What's the hardest part of songwriting for YOU?

Charlie Bernstein

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. . . With this song, you can hear me struggle to sing that opening line of “You told me that you didn't believe that I saw your departure coming.” It took me quite some time getting that line right. . . .
Hm. I see what you mean. How about just tightening up the line a bit?
 

Charlie Bernstein

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It’s hard not to plagiarize, even if unintentionally. There are only so many progressions out there.

I wrote one cool progression that I thought was my own creation, but when I played it for my band the lead singer starts sing the words to the mid 70s song that I had inadvertently copied. It really was just a variation of the “50s progression.”

So, it’s still my song, but I do need to add some lyrics, and maybe change it up a bit.
You have nothing to worry about. Like I said, we're all magpies. Keep in mind the old saying: Amateurs borrow. Pros steal.

I do a medley: La Bamba/Sloopy/Twist and Shout/Louie Louie/Wild Thing/Angel of the Morning/Good Lovin'/La Bamba.

None of those writers worried about stealing chords, right? And then there's this poor slob:

 
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P Thought

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I have several "hardest parts":

1) Tunes.

Almost every day a fragment comes to me in the shower, and I'm able to get a lyric down--I often write it soggily on the backflap of whatever book I'm reading, which during my shower is lying on the toilet tank in reach, and there's a pen there somewhere--enough to flesh out verses after I towel off.

There in the shower there's a tune developing, but by the time I get the verses together I've forgotten how it goes.

And when that doesn't happen, all I have to do is let the song sit unsung a few days, and then the melody goes away, even when I have the chords mapped out. I have bunches of fragments, verses, and whole songs scattered around with no tunes attached to them. I have fingers enough, I'm pretty sure, to count the songs I've written over the years that I can sing and play now.

2) I know a recording device would help. I have the awfullest mental block about digital gizmos. There are several around, and I don't know how to work them. Edit: is there a software program around that will convert keystrokes to standard notation, make a songbook-style score?

3) I am stymied in overcoming these obstacles by the crushing feeling that nobody cares whether I sing my songs or not, not even me half the time.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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I have several "hardest parts":

1) Tunes.

Almost every day a fragment comes to me in the shower, and I'm able to get a lyric down--I often write it soggily on the backflap of whatever book I'm reading, which during my shower is lying on the toilet tank in reach, and there's a pen there somewhere--enough to flesh out verses after I towel off.

There in the shower there's a tune developing, but by the time I get the verses together I've forgotten how it goes. . . .
Yup. Happens to me all the time. Used to bug the hell out of me. Now I just shrug it off and say, "Plenty more where that one came from!"
2) I know a recording device would help. I have the awfullest mental block about digital gizmos. . . .
It seems like I'm practically alone on this, but I never record a song until it's done. Recording is a whole separate skill — for me, anyhow. I don't mix 'em. Likewise learning, performing, and nailing them: a whole other realm, a different craft altogether.
3) I am stymied in overcoming these obstacles by the crushing feeling that nobody cares whether I sing my songs or not, not even me half the time.
Nope. No one cares. Except the one who matters: you.

There! You've just been freed up to write! Five cents, please.
 

phenomenologydan

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For me, the hardest part of songwriting is usually coming up with the initial idea for the song. I often start with a general feeling or concept that I want to express, but it can be difficult to translate that into specific lyrics and melodies. Once I have a few sketched-out ideas, though, the rest of the writing process usually comes more easily. Then it's just a matter of refining the details and making sure everything fits together coherently. But for me, it all starts with that elusive first spark of inspiration.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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For me, the hardest part of songwriting is usually coming up with the initial idea for the song. I often start with a general feeling or concept that I want to express, but it can be difficult to translate that into specific lyrics and melodies. Once I have a few sketched-out ideas, though, the rest of the writing process usually comes more easily. Then it's just a matter of refining the details and making sure everything fits together coherently. But for me, it all starts with that elusive first spark of inspiration.
Funny! For some of us, the hard part is starting, for others, finishing.

I'm too impatient (and skeptical) to wait for the inspiration bus to stop here. So I do it the lazy way: just start strumming and scribbling and see where it takes me.

PS: The difference between a skeptic and a cynic: A skeptic says "This won't work." A cynic says, "Nothing will work."
 

39martind18

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My problem is constipation of the ideas. As we all know, in the case of constipation, I'll grunt and strain, and if anything comes out, it's musical fecal matter.
 

swarfrat

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Melody. I mean any monkey can noodle over chords. And while anything I write at this point ain't going nowhere, I still try hard to avoid getting roboclaimed. But coming up with memorable hooks ... That's the tough stuff.

I once bought a book on writing songs. My nephew asked "and what songs has he written?" Hmmm good point. Maybe I should be studying the people who are successful enough to sell their craft instead of writing their opinion about doing it
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Melody. I mean any monkey can noodle over chords. And while anything I write at this point ain't going nowhere, I still try hard to avoid getting roboclaimed. But coming up with memorable hooks ... That's the tough stuff.
Yeah, I think in words, so my stuff isn't all that hooky, and the hooks I do use sort of sound like talking.

