Is it time to find a new process for your creativity and songwriting?

Over the weekend I hosted a 2 hour workshop on songwriting. The focus of the workshop was to help people work on the areas where they feel stuck. I asked everyone to bring in something they were either currently working on or had been working on for some time and felt they had creatively hit a wall. The goal was to get everybody back into the process as quickly as possible and help them see the options they had with where they were feeling stuck, creatively exhausted and frustrated.

The songwriting workshop wasn’t about a performance or a critique, it was about process and being right there in it, up close. Often times, we approach situations the same way every time, and that means we keep strengthening and reinforcing that same approach, the neurological groove and habit. We get the same frustrations of landing in the same place with our creativity. And this feeling is really brutal.

I would not say I am some pie-in-the sky optimist or hope-aholic. Having so many of those frustrations and difficulties with my own process in the past, I have learned a lot of useful tools and approaches that honestly make me feel excited to lean into those challenging times. I tend to view situations, whether music or life related, like this:

In private songwriting lessons, it’s easier to get buy-in from the individual because it’s just the two of us. There is already a level of trust and less mental self-judging or internal critique going on. In this workshop, I was asking a group of people to come together that didn’t know each other, and most of them didn’t know me yet. It was extremely courageous of them, and they showed up ready to dive in.

Treat it like it’s important. Take note of what you are good at, and more importantly, what you’re not.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our interests and the things that just don’t feel fun to do (for whatever reason, but it’s usually fear based…more on that later). The first topic I started with was being more self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency builds confidence because it requires gaining more knowledge and the gaining of more skills. Plus, with the ever evolving music industry coupled with the rapid changes in technology, the downward pressure on creators is substantial. You really have to be more self-sufficient and take responsibility for your music. That is the reality.

There were some people in the class that wrote lyrics and poetry, one that was a singer that started taking voice lessons and guitar lessons within the last year and wanted to write more, and a few that played guitar well but were getting stuck on presenting their ideas and finishing songs.

Every person in the workshop exhibited and shared a real passion, interest and love for songwriting and creating. It was really inspiring. I could tell everybody had worked hard, sacrificed and put in the time. Each person also shared their frustrations with feeling creatively blocked.

The first thing I suggested was about tapping into their obvious passion, commitment and willingness to work. I suggested a slight tweak to their routine:

It’s not about being an expert. It’s not about being great at everything. It’s about gaining some proficiency and broadening your skills and tools.

If you write lyrics, learn some basic guitar or piano skills and sing each day. To get there faster, commit to some guitar or piano and voice lessons. Have a pro help you get a solid foundation. More skill means more confidence and ability. You will experience music differently and you will have more tools!

If you are pretty decent at guitar or piano, work on your melody writing skills, singing and lyric writing. Study songwriters like you studied guitar/piano. Read poetry, read literature and study songs from the vantage point of lyrics and melody, isolated and separate from the song…and each other. Write out the form and structure of songs you learn. Learn songs by ear. More skill means more confidence and ability. You will experience music differently and you will have more tools!

Basically, put yourself in a new position and study music. Learning something new reminds you how hard you’ve worked to be good at the other thing. Plus, learning something new requires a different energy and attention. You get immediate return on your effort and you pretty quickly start to see how this new skill is going to help. This builds confidence, enthusiasm and excitement.

Music theory is not a creativity crushing bogey man, it is a tool! Learn it! Use it!

It is very difficult to move forward if you don’t know what key you’re in, what your options are and how to tonicize or modulate. A basic understanding of harmony and form/structure will save you so much heartache and frustration. You understand the impact of a melody more if you understand how and why it relates to the underlying harmony. Structurally, what is the set up to the chorus? Why and how do great choruses feel so good and seem to just be right?! Free Falling by Tom Petty, for example!

I call it the game of tension and resolve. What is going on lyrically, melodically and harmonically right before the chorus? What is the band doing? What is the arrangement? You see, everyone is on board and helping build and set up the tension and then the release…the band, the producer, the engineer, the backup singers, the janitor and the security guard. Everyone is working to craft the song and dial in those moments of tension and resolve.

It’s everywhere…in art, in architecture, in literature and drama, in religion and mythology. Keep in mind, some folks like to take you out there and not resolve the way you want or expect. When you develop more skills, you understand more of the game and how it’s being played.

Have words to burn!

Often times when I’m working with songwriters and they start getting stuck by thinking too much or holding back, I write a line and pass them the paper and have them write the next one. We go back and forth. When they pause, I yell, “Hurry! Write! No thinking!” People are afraid to write very quickly. They are afraid it may not make sense or come out wrong and not rhyme, be too long, blah, blah, blah. It’s about staying in the process! You can’t fix rhyme scheme, edit, or sculpt a song if you have nothing to work with except your anxiety and a blank piece of paper.

