Songwriting: how do you write yours?

We all have busy lives, these days. So busy I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever find the time and energy to write another song.

And that thought lead me on to thinking about when and where I best function as a songwriter.

I can hear you now…

“David, rather than thinking about songwriting, and rather than writing a blog about it, why don’t you actually go and do it? Write a song!”

Good question, to which my answer is most likely, “I don’t feel like it.”

I know that there are some people out there that can and do treat songwriting like a regular 9 – 5 job. And some of them can write good songs, to order, from scratch, most days. But I’m not one of them. Let me explain.

Most of my working life is with other artists, developing and/or recording their songs. Sometimes those songs are complete when I first hear them, sometimes not, in which case part of my job is to tease out those ideas and emotions from the artist, and stir them around in an imaginary mixing bowl with the musical and technological tools I have at my disposal.

Fortunately, years of experience tells me that I can switch my songwriting brain on at any time, when working on someone else’s song. I only wish I could do that for my own!

Since 1999 I’ve released six albums of original songs plus another half-dozen “EPs” or mini albums. Getting on for 100 songs. So I’ve obviously found time, energy and physical and mental space to do this. But no, it hasn’t come easily.

Perhaps you’re reading this because you’re suffering from the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ and need a way out? I’ve been there. But whether or not I’m going through that, I definitely have some songwriting strategies to get things done. My top three at the moment?

An acoustic guitar on the beach on the island of Bryher during a songwriting session
  1. Most of us go on holiday to get away from every day routine, email, phones, distractions of a thousand types. If I’m going on holiday, I make an effort (following negotiation with my family of course!) to carve out a little bit of time to wander off with a notebook, or guitar, or both. Half an hour, an hour, whatever is possible. I find these times are my most productive.
  2. Learn a cover song. Yes, I know that sounds odd, but so often I’ve done this and found that a different chord pattern, or melody, or unexpected change in mood half way through someone else’s song is a catalyst for an enthusiastic burst of my own writing.
  3. Just write/play anything. Have you got five minutes free? Waiting for the cheddar to melt on the cheese-on-toast? Open a notebook or press record on a voice recorder, and just write something, or sing something, or play something. Anything. There’s nothing more scary than a blank page staring back at you. Get started. Get messy.

Every songwriter in the world will have different versions of this. You may know some, or be able to Google some interviews with famous songwriters. The Song Exploder podcast is a great example.

What are your favourite strategies? Email me – – and perhaps we’ll swap stories?

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