Songwriting Prompts

Songwriting Prompts Image

Over the years, I've participated in a few different types of songwriter groups, where people get together to workshop their material. This past September, I started a new group of my own (affectionately referred to as 'Fury Wrote' ... I'll give you a hint: think 'Mad Max'). For each meeting, I provide an optional writing prompt and at this point, I've assembled a small collection of prompts that I thought might be helpful to share. So please enjoy and I hope these inspire!

  1. Pick up any book or magazine, open it up to a random page and chose the first sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your song.
  2. Choose a song or album at random (shuffle on iTunes or grab an actual CD/record, etc.) and write a song inspired by that style/genre.
  3. Write a song without using any pronouns.
  4. Choose a phone number out of your phone and write a song using the chords from the number. Pick any key. If you want to limit the number of chords in your progression, choose a number with a few zeros. You can decide to keep the chords in the same order or mix it up. For example: 508-243-5454 in the key of C, would be: Gmaj - (skip the 0) - Cmaj - Dmin - Fmaj - Emin - Gmaj -Fmaj - Gmaj - Fmaj
  5. Finish an unfinished song!
  6. Try an online random prompt generator. Some examples include: Creativity Portal and Learn How To Write Songs
  7. Write a song in which the chorus is one verb repeated as many time as you like.
  8. Take an existing song and 'turn it on its head.' It's up to you how you want to interpret that - you can remix it, rewrite the lyrics, rearrange the music, change the style, you name it! But don't be afraid to take it in another direction completely and ultimately create a brand new song out of the exercise.
  9. Write a song in a style (or genre) that is different from what you normally do. For example, if you typically write pop songs, try a ballad or narrative - or go classic rock!

Album Release!

We celebrated our CD release with a great show this past Saturday at the Lilypad! Thank you to everyone who came to the show and partied with us. You guys rock.

Now go buy the album already! :)


Debut Show

Thank you to everyone who came to our debut show! We had a great time - our friends are the best. Plus we met some new friends too! Some pictures are below. Come hang out with us via social media because, well, we'd love to hear from you:

Introducing Red Right Hand

You may have noticed a change in the website….yeah, yeah, I know it took longer than I thought, but the important thing is that the band is a thing, and it's happening and we're pumped. You know we are serious when we use italics. Performance debut March 1 at the Burren. Check out the FB for more details. Stay tuned for a 'single' so you know what you're in for - and thanks :)






You Don't Throw Away Great Packaging

Greetings from Portlandia!

Today I had a pleasure of listening to a number of speakers share their take on the important elements behind great experience design. As one might expect to discover, the resounding theme of today was the significance of the human element: we are community-seekers, we want to have meaning in our lives, and we work best when we self-identify.

Great design takes into account not just the people for whom we're designing, but also anticipating their needs...and to do so, you must first put aside your agenda and really listen to story in front of you. 

"Great products speak to feelings..." Music promotion is no different, and your ability to connect with a potential listener is key.

This is a fascinating context for my current project: finishing the album! In the past, I've always overlooked the importance of branding and packaging when it comes to my music. My internal dialogue went something along these lines: "The music is what is important - who cares about the packaging??" Oh, but people DO care. In fact, I care. As a consumer, I am inundated by brand messading on such a regular basis that I never stopped to process the impact it has on my daily life. And then today, Aubrie Pagano (founder and CEO of Bow & Drape) made the astute observation: "You don't throw away great packaging."

How very true....

In fact, in the musical context, great packaging alone has the power to compel a person to listen to music he or she has never even heard before. I recall recently hunting through the dollar record bins at Stereo Jack's and choosing vinyl just based on the artwork - and oh what amazing artwork! And thus, this idea will surely stay with me throughout the next month as we finish the album. I have a serious project ahead of me, and one I promise to not neglect. After this much time, the packaging must deliver just as the music delivers.

To that end, I made a concrete decision: the band name. Over the last few months, I hemmed and hawed but now I know it's time to trust my intuition. Several domain name purchases later (woohoo!) I am excited at the prospect of once ahead feeling forward motion.

Get ready for some change! 

Back in the Game…Again

I'm not a huge proponent of New Year's resolutions, but given that have quite a few music-related goals I've actively pursuing, I suppose 2014 is an auspicious year. For starters, the album is coming together: I can now literally hear what I envisioned early on in my head in the latest demos. As we flesh out all the parts, the attitude and vibe is right where I want it to be; I think the end result will be entirely worth all the time (and seriously delayed schedule!).