I also ask people to write 4 or 5 verses if they only need two more. It’s good practice. Plus, it’s not uncommon to have some really good lines or clarity in those extra verses. Why? Because you’re in a groove, the pressure is off. You know you will have more than you need. Then, you take some of those great lines and put them in another verse to make it stronger.

You’re a vulture! A scavenger of your own writing, subconscious and creativity. Doesn’t it feel great?! Where’s all this stuff coming from? Not from the little judge and jury that lives in your head and constantly criticizes, I promise you that!

The idea, the inspiration is a gift. Who knows where it comes from? Acknowledge it as a gift and get moving. The rest is just work, so get to work!

Take stock of what you have and let it inform your next move. Think structurally. Do you have a great hook or chorus? Then, you need some verses! If you know you have a first verse, what do you need? A chorus! A few more verses. Verses need words and story line. Free write, and don’t worry about rhyme scheme, length and all of that! Don’t even worry about it making sense. You need the story, the thread.

A word on bridges: I bust ’em! When people try to sell me a bridge that is really just a confused or short verse, I call them out. Don’t just jam a section on there and call it a bridge.

If you try to edit all the time as you are writing, if you are so concerned about spitting out another verse, you will freeze and stall. Write a lot and whittle down later. JUST GET WRITING! Write quickly, crazily and fearlessly. There’s a lot of good stuff in the subconscious.

Bob Dylan said ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ started out as 14 pages of vomit he just had to get out of his head as fast as possible. Just sitting there and thinking about it won’t get you there. Thinking will get you stuck. Write like a man (or woman) running to water with his head on fire!

Search for inspiration

Another really important item is inspiration. When it’s there and firing, doesn’t it feel good?! When it’s not, it’s so torturous for people. Thats when you become like a hunter. You go looking. Pay attention, read, listen, learn new songs and study other writers. Let the universe know you are serious, ready, and committed.

Sitting there like a lump and thinking it’s just going to “show up” is pretty unrealistic, and pretty lame. A part of the creative process is soaking things up, collecting. When I feel wrung out, I know I need to shift my approach and start soaking up again. I still enjoy making a pot of coffee and figuring songs by my favorite artists, learning guitar solos and jamming to records. I don’t stay uninspired for long! I go looking!

When I am working with songwriters that are writing for a project, there comes a point where they start to worry about what the recording will sound like, will it make sense, are the songs making sense together, are the songs too slow, what if this, what if that.

Anxiety. Self doubt. Fear. Comparisons and judgement. Thats a good way to get stuck. I tell people what they need to worry about is having a pile of songs. Thats their job, just write songs. The project always reveals itself. The songs emerge and the threads come together.

If you get down to the last two songs and the producer says, “Hey, I think we need an uptempo song to round this out,” you don’t panic, and you don’t write a ballad. You know what’s needed and you write it. There is so much you just can’t worry about on the front end. You just need to write and keep writing. You are honing your craft.

An example in abundance

By the time Lennon & McCartney met up with George Martin, they had written quite a few songs. So when they played a bunch for him, and he said, “I like that one, this one, not these so much, that one,” the boys didn’t run and cry and freak out. They said, “Ah, ok! We know what he wants more of, what he’s looking for! Let’s go!” And they wrote.

They had developed their skill. They had studied—a lot. They knew all those Elvis songs, all the Buddy Holly and Little Richard songs. Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry and so on. And they wrote—a lot. They had piles of songs.

Study the writers you love, the artists and bands that matter to you. Thats where the inspiration lives, where the compass is hidden and where the skills are on full display for you to learn. Bob Dylan said, Everything you need to know is in the music you love.”

What are you waiting for?

Frank Giovetti Releases His First Recording Project, Barista

Record in Nashville
Frank Giovetti

I remember my first meeting with Frank. He came in with an acoustic guitar and had been studying for about a year. After a few minutes of talking about his playing, I could tell right away Frank was a hard worker, disciplined and focused. He wanted to really explore and grow as guitarist and musician. I asked him the 3 questions. We talked about the music he loved, what inspired him and what he wanted to do. Frank wanted to write songs and record an album in Nashville.

Focus on what you want to see more of

I suggested a whole new approach to his guitar playing and focus. Frank expressed a strong interest in songwriting, and together we quickly laid out a plan of studying music theory, getting an electric guitar and amp and studying different guitarists from a lead and rhythm perspective that were important in the music Frank liked.

I also suggested Frank begin writing right away…chord progressions, melodies, lyrics, riffs and grooves.  And in true Frank manner, he accepted and jumped right in. Frank wanted to write songs, so we set him up to start writing.

From song to record

It takes a lot of courage to do what Frank did, and a lot of commitment, time and energy. We met every week for at least 90 minutes. We worked intensely on Frank’s guitar playing and his songwriting, all at the same time. Soon, Frank began finishing songs and after a period of time, we contacted Casey to head to the studio to record demos.

Once the songs were written, the demos done and the charts written, proofed and finalized (by Frank, that theory pays off!). We put a really good band together and went into the studio to record. The band consisted of: Casey on drums and percussion engineer and producer, Tim Marks on bass, and Jon Lancaster on keyboards. Frank and I played the guitar parts. The background vocals were performed by Maureen MurphyKendra ChantelleTravis Thibodaux. Additional vocal production provided by Katie Talbot and Chanelle Guyton. On horns, we had Max Abrams on sax Ron Agee on trombone.

That recording is this project, Barista.  Frank has said this about his music,

“The music is meant to feel good, like the way Erykah Badu or Jill Scott ease me in with steady but relaxed beats and soft vocal melodies. However, the lyrics are crafted for more, resembling the way I reflect when listening to Luther Vandross or Whitney Houston sing a line. I have also tried my best to emulate the moments of delicate and melodic guitar playing of John Mayer and Robert Cray and use this tool to drive the songwriting process. The process of my creation is one all my own and ever-growing.”

Record in Nashville

If you’re interested in learning more about how to record in Nashville, let’s talk! As Frank found, it’s hard work, but the rewards are great.

Frank’s story

“Finding your greatest passion isn’t easy, nor is it guaranteed. Many don’t ever find it. I’m one of the lucky ones who have, and it has transformed my life.

“When I was finishing graduate school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had built a fair sense of accomplishment and confidence having early scholastic achievement, yet I felt a great sense of boredom with my current prospects. I have always had the haunting memories of waking up in the middle of the night and asking my mom for music lessons or listening to songs/artists until my ears could no longer withstand the pressure of my headphones. The urge to pursue artistry was always there subconsciously, but I had no bearings as to what that entailed nor did I know how to get there. Musically, I knew nothing. However I did know two key things:

  • I wanted to bring about awareness and positivity to the world
  • I wanted to be damn good at it, ensuring that I was able to communicate this message as effectively and competently as possible

“Fast-forward through years of woodshedding and multiple teachers/methods; here I am, doing what I set out to do. My music is a story describing the pursuit of those key things. It is a journey, beginning with Barista (my first project) that will continue until I no longer have the strength to put a pen to paper or a string to fret. My work has not been perfect nor will it continue to be, but with the help of those I trust and a commitment to push myself I will remain in ambitious pursuit.

“The thing I am most grateful for, that which remains as my best decision along this journey, is the choice to surround myself with knowledgeable and trustworthy individuals. I sacrifice a substantial amount of resources (time & money) each week in order to do so, however, I have found a fulfilling and accomplished path. The great ones find a way to impart wisdom humbly and ably yet pass the torch readily to those who have greater or comparable knowledge in other areas, and I am becoming better at weeding these out.

“Having spoken with other artists and musicians, many who are more polished and experienced than I am today, I am overwhelmed by how similar we are in our uncertainty of the future. The truth is: there is no blueprint as an artist or musician. Anyone who sells you a guarantee or “knows” how to do it for you is an utter charlatan. Every situation is different.

“Conversely, I know my situation, and there is one thing that is undeniable. I have made music. I have jumped into the arena. I have created art for the sake of creation. My mark is made and has set the foundation for things to come.

“I thank Shane and Green Hills Guitar Studio for opening doors along my journey. I thank them for making me swim when I was uncertain about my readiness. And I look forward to our prospects in the future.”

Record in Nashville

Share your gift

It takes a lot of courage to find your own voice as an artist. There is a lot that goes into the process. It is not linear, nor is it predictable. It has been very inspiring to be a part of the process with Frank. He has worked at his craft consistently and in a very dedicated fashion. He has been performing weekly in Nashville and has also been hosting a writer’s night for other songwriters. Frank already has enough material for a new record. His guitar playing, singing and writing have expanded and focused.

You can learn more about Frank, see when and where he’s playing live and follow him on social media at his website.

If you would like us to help you with your recording project, from writing all the way the the final production, please give us a call today!

Thanks and Happy Guitar-ing,

Shane

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