My favorite hook is the one in the Dead's "Casey Jones." When you break it down, it's just the chord pattern | I V | IV I |.

Most hooks are like that: just a string of notes that follow a two- or three-chord progression of one or two bars. Even the hookiest players, like Joe Walsh and Steve Miller, are just doing that.

So my hooks tend to be built on chord foundations. It just feels like the natural way to do it.
I once bought a book on writing songs. My nephew asked "and what songs has he written?" Hmmm good point. Maybe I should be studying the people who are successful enough to sell their craft instead of writing their opinion about doing it
Just to keep the record straight, people who publish how-tos come from careers in their fields. Otherwise, they'd never find publishers to invest in them and would be relegated to bloviating in online forums (like this one).

But I don't use songwriting books. They all talk about "the process," and there isn't one. Or to be more exact, there are as many as there are songwriters.

I did attend a workshop once at a folk festival that had a panel of four singer/songwriter superstars. The moderator asked them all to describe their processes. The first three highly forgettable narcissists all went on at length about their processes — nothing useful, no wake-up calls, no handy take-homes. Strictly from Zzzz-ville.

The forth, Greg Brown, stood up and said, "First I write the words. Then I write the music." Then he took his seat again.

The moderator was miffed. Like, first words, then music, no angst, no inspiration, no long dark night of the soul? Nope. First he writes the words, then he writes the music.

I love him for that.

Someone gave me a fat book once of interviews with about a hundred well-known songwriters, one of those horse's-mouth affairs. I flipped through it. Absolutely useless, because they write in their ways and I write in mine. Why even worry about how they do it? It has no bearing on how I do it.

It's like Yoda says: "Do or not do. There is no try."

Talking about it and doing it are fun and rewarding, but there's no functional advantage to reading books about it. So you can chuck those how-to books with a clean conscience and put the time you would've spent reading into writing!

 
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studio

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The song itself is not particularly difficult for my simplistic style of work.
But the hardest part for me might be in the recording, and listener invitation to hear my music.

Sure, modern recording is its own animal but it probably takes as much mind power to learn to sight read, being the centuries old technology that it is.

My crisis starts when mixing my song, that I want it to sound like any other of the good songs on YouTube etc.

I really don't want to just output something that discriminate listeners will pass up because of some kind of ear fatigue! 🤔

Sometimes I don't even want to listen to my own song after I've published it to YouTube.

I have a good chunk of catalog that at this point, nobody will hear. Thanks.
 

chulaivet1966

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But the hardest part for me might be in the recording, and listener invitation to hear my music.
Sometimes I don't even want to listen to my own song after I've published it to YouTube.
I have a good chunk of catalog that at this point, nobody will hear. Thanks.
Howdy studio....

Ha....I hear you there.
Once my song is recorded I'm done hearing for some time.

Me too....I have a YT channel (along with Soundclick/Soundcloud) with no fan base....it's embarrassing. :)

What's your YT channel?
Hope all is well.

Back to it....
 

memorex

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Forty years ago, when I was active in the music biz, I recorded lots of demos that either I or my various bandmates wrote. We submitted them to several labels. We even had a couple of private showcases with record company execs. But alas, nothing serious came of it, and I got out of the biz.

Today, I still write a song once in a while, but I can never bring myself to start recording it, because I realize that it takes a long time to make a good sounding recording, and I'm not going make any money for doing it. And my former employer still pays me a generous hourly to write code for him 20 hours per week. When that gravy train ends, maybe I'll put a little more time into music production, if I live that long.
 

studio

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Howdy studio....

Ha....I hear you there.
Once my song is recorded I'm done hearing for some time.

Me too....I have a YT channel (along with Soundclick/Soundcloud) with no fan base....it's embarrassing. :)

What's your YT channel?
Hope all is well.

Back to it....
I just want it to sound good even if very few hear it. At least I did my bestest and I can have some dignity left when I walk away from the recording studio! Lol.

But honestly, it's like I heard the song a headache of times while tracking and mixing the thing. Now ya want me to quasi master it myself too?

It never seems to end my friend!
 

Sharp

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I started writing songs when I started playing guitar. I had a hard time learning other peoples songs, I’d pick the wrong chords, couldn’t sing and play, tried to do literal interpretations. I’ve written about 1000 songs or parts thereof, 50 or so that can be in my set. I’ve developed a quirky style that breaks some rules and makes the songs stand out a bit.

My problem is not pushing my music out there. I made a good record and then let it whither. Kind of a lack of ambition.

I’ve got a gig next month with a band I put together and we’ll play my originals. Some songs I wrote over 40 years ago. Most have never seen the light of day. They’re good tunes and I’ll use them to get a show at the Hillside Music Festival here in town. My band has good musicians and I’m really gonna push this act. My goal is to get a song recorded by an artist that sells.
 




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