To all my singer-kin out there: are you feeling like a bazillion things are out of your control right now? I bet the answer is “yes” because…they are.
If I can impress anything upon you: please take heart and know you’re not alone, even if you literally are. There is so much we have no control over in the best of times; in these times, the best we can do is breathe deeply and take inventory of what we do have control over.
We’re going to talk about songwriting, but first things first: it’s super important to keep your inner voice attuned, alive and well so your outer voice can remain the very same. Always look within first to see what you can do – change – start – end – see – differently. No matter the circumstance, it will do you absolutely no good to bottle up feelings and keep them in. In fact, I’ll even run with the notion that keeping your feelings in can make you feel worse, bad and…dare I say, in a state of dis-ease, which you don’t want.
It’s Time to Acknowledge Feelings
So, dear readers, now is the time to;
- Cry – Be sad, grieve, allow yourself to feel bad for yourself and those you care about, for not knowing what’s going to happen with work, life, etc. It’s perfectly normal. We’d worry if you didn’t.
- Dance – Yes, dance. Dance-offs on Zoom with friends, in your room by yourself. Moving your body while listening to your favorite guilty pleasure 1980’s songs releases serotonin, or so I’m told. Yes, I like Meat Loaf (the vocalist, not the food).
- Walk, Run, Jog, Canter, i.e., Go Outside – Getting fresh air will do wonders for your mental and emotional state, and getting your heart rate up will keep your immune system up and happy. Don’t worry about breaking any speed or long distance records; the idea is to just get oxygen to all your lovely cells and not injure yourself.
- Write Songs – Wait, what? You’re a singer, you say? Well, that may be true enough, but have you ever considered putting your thoughts to words and music? Hey, it may not be your cup of tea, but how will you know until you try? And with all this time on your hands…why not try?
Writing Your First Song – Where to Start
I’m not a songwriter by trade, nor am I the most prolific writer, but I have written songs, both for myself and for other people (when I lived in Nashville, especially; that’s the statewide pastime, after all).
Here’s what I do when I want to get my feelings out and down onto paper: upon waking, the first thing I do, before coffee or getting up, is reach for my trusty notebook and pen. Yes, I’m talking OG Bic and paper, boys and girls. No teasing, now…respect your elders.
Once you’ve got the implements, put the pen to the paper and begin writing. Do not pick up your pen. Keep writing, keep it flowing, stream-of-consciousness style; even when you don’t know what to say, keep writing sentences like, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say, I don’t #$%# know what to say…”. Keep writing, and do so for (at first) under five minutes. Set a timer if you like. When you’re done, you’ll have to sift through a lot of “I don’t know what to say…” –type stuff, but you may find some real pearls, some excellent lines to riff off. Do this every morning, increasing the length of time as you go.
You Can Create a Melody
Yes, I hear you. You don’t play an instrument so, how are you going to write a song…? That’s okay, especially if you’re a pop/R&B vocalist…you can be a topliner: someone who creates a melody over a pre-recorded track. Don’t worry; there are so many resources available to you for backing tracks on the interwebs.
You can look on YouTube and find tracks to practice to, make them into mp3s (for your practice only—do NOT release them as that would be plagiarism!). Or this might be the perfect time for you to hit up your musical friends (who aren’t working that much now) to make some tracks for you, even live piano/guitar tracks. Or, take all this down time and learn to make your own tracks on a super-simple platform like GarageBand.
Once you have the track, get used to humming or singing melodies over it. You may feel self-conscious at first; this is perfectly normal. However, please remember this: give yourself permission to mess up really badly and to hit horrible notes.
I promise you this is a huge key to the kingdom of songwriting. You must be okay with being able to not hit the mark and move on to something better. Being okay with the editing process and knowing that your first draft is probably going to need to be reconstructed is what becoming a great songwriter is all about. That doesn’t mean that songs don’t sometimes come out fully formed and finished in a matter of minutes or under an hour. They do, but this scenario is the exception rather than the rule.
Some songwriting rules for you:
- Let yourself write all the bad lyrics and melody; it’s a way to get to the good stuff!
- Don’t edit yourself at first; give the ‘editor’ inside your head a big peanut butter sandwich and no drink, and lock them in the trunk of your car. They don’t get to speak until you’re done creating.
- Like everything else, with practice, you will get better. You may not be the next Paul McCartney or Finneas, but you may not need to be. All we’re doing now is exercising your creative-expression muscles, which is going to be very good for your mind, body and soul. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your vitamins!
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com