After two years (gasp - that's a little embarrassing to admit) - I'm finally performing again. Taking the new songs out for public consumption, shaking off the cobwebs (so to speak) and starting to connect with the moment of a live performance is a great thing. It definitely was a bumpy start ;P - but it's coming along.

And writing! I'm writing again - on both piano and guitar - in a consistent, prolific way and I'm loving it.

So in a nutshell: more live music (performing AND consuming), more songwriting, and finish the freakin' album already! Sounds like a good year to me.

Brave New World: USB Microphones

Recording for the new album progresses slowly (slow but sure!) and since most of my recording microphones are at the 'studio' (a.k.a. Ken's studio) , I decided now was a good time to experiment with USB microphones for an additional home studio solution (for demos, etc.). Per my research, there are a number of potentially great options out there. I was quite interested in the the Shure PG42, which is touted as an excellent vocal mic. In addition, another option is the all-around PG57, which would probably be better for my purposes since I'm looking to record acoustic guitars and a piano as well as vocals. That said, I was feeling spur of the moment, and since I had recently read this review, I decided to just impulse buy the Yeti USB mic by Blue.

Read the review, as I'm inclined to agree with the feedback (no pun intended). I need to play around with it some more to determine the best way to mic the piano in particular. I'm getting some strange slight static sounds on loud staccato chords, but it may just take some finessing with the mic placement. Most likely the static is from vibrations of the instrument itself - I placed the mic on the piano and tried out a number of different locations - would you agree?

Stay tuned - I'll share some demos once I'm happy with the recording quality and tones. 


10 Ways

Lately, I'm experiencing an internal struggle: to 'singer/songwriter' or not to 'singer/songwriter'. It's difficult to break away from the paradigm you know, and it's frustrating to feel unable to tap into the authentic performer I really am. I've always emulated performers I admire in an attempt to connect with my own 'musical personality' but I think this album is proving to me that I'm not quite there yet.

I received some advice yesterday that was particularly helpful because it gave me a tangible way to tackle this problem: play each song 10 different ways. It doesn't matter if the performance is 'good' as long as it's different from the last attempt. At first, I felt stuck in my usual rut, but I think the challenge of needing to come up with 10 different approaches allowed me to experiment more.  

  1.  The usual way. I played the song as I usually would....(it took me some time to get the ball rolling).
  2. Way too much tremolo! Played with the Princeton and upped the intensity quite a bit. The tone was too wonky for the song, but it was good to play around with the amp's controls.
  3. Working the overdrive. Automatically gave me some grit (which I need) 
  4. Pick + heels. Yes, as in high heels. PJ Harvey always wears heels, so why not? Plus, I love shoes. But most importantly, the pick gave me the intentionality I was missing in earlier performances. It really helped me dig in and I definitely felt a difference in my attitude.
  5. Delay-delay-delay (plus pick). I love my carbon copy analog delay. It makes everything more fun. I continued to dig in with the pick. 
  6. Pick technique (sort of). Instead of just strumming like an indie musician wannabe, I approached the song with some of my limited pick techniques so as to not play like a sloppy mess.
  7. Acoustic with pick. Sat down and tried my hand at the acoustic, but still keeping in mind the attitude I was tapping into from earlier performances.
  8. Sing it like you mean it. Still emulating, but I thought: 'how would PJ sing the song?' and that's what I did.
  9. Re-phrasing. It's a take away from attempt number 8, but I had some ideas how to rephrase the vocal, which allowed me to 'dig in' from a vocal performance stand point.
  10. No capo. I tend to capo when I'm trying to find the key that really fits my vocal range the best. Since I'm enjoying singing deeper and stronger (from the chest), I removed the capo and dropped the song a full step. Might just keep it that way... 

End result? I've got the inkling of a new attitude. I think I need more practice and commitment to myself (this kind of shift doesn't happen overnight) but it's a good first step.

I recommend trying out the approach if you face a similar conundrum. Your 10 steps can be whatever you want - just make every performance different.


Change of Scene

I am currently in NH (coincidently for the holiday - - happy fourth of July!) and am definitely having an introverted moment. Technically, per Myers-Briggs anyway, I am an extrovert, but quite frankly, I think I fall somewhere toward the middle of the scale. Once I'm alone, it's hard to be with people again; I've got to ease into it slowly. Thus, having a change of scene all to myself is rather refreshing. Plus, I've got 24-hour access to the piano and I'm having a blast writing.

Taking a break from 'all album, all the time' mode is a good thing, but it's hard to watch the summer slip away from me slowly and wish that we were progressing faster than we are with pre-production. That said, we've got two more demos to track and the rest are in really good shape, so I'm still targeting mid to late August for studio time. Speaking of that, any studio recommendations??

Album Status Update

We sat down a few days ago, and I divvied up the songs into three categories:

  • Songs we feel good about
  • Songs we've worked on but still need more work
  • Songs that need a lot of work

It felt suspiciously like a therapy session. But in the end, it was good for me to put it on paper. We've done a lot of great work and we're definitely making a dent in the work we still need to do - although admittedly, my summer studio deadline is looming close.

It is SO tempting for me to release current demos - but going back to my inner circle idea, I worry that it would be counter productive at this point. Suffice to say, progress is happening! And I hope you'll stick with us because this promises to be a definite departure from 'Back in the Game' and definitely worth a listen!

If I Had the Roadmap, I'd Already Be There

I have lamented the challenges of having a dream and no direction as to how achieve said dream so many times. I used to wish I wanted to be a doctor: this is a profession with obvious milestones; a clear direction. It's not an easy path - hardly so! - but if you work hard, it IS an achievable path. I've wanted such a roadmap for a music career most of my life. But alas, if it were really that easy, we'd all be working musicians, wouldn't we?

I'm purposely glib, but the sentiment is true: if it's easy to do, then there's nothing stopping us. But it's not easy; so now what? How do you get from A to Z when you don't even know how to get from A to B? Some of the best advice I've ever heard is to stop trolling the internet for how-tos, stop whining about how hard it is to be in said position and to just start doing....something. When I apply it to my current conundrum, I get easily frustrated: I wish this album was happening a lot faster than it is. But at least it's happening. So there's a B....sort of.

What would you do to make headway on a seemingly undefined path? Do you just start running? And if so, what does that mean to you and your creative pursuits? I've been told you need to be prepared to fail and to 'fail with style'.... and since failing is an action, it's definitely better than sitting on the couch mentally paralyzed by unknowns. Given this advice, my goal is to keep chipping away at tangible achievements: write, write, write; arrange, arrange, arrange; record, record, record. But the progress is still slow going and can be disheartening. Any recommendations for keeping positive?

I love Julia Cameron's Morning Pages idea. It really takes to heart the notion of 'just doing something!.' I'm thinking of modifying the idea a bit so that it applies to songwriting, but to start, I'll just write whatever comes to mind,

Here's to getting things done!

The Inner Circle

The writing process is not unlike that of an incubator: you begin with a spark of an idea which requires time and nurturing in order to develop into a full-fledged piece of work. Constructive criticism is an integral part to a writer's growth, but I think the timing of it is crucial: too soon and the idea will fall apart before it could ever fully form; too late and your confidence is in great danger of wavering. Everyone has an opinion. Art is subjective. Thus, knowing who you are and what you are trying to achieve is crucial.

I've been a part of a few singer/songwriter groups, in which we get together to share ideas, receive feedback and ultimately attempt to better our craft through collaboration. It is because of groups like these that I have made great strides in my writing and for that, I'm so appreciative. However, I've also been a part of meetings where I walked away feeling despondent and completely insecure in my skills. I attribute most of these moments as consequences of bad timing:  sharing a song at the wrong time (in the writing process). When is the right time to let someone into the 'inner circle'?

Preproduction for an album is a bit like the witching hour - anything can happen. You need the right people in your corner who will help you develop your material to its full potential; constructive criticism that ultimately keeps you very focused in the right direction. I keep learning this fact the hard way - rushing to share half-formed arrangements with people who aren't privy to the circle. These people have no idea what ideas were discussed the day prior, no idea as to what drives said arrangement, they just hear sounds without context. Ultimately, your songs WILL have to stand alone but not necessarily as fledging incarnations. Thus, exclusivity has a place in the creation process.

I struggle with finding the right balance within my 'inner circle.' I seek objectivity with support; challenge with understanding. How do you find your 'voice' in barrage of feedback?