemporary Christian gospel and has also co-written a song that is bluesy jazz soul.
What instrument do you use to write songs? Do you write the melody first or the lyrics first?
Cayla was trained in classical piano as well as gospel and jazz. That’s where she has written a lot of songs. She has also written some songs on the guitar, and she would like to write using the ukulele. A great way to write songs is to switch to another instrument than what you are used to. She is more of a lyricist first, but sometimes she does the melody first or the title, whatever comes up first.
Carol writes with the piano since that is the instrument she is most comfortable with. She was self taught and she started taking lessons in her teen years. She usually starts with lyrics. She may have a song idea and she sings it into the cellphone then revisits it the next day.
Michelle typically writes on guitar. Sometimes she writes on the piano. Sometimes she takes it from the guitar to the piano so she can explore chord patterns and structure. It’s like a two reverse step flow for her. She may have a feeling or she’ll sit down with a lyric in mind, a chord structure then she’ll throw some melody. She lives in the song for a while and lets it write itself. It creates itself if you allow it to flow.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not as nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” — Brene Brown
Songwriting helps us process a lot of the life that we live.
What are the biggest challenges you personally face when writing songs?
Cayla: Finding time to write and to be consistent. Being a songwriter is a learnable skill.
Carol: Staying fresh and not repeating herself. She wants to make sure each of them is unique. She doesn’t want it to sound stale. Staying authentic and being who she is.
Michelle: Time and getting out of her own way. Accepting what you write and how you write and embracing how the song, verse, and lyrics come through her. Writing from experience allows her to write deep soul-searching songs and it is challenging for her to write happier songs. She also feels she may not be giving herself enough space to not be writing.
Do you have a routine for writing songs or do you wait for inspiration to hit you?
Cayla: She uses the 2-minute rule. If you do not feel like doing something, you can bring yourself to do it only for 2-minutes. Give yourself the momentum by starting the work. This allows you to have consistency. Also, if you’re working with a co-writer. Get an appointment for maybe 2 hours. You can do it online and it can help you get a routine of writing more often.
Carol: Getting started is the hardest part. Set up a time for yourself every day. Writing on a regular basis allows you to be committed to yourself. When an idea comes, write it down.
Michelle: Inspiration happens then she has to write. She tends to work in the morning with her guitar and her journal. She makes a voice memo and goes back to it. That way she loses fewer ideas that come to her throughout the day.
Tips for Beginning Songwriters and Experienced Songwriters:
1. Avoid self-editing. Allow things to flow.
2. Another thing is Storyboarding so you know that your story is going the direction you want to get going.
3. Do not be too precious with your song. If someone wants to chop up your song for sync, let them.
Beth Matthew had the same challenge where someone offered to co-write a song with her but she felt that her song was so precious that she doesn’t want to share it with anybody.
4. Do not beat yourself up for songs that you do not do right. It may actually be useful for you some other time.
5. Give yourself 10 minutes everyday for songwriting.It’s not for others to see or hear but for you to improve your craft.
1. Analyze songs you love. Look at the lyrics, what sends you, what is the chord structure, etc.
2. Don’t be too direct. Work with metaphors and appropriate imagery.
3. Check if things are moving your song along.
4. For experienced songwriters, try something new. Try a key you’ve never written in. Write a song backwards.
1. For beginning songwriters, learn the basic song form depending on the genre (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc).
2. Study the greats in the genre. It’s okay to emulate. Eventually you will have your own.
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
4. Try piggybacking.
5. Try new and different things.
What has helped you grow and develop the most in your songwriting?
Working with other people and collaborating with other musicians
Writing daily or as often as you can. Being committed to the process.
Having a mentor.
Taking feedback and not being too attached to your own ideas.
Jumping yourself and keep going. Like anything, it takes practice.
Write what you know about.
Brain dump ideas.
List down titles.
Co-write and practice saying “Yes, and” instead of saying you don’t like the idea.
Decide the story first. Know what you’re writing about.
Give yourself a deadline. The FMA Songwriting group is good for that.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite.
Read books about songwriting by Shiela Davis and Pat Patterson.
Taking constructive criticism
Be willing to grow. Be willing to learn.
Having talent doesn’t mean that you can’t grow.
Keep on writing.
Do challenges and participate in workshops.
Getting outside for a walk.
Share a favorite song you enjoyed writing, where we can find it and why it’s your favorite song.
Cayla: “Divalicious” which you can find on Spotify and anywhere else. I like it because I had to find to get it recorded. I believed in the song and it is a reflection of who I was at that time and who I aspire to be as a woman.
Carol: My favorite song that I’ve written is “Remembered”. It’s a song that really summarizes my life as a teacher and as a musician. It’s about a student who contacted Carol and how being her student has changed his life. Another one is “Me and You” because it’s who I am.
Michelle: “All the Colors, Never Blue” and “Way Back to You”. The songs are on Spotify.
Links mentioned in this episode: