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Category: Songwriting

11 simple songwriting tips

1. Play lots of cover versions including lots of blues based songs. Learn the catalogue of songs from your favourite band. It's teaches you lots; tension and resolution, chords and chord structures, common chord patterns, common song structures.

Learning other peoples songs is learning the language and vocabulary of songwriting. You can learn songwriting structure from books - and that might help - but for me - and I suspect for you - playing songs as enjoyment is the best way.

"..most of our act were covers - we did millions of them.." Paul McCartney on the Jonathan Ross Show

2. Try to let your subconscious write the song: songwriting - certainly at the start of the process - is not a technical exercise; songs are not poetry written to a strict meter; not mathematics; not a puzzle that requires brain power to solve.

So don't think; just get out of the way; it wants to be written - catch it rather than writing it. It's not a logical process - it's a creative process; you already have all the tools you need.

"How does a person create a song? A lot of it is being open... to encounter and to... be in touch with the miraculous." Joni Mitchell

3. How do you come up with melodies? Hum tunes or make nonesense words while playing along with chords or find melodies on the notes of those chords.

'Can you hum?' was what Lionel Richie was told after asking the in-house songwriters how to write songs..

4. Write so often that it becomes a habit. Expect to write a huge amount of really crap songs. You will need to write those bad songs to get to the good ones. The more songs you write the quicker you will recognise the good and the bad. The more you write, the more you will write.

5. Inspiration produces a new song, craft is needed to finish it.

6. When you have an idea - write down absolutely everything related to it. It can really help if you are struggling to write the words for your song. This is also a great technique if you are writing collaboratively - it creates room for everyone to contribute their thoughts.

7. Recognise that most songs are made up of repeated blocks of chords. 2 chords repeated, 3 chords repeated, 4 chords repeated. If you stumble on a chord pattern you play those chords in different orders, different lengths.

8. Learn your instrument - play different styles, different instruments, different keys.

9. Review your song until it's right: get rid of cliche, get rid of verses that say the same thing. Get rid of words that don't sound good when you sing them. Listen to the how the song develops; does it stay interesting all the way through - does it develop dynamically?

10. Play your songs to people and in different environments. Overcome the fear of people not liking your songs; play them soon after you write them; you will get a sense of whether or not they are good. Record your songs and listen back with a critical ear - don't be afraid to throw away verses, change the order of verses, change the structure; experiment.

11. Ask yourself, Is there magic in this song I'm writing? A song is not words, a song is not music, a song is not just words and music.

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New Song: Sugarhill Road

A song written for Chris Paul Del Balso - thanks for your hospitality. :-)

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How is it possible to know what your best songs are?

For no reason I can think of - advice that I was given when I was 17 popped into my head. Which was, that you should only ever record your best songs.

How is it possible to know what your best songs are? When they are not necessarily; your own favourites; the most musically accomplished; the one's with the best arrangement or the best perfomance or best recording?

How do you know what your best songs are when some work better live and some work better recorded, those that people seem to like most are those you like least and those that are so simple you are embarassed by them seem to be the one's that people want to hear?

How do you know what your best songs are when you've been writing songs for thirty years but can only remember the one's you've written in the last year; and when your critical faculties are shackled by your own taste, prejudices and formative musical influences?

How do you know what your best songs are? No bloody idea. Not now - and I suspect - not back then.

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Giving Goose Bumps

There are many ways to gauge the impact your song is having on the world — how many monthly downloads you are getting, how many requests you are receiving for co-writes and interviews, and how many local bands are doing your song at the club (and we won’t even go into the burgeoning Karaoke scene). But arguably the best indicator of the true soul connection your song is having on other members of the human race is its ability to raise that involuntary response known as goose bumps. Read on for more tips on giving goose bumps.

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Understanding the Basics of a Melody

Today, I decided to come up with some melody basics to help you with writing songs:  http://www.songsbyjimbyrne.com/songwritingtips/melodybasics.php

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Finding your Melody

There’s no right or wrong way of hitting upon a melody. But if you are having difficulty finding your melody, here are helpful tips on how you can do just that: www.songsbyjimbyrne.com/sonwritingtips/findingmelody.php

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A Checklist for Songwriters

I have developed a songwriting checklist for all songwriters out there, beginners and pros alike. Check it out => www.songsbyjimbyrne.com/songwritingtips/achecklist.php

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Practice Makes Perfect

Here are some effective rhyming methods that are used to hold the listener’s attention and make the lyrics seem so easy to remember. I’ve been doing this exercise this week, and you might want to try it out => www.songsbyjimbyrne.com/songwritingtips/rhymingtips.php

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Making Melody Magic

Chances are you have some songs stirring in your soul already and a melody or two percolating in your brain. At this point, maybe you just want to know a little more about how to encourage and capture these “notes in conversation” and how to organize them into a song. Here are some tips on
Making Melody Magic

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Good songs don't need novel chord structures

When you learn enough songs you will start to notice that the same chord sequences pop up over an over again. This tells you that good songs don't need to have novel chord structures.

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Getting Some Perspective

The perspective of a lyric refers to whom a song is directed and who will deliver it. It also refers to the song’s timeframe. As a songwriter, you may have someone specific in mind to perform the song you’re writing. As you’re creating, you’re putting yourself in the mindscape of that artist and, depending on whether your target is male or female, rough or gentle, political or apolitical, religious or agnostic, or sarcastic or sincere, you are tailoring the perspective of the lyric to fit.

Find out all you can about an artist before you begin writing a song with him or her in mind. Try to write a lyric that stays within the boundaries of that artist’s persona. Discover the marital status, hobbies, passions, and philosophical leanings of this person by reading interviews and listening to other songs he’s written or chosen to perform.

When you’re writing a lyric, also be aware of the time perspective or tense in which you’re writing. The present tense is very prevalent in popular songs because it’s here and now and immediate. There’s no time like now to get an urgent message across. The past tense in a lyric looks back on a time or situation. The reflective nature of past tense encourages songs about what could have been and what should have been, but it can also celebrate the good times of the past.  People love to fantasize and futurize.

I sometimes like to combine past and present tenses in the same song. The combination of tenses adds movement to the action of a song.  Songs that come around full circle get me every time.
 

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Placing Beats In a Bar

The pattern of four beats to a bar and eight bars in a section is the most commonly used of all beat structures. Four beats to a bar is called common time (or 4/4). In these four-beat bars, the first and third beats are the strongest and usually receive an accented word from the lyrics (I call these on beats).

The second and fourth beats are weak, usually receiving an unaccented word (I refer to these as off beats). When a song is “in four” (or 4/4), it means there are four beats in each bar and each quarter note receives one beat. If a song is “in two” (also called cut time or 2/4), there are two beats to a bar with a quarter note getting one beat. A song “in three” (also called waltz tempo or 3/4) has three beats to each bar with a quarter note receiving one beat.

In each bar of music, you’ll find notes of different value — a whole note in a bar of 4/4 will last for four beats (the whole bar), a half note for two beats (one half of a bar), and a quarter note for one beat (one quarter of a bar). A quarter note can be subdivided further into two eighth notes (the notes coming twice as fast as a quarter note), four sixteenth notes (twice as fast as an eighth note), and eight thirty-second notes (you guessed it — played twice as fast as sixteenth notes). It’s this variation of note values that gives a melody its rhythmic movement.
 

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Working on a songwriting beginners guide

I've started writing some articles with the aim of putting together a short course for beginners to the songwriting craft. Here's the first article I've written, called Get a feel for how chords are put together in existing songs

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Working with Perfect Rhymes

A “perfect rhyme” is when the syllables of two or more words contain the same vowel and final consonant sounds, but begin with different consonant sounds (such as boat and coat or bullet and pull it).

It doesn’t matter how the word is spelled as long as the sound of the word is the same. For example, fight and ignite are exact rhymes even though they’re spelled differently (night and ignite are not rhymes because the two sounds are identical even though they are spelled differently). Conversely, love and prove are not perfect rhymes because even though they are spelled the same (other than their opening sounds), they’re not pronounced the same. Even the addition of an s at the end of a word technically prevents two words from being considered perfect rhymes. On the other hand night and ignite would not be considered rhymes because though the end of the word is identical, the preceding consonant needs to be different to be considered a rhyme.

Sometimes there are nuances between words that put their status as perfect rhymes in question. In the David Pomeranz and David Zippel hit “Born for You”), they rhyme stars with ours. Though there’s a slightly different vowel sound between the words, they sound virtually identical when sung.

Some writing teams of the past always used exact rhymes in their lyrics, otherwise they wouldn’t write it. Look up the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, and check out the wonderful perfect rhyming schemes.

Even if you are writing with a very successful songwriter in Nashville, don’t let them insist on using perfect rhymes all the time. You might end up writing a few good songs, but you also might just sacrifice some great emotion on the altar of perfection if you do. Sometimes the perfect word for a line does not happen to be a perfect rhyme.
 

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Getting the Basics of Rhyme Structure

Knowing full well you might get a laugh or two from some of the examples I’m about to use, I’ll give them to you anyway to simplify and illustrate the point, and provide you with the confidence required to master the almighty art of rhyme. If you are old enough to read, you most likely know the simple children’s song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and can easily recall the lyrics:

Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are

The words star and are are the rhymes. They have the same sound at the end of them because of the ar sound — pretty simple stuff, eh? This is rhyme at its most basic. You might chuckle at this example, but think about it. You remembered this couplet the second you heard it as a child, and can recite it today as if it were second nature. I’m ready to put my money on the fact that every person who is read this knows “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It’s the rhyme of this little piece that you remember, and that’s what renders it unforgettable. This is the perfect example of how powerful rhyme can be!

When you sit down to compose a song, you’re basically writing a poem and setting it to music. At its basic foundation, simple poetry has words that have a “beat” to them — and the last word of every line sounds the same. As in “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” the words star and are share the same sounds — about as perfect of a rhyme as you can find. Chances are good that your first-ever attempt at songwriting had a rhyming scheme that was similar. Perfectly legit, but if you have three verses of a song that all feature the same rhyme, it’s going to get really boring really fast!

In “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the rhymes come at the end of every other line. It’s perfectly acceptable to have the rhyme come at the end of the first line, and then have it hit on every other one. You can double it up, as well, having the odd lines rhyme in one way, and the even lines rhyme in another. As you can begin to see, the possibilities of rhyme are endless.
 

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Using Poetic Devices in Lyrics

Many times people ask what the difference is between poetry and lyrics, and they often get one of a number of stock answers. People may tell you that poems are usually read and not heard, yet if that were always the case, we wouldn’t have poetry readings. In reality, poetry is a kind of music on its own.

If you look up the word lyrics in Webster’s dictionary, you’ll find that it means “words expressing a writer’s strong and spontaneous feelings in a poem or a song.” The truth is that the principles of poetry apply to lyrics as well.

Through the centuries, poems have been set to music by composers. Some poems can be set to music virtually unaltered, while others must be tailored to fit the form of a popular song. Factors such as song form, rhyme, rhythm, song length, and singability all come into play.

Some songwriters are as much poets as they are songwriters. When you read the lyrics of songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jewel, it’s obvious that these lyrics have considerable power even without musical accompaniment. This is the hallmark of the poet who also happens to be a songwriter as well.

Bob Dylan changed his last name to Dylan as a tribute to the poet Dylan Thomas. (Bob Dylan’s given name was Robert Zimmerman.)

There is much to be learned by the songwriter from reading and analyzing great poetry.
 

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Paying Attention to The Sounds of Words Within a Lyric

Another often-overlooked element of lyric writing is the actual sound of the words themselves. Certain words and phrases roll off the tongue, and others just don’t. The most popular songs are ones that people love to sing. If the words sound odd and awkward, it doesn’t matter how deep the meaning of your lyric is, the message won’t be delivered effectively. Sometimes a great writer will throw in an unusual word or an unconventional pronunciation as a special effect.

Making the words flow

As you develop your lyric, try to include lyrical and poetic in your lyric. As these lyrics start finding a melody, be sure to try out your lyrics to see how comfortable they feel being sung. One way to help ensure that the sound of your words will be an asset to your song is to write as you would talk. If a lyric is conversational and informal, it’s more likely to be easy to sing and sound natural.

Baby is a word you’ll find a lot in songs, yet few people still use it in conversation. Some popular writers would sooner die than use this word. Yet, others have made a career out of using the word baby.

Another important element of a lyric is the point of view from which the lyric is sung. Hit songs have been written from every imaginable perspective. The first person perspective is perhaps the most popular of all the forms. This is where the story is told from the singer’s point of view — it’s also the most personal of all the points of view.

The first person approach to a lyric is many writers’ favorite point of view. Maybe that’s because so many of us use songwriting as a way of expressing what’s in our hearts — getting things off our chests. The singer/songwriter era in the ’70s spawned many songs from this perspective when the buying audience seemed fascinated by the innermost feelings of the introspective artists of that time. Even if you write a lyric from a personal perspective, before you finalize it, try changing the perspective to third person to see how you like it. Changing the perspective can sometimes add needed depth to a lyric.
 

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Starting With an Idea or Concept

Whenever the process of songwriting seems to become more of a craft and less of an art — more of a puzzle and less of a passion — it’s good to throw the tricks away (at least temporarily) and go back to the theme and concept.

Some of the greatest lyrics are remembered more for their idea or story rather than for their clever rhyme schemes, hooks, twists on the title, plays on words, or expanded clichés. A theme that matters to you can draw out some amazing emotions in, and often as, a sidelight. As a bonus, it helps you come up with some incredible titles, rhymes, and hooks.

Expanding the concept

After you have a concept — what the song is going to be about — you’ll want to elaborate on that concept and develop it into a story. Let your imagination run free.  Make note of all that your imagination dictates to you — the stars, the clouds, the terrain, the glow of your dashboard dials. These are the images that will illuminate your lyric.

There are plenty of things to think about when developing your concept. When writing a screenplay for a movie, one of the tips in training is to decide how the story will end up before you even begin. And so it goes with developing the story for your song.
 

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Starting With a Title

When you feel you have an intriguing title, the next step is to examine the possibilities of those words. Find unique ways to look at common words (or common ways to look at unique words!). Following is a list of some famous song titles. As a quick exercise, pretend you’re seeing the title for the first time. Now imagine the storyline that the title may imply to you, as if you just stumbled across it in your own notebook. How would the concept of your song differ, and how would it be similar to the hit? How would you put your own life experience into the lyric?

Oftentimes, a good title is a stepping-off point for a lyric and song. At its best, a title can literally sum up what you’re going to say in the song itself. Sometimes, I jot down potential titles from the words people say, things I see in newspapers or magazines, and phrases that seem to come to me out of thin air. “The Handle’s Broken on My Cup,” “Everyday is Sunshine” . . . in fact, most of my most popular songs have started life as ink stains between the lines of a spiral notebook, as a title I jotted down or one that someone suggested to me.

There are many ways to achieve a goal, and although in this example I’m suggesting one particular method of writing lyrics from scratch, I encourage you to find a style you’re comfortable with and one that works best for you.

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Concept-Driven Lyrics

Behind most great songs is a great idea or concept. A concept is a lyrical blueprint for the song (and its authors) to follow. A strong concept usually equates to a great song.

Write down the concept of the song in prose (the un-poetry sort of writing down the simple points of a story) when you start the song, and refer back to it frequently to make sure your lyrics stay on course. The concept is also referred to as a song’s premise — basically, a one- or two-sentence sum-up of what the song is about. If you can’t distill your idea into one or two sentences, perhaps your idea is too complex for one song or you lack a clear idea of what you want to say.

In many songwriting sessions, you may look back at the initial concept of the song and realize it has somehow morphed into something else. If this happens, you’ll have to decide just which song you want to write. You may have two songs in one, and that’s never a good thing. The focus of your song must be clear, or you run the risk of confusing the listener.

Don’t let the word concept intimidate you. A concept can be extremely simple — in fact, most successful songs have simple ideas driving them.



 

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Love Song Lyrics

Love is one of those dishes that can be served up a thousand different ways and still be a lyrical feast. Like Bubba’s shrimp list in the movie Forrest Gump, if you made a list of all the song titles that use the L word, it would reach from “here to New Orleans.”

The love song can range from celebratory to suicidal and all points in between, and still be considered a love song. Because love is the driving force behind much of human activity, writers never seem to run out of inspiration. In fact, every generation seems to recycle some of the same emotions, situations, and predicaments that love seems to breed, each time around, totally unaware that it was said before by other generations.

Let’s take a look at the variety of ways the subject of love can be treated:

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

This super-smash #1 hit by Aerosmith (written by Diane Warren) shows that top songwriters don’t get much better — or more popular — than Diane Warren. She was asked by Aerosmith’s A&R guy to come up with the main title for the soon-to-be-blockbuster film Armageddon — and what she came up with summarized the emotions of the film to a tee.

It’s touching without being sappy, sentiments that would have destroyed the street cred of a hard-rock band like Aerosmith in one downbeat!

In some future rock ’n’ roll encyclopedia, if you look up “power ballad,” this may be at the top of the heap.

“Love Story”

This love song uses the age-old and very effective Romeo and Juliet theme — hey, it was good enough for Bill Shakespeare! Composer and artist Taylor Swift uses the effective flashback device to add the dimension of time. This adds a somewhat dreamlike mood to the lyric and makes the listener wonder, did it really happen like this, or is she living an illusion? Notice the quick rhymes as she baits the hook: “We’ll make it out of this mess, it’s a love story baby, just say yes” and “go pick out a white dress, it’s a love story baby, just say yes.” This song was a hit for many reasons: Taylor’s vocal delivery, her persona, the strong melody, a hot video, and, more than any other element, the “relatability” to her target audience — a young audience that can relate to every word she says and can put themselves in the shoes of the modern day Romeo and Juliet.

When writing a love song, try to find a fresh angle from which to approach this subject. Look at some of your favorite love songs and notice the ways in which the writers have set their songs apart from the thousands of others.

When in doubt, follow your heart. If the sentiment rings true, you may have the start of a great new love song.

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Writing a Great Lyric

You’ve just bought yourself a brand-new laptop (the kind that weighs a couple of ounces and is paper thin). You’ve purchased a silver pen with your initials on it.  You also have your trusty digital audio recorder by your side, set to capture the cosmic overlap of words and music.

You’re ready to write a great lyric. But where do you start? Start at the heart. Find the subjects that matter to you most. Find the melodies that resonate in your soul.
Here are some of the ways the pros get started on their journey to writing a great lyric.

Take a look at using one of these suggestions as a starting point:
 

  • A title (from just about anywhere) that suggests a concept
  •  An idea or concept that suggests a title
  •  An experience you’ve had
  •  A cause you believe in deeply
  •  A storyline you’ve imagined (or lived)
  •  A catchy phrase
  •  A melody that suggests a lyric

Much of the process of lyric writing is experimentation and trial and error. Many writers prefer to start a song with a co-writer and finish it up separately (often getting back together one more time to compare notes and finalize the song). Like viewing a painting, it’s good to take a step back to see the whole picture clearly. There’s no need to force a lyric. You’ll find that if you just give it a little time (but not too much), the lyric will naturally come. It’s great to come back after a break and get each other’s fresh point of view.
 

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Being Prepared When Inspiration Strikes

Ideas will come into your brain while you’re in the strangest of places, at any time of the day or night. You’ve probably heard stories about how some of the greatest hits were born. Paul McCartney has said some of his best songs came to him in his dreams. Billy Joel also got the song “River of Dreams” from — you guessed it — a dream. And Sting, former lead singer of the group The Police, awakened in the middle of the night, wrote a song in ten minutes flat, then went back to sleep. The song? “Every Breath You Take.” (Makes you want to get plenty of shut-eye, now doesn’t it?)

When a melody or a lyrical idea pops into your head, make sure you have a way of freezing it in time. Try to carry with you, at all times, a notebook to jot down ideas and a digital recorder to capture your musical phrases. Never fool yourself into thinking you’ll remember the ideas when you get home. And don’t think that “If it’s really so great of an idea, I won’t forget it.” Some great songs will never be heard because the songwriter couldn’t reconstruct some once-in-a-lifetime moment of inspiration. Those cool ideas that you know you’ll never forget will be “dust in the wind” if you don’t have the discipline to write them down or hum them into the recorder when they hit.

A flash of inspiration may hit you when you least expect it. Be ready to catch it — then be prepared to work hard at turning the initial idea into a finished song.

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Jim Byrne on Songwriting

I'm interested in how other songwriters go about their craft; to that end I put together a set of questions that I send to songwriters. For a wee change, here are my own answers to the same questions.

Why do you write songs?

I enjoy playing my guitar and I like making things up; I guess I haven't lost that childish compulsion to invent things.

I get a lot of satisfaction from the writing process itself, i.e. the 'construction work' required after the initial inspiration.

Always at some point in the process of writing a song I'll think to myself, 'this song is a work of genius and it can't be anything other than a world wide smash hit'. It's great that I can fool myself every time; how could that feeling not make you happy?

What genre/style(s) do you write songs in?

Right now I write acoustic country blues style pop; Americana but with a Scottish/UK influence. In the past I've written punk songs, garage rock songs, swamp blues, jangly guitar pop, dissonant guitar music, and jazz influenced pop.

What type of music did you mainly listen to when you were growing up?

When really young - mainly pop music on the radio and anything that was on Top of the Pops. As a teenager; punk, rock, acoustic and electric blues, new orleans piano players, Jazz - and anything that was on Top of the Pops or the Old Grey Whistle test.

Name some of the artists you listened to when growing up?

Steve Forbert, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Big Bill Broonzy, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie & The Banshee, Buzzcocks, Talking Heads, Tom Waits, Bob Wills and his texas playboys, Hank Wangford, The Creeping Charlies, Professor Longhair, Dr John, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Big Star, Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, Grandmaster Flash, Reggae, Johnny Cash, REM, Dinosaur Junior, Orange Juice, Elvis Costello, Captain Beefheart.

What genre/type of music do you mainly listen to now?

I like lots of roots, rock, folk, pop and classical music - but I go through phases of listening mainly to a particular genre. Right now it's mostly stuff that has been influenced by old style blues, country and rock and roll.

Names some of the artists you listen to now?

Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell , W C Stoneking, Big Star, Song of Dave, Elliot Smith, Fionn Regan, Lambchop, John Prine, Avett Brothers, William Elliot Whitmore, Tom Waits, The Carter Family, Hank Williams, Nick Drake, Steve Earle, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Gram Parsons, Wilco, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Lisa Hannigan, Ryan Adams, Devendra Banhart, Eels, Beck, The Magic Numbers, Teenage Fanclub, The Poozies, Edwyn Collins, Gene Vincent - anything that Spotify throws up.

What cover songs did you first learn/play?

Beatles, Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry songs, twelve bar blues, Rockabilly and Rock and Roll, punk era songs from Siouxsie & The Banshee to The Sex Pistols.

What musician/bands in particular have you learned the songs of?

When young, The Beatles and Stones; now John Prine, John Martyn, The Carter Family, Gram Parsons, Big Star. I've played very few 'cover songs' over the years - though I'm intending to play a lot more in the future.

What age were you when you started writing songs?

Probably about 13 or 14.

How long have you been writing songs for?

Over 30 years.

What instrument (if any) do you mainly use to write?

I come up with initial ideas on Guitar but will play bass and keyboards when arranging the song.

Of those songs that you are most proud of, what is it you like about them?

I'm proud of different songs for different reasons. Some are very simple songs but they have endured - as I still play them years after they were written. Ultimately I suppose I like those that have the undefinable, 'good song magic' - whatever that is.

What is the first thing that happens - that leads to a song being written?

Mostly I pick up my guitar, put my fingers to the strings and play something. Occasionally someone gives me lyrics to work with - and sometimes something will just pop into my head that sounds like a chorus or the first line of a song.

What percentage of the songwriting process would you estimate is down to inspiration as opposed to perspiration.

Getting a songs started is 100% inspiration. Finishing a song is 100% perspiration. Makes not sense to me either.

What subjects do you mainly write about?

I've written a lot of love, relationship and domestic drama songs - but also songs about building houses, the weather, personal tragedy, philosophical musings, cars and holidays.

List three techniques that you use when writing songs.

An awareness of the idea of building and releasing tension in music, based on an ingrained understanding of simple blues progressions; trial and error when trying to find chords that fit a melody; openness to changing the song repeatedly to fnd the best way to play it or throwing it away if I decide it's not good enough to finish.

List three overall ideas or 'things that you know' that help you finish a song

The belief that when I'm stuck, the solution will appear sometime in the future. The belief that I can write songs that are worth listening to; the belief that I've recognised some magic in the early stage of the song - which is why I'm writing it.

How do you create melodies for your songs?

Most of the time I have a set of chords to work with and either I hum over the top or sing nonsense lyrics; the melody comes out of that process.

How do you come up with your lyrics?

sometimes I starts with nonsense words and eventually leads to one or two lines - which in turn leads to more words. At some point I decide what the song is about and write the rest of the words based on that. Other time I just come straight out with a set of words - in one big splurge.

Did you learn music as an academic subject?

No, though I can read music a bit.

If you had to choose - would you say you are better at - the words or the music?

Music probably - but I think I've got better at words in the last few years; helped by the involvement of my wife Pat in the songwriting process.

How did you learn the techniques/mechanics of songwriting?

By playing other peoples songs when I was younger and by continually writing songs.

What makes your songs different from everyone else's?

Everyone is unique; these song are by me - or by me and my writing partner and wife - Pat. I can only assume that's enough to make them different. Apart from that it could be the lyrics are a bit different from the norm; straightforward, lacking in pomposity (I hope) and avoiding anything that could be mistaken for poetry.

What advice would you give to a person who is just starting out writing songs?

Just keep writing songs. Ignore any negative comments you might ever get about your songs and believe that you are good at it no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented to you.

Where can people hear examples of your songs (URL).

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

Iona MacDonald

Photo: Iona Macdonald.

I want to know what makes other songwriters tick; how and why they write the songs they write.

With that in mind I've put together a set of questions which I'm sending out to the songwriters I know - and the songwriters I don't yet know. Tackling the questions today is supremely talented singer, songwriter and member of the Doghouse Roses, Iona MacDonald. Here is some information about Iona to give some context:

Paul Tasker and Iona Macdonald started playing music together soon after meeting in late 2005. Tasker's inspiration to play the guitar came after hearing legendary guitarist Bert Jansch in a Glasgow working men's club in the early 1990s.

Tasker & Macdonald formed Doghouse Roses in 2006, after one too many nights drinking red wine and listening to Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Gillian Welch records. Since then they have played many shows in the UK and Europe. They also started their own record label, Yellowroom Music, on which they have released one single, two EPs and a full length CD, distribution being handled by Proper Distribution.

Read more here:http://doghouseroses.org/biography

What is your name?

Iona Macdonald

Why do you write songs?

Because I always have and also because I am now in a band and they kind of come in handy.

What genre/style(s) do you write songs in?

Ordinarily in a folk style, although I have written a number of indie type tracks too that haven't been recorded.

What type of music did you mainly listen to when you were growing up?

Female singer songwriters.

Name some of the artists you listened to when growing up?

I got into the habit of stealing my sister's tapes. The first one I fell in love with was Tracy Chapman's eponymous album. I also listened to a lot of my family's other music... Bob Dylan, Tammy Wynette, Mary O'hara, Don Williams, Johnny cash, the Beatles, Anne Lorne Gillies. My dad's a gaelic singer, so I heard a lot of traditional music when I was younger, but wasn't steeped in tradition, as we moved to England and his passion was Scottish music (not so much of it kicking around down there!). I also listened to a LOT of pop music: Lisa Stansfield, Brand New Heavies, Soul II Soul, Kylie (!!!), ABBA, U2, the Bee Gees, Fairground Attraction, Whitney Houston, the Housemartins... I was very partial to a bit of Celine Dion (shh, don't tell anyone), because of her voice - I wanted to be able to hit all the notes that she could.

What genre/type of music do you mainly listen to now?

Mostly folk/blues/Americana, but I'm really not into putting music into boxes, to be honest.

Name some of the artists you listen to now?

Sandy Denny, Gillian Welch, Natalie Merchant, Steve Earle, Feist, Fairport Convention, Blind Willy Johnson, The National... it's a very long list and it changes every day...

What cover songs did you first learn/play?

I think that would have been hallelujah (Jeff Buckley version) and then onto a lot of Leonard Cohen.

What musician/bands in particular have you learned the songs of?

Leonard Cohen, Natalie merchant, Fairport Convention, Gillian Welch

What age were you when you started writing songs?

Can't remember. I always have done it - I just haven't always written anything down.

How long have you been writing songs for?

I've been writing with intent (and writing songs down) for about 7 years.

What instrument (if any) do you mainly use to write?

I usually use the guitar, although my best songs come to me as a melody in my head, prior to touching the guitar.

Of those songs that you are most proud of, what is it you like about them?

Melodic dynamic and connected emotion.

What is the first thing that happens - that leads to a song being written?

It pops into my head.

What percentage of the songwriting process would you estimate is down to inspiration as opposed to perspiration?

Difficult question. The song wouldn't arrive without inspiration, so 100% inspiration really. But, in terms of actual time, probably 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

List three techniques that you use when writing songs

Persistence, phrasing, performing

List three overall ideas or 'things that you know' that help you finish a song

Depends on the song. If it's a story, then it has to have a beginning, middle and end (usually). Other than that, it comes from the song and I don't like to use any generic 'ideas' as such in a song... that takes out the soul of it. I'd rather leave the song unfinished than brutalise it.

How do you create melodies for your songs?

In my head. The words/phrasing tend to suggest a melody, if they have come first. If I use a guitar to come up with a melody then it is ultimately limited by what I can play or what I have played before.

How do you come up with your lyrics?

I tend to focus on the mood of the subject I am writing about. I go from start to finish, whereas, I know people who create chunks of lyrics around a structure and then fill in the blanks. I don't think it matters, either way.

Did you learn music as an academic subject?

I learnt piano from the age of four, but have not studied academically.

If so how did it impact on your songwriting?

I'm glad I didn't - I can usually tell when someone is directly applying an academic technique to a song and, very often, it takes the soul of it away. Because you are taught the skills by an individual, you are judged on their subjective opinion of what you are writing. They might very well be completely wrong, or you might end up being a clone of them. Better to be judged by a wider audience, or just yourself.

If you had to choose - would you say you are better at - the words or the music?

The words, probably. But then, it's different for every song.

How did you learn the techniques/mechanics of songwriting?

By listening to a lot of different styles of music and knowing what makes me like them. In doing that, I can recognise the things that I like in my songs as I write them and then I know which songs are worth persisting with.

What makes your songs different from everyone else's?

What makes my life different from everyone else's? It's mine.

What advice would you give to a person who is just starting out writing songs?

Relax, don't force it. If a song comes to you, record it as soon as possible (mobile phones are good for this), or write it down. Remember that you don't have to finish every song... Just because you want to write songs, doesn't mean you'll be able to. It's a bit like deciding you want to be a tennis player... if you've got no hand-eye coordination and you're not very athletic, then you'll really struggle. Give it up. Above all, don't set out to write a particular kind of song, or to write like someone you admire... it sticks out like a sore thumb and it won't be believable, it'll be a pastiche.

Where can people hear examples of your songs (URL).

http://www.doghouseroses.org

Thanks Iona

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

Adam Levy on songwriting

Photo: Adam Levy.

I want to know what makes other songwriters tick; how and why they write the songs they write.

With that in mind I've put together a set of questions which I'm sending out to the songwriters I know - and the songwriters I don't yet know. First to tackle the questions is supremely talented Adam Levy: guitar virtuoso and noted songwriter. Here is some information about Adam to give some context:

"Adam Levy is best known for his tenure as the featured guitarist in Norah Jones' Handsome Band. He played on her breakout 2002 diskCome Away with Me, her '04 follow-upFeels Like Home, and her latest CDNot Too Late. In his downtime between steady gigs with Jones, Levy has been onstage and/or in the studio with Rosanne Cash, Amos Lee, M. Ward, and up-and-coming Aussie artist Eran James. In addition to Levy's skills as a player, he is a gifted songwriter. He penned "In the Morning" for Jones'Feels Like Home, and other artists have recorded his songs as well. There's no doubt, though, that the best way to hear Levy's folk/pop/blues gems is straight from the source." Copied from http://www.myspace.com/adamlevysings

What is your name?

Adam Levy.

Why do you write songs?

Two reasons. First of all, because I enjoy the process of writing. It's like finding a shiny coin in a bag of popcorn, watching it disappear before my eyes, then finding again somewhere else. Then losing it once again, and finally bringing it back by sheer force of imagination. Secondly, I write because there's something fantastic about singing a new song for people. But new songs don't stay new, so I keep writing.

What genre/style(s) do you write songs in?

I try to write classic songs--something you could imagine the Beatles singing, or Sam Cooke, or Leonard Cohen.

What type of music did you mainly listen to when you were growing up?

Classic American and British folk-rock of the late 1960s and early '70s.

Name some of the artists you listened to when growing up?

I remember listening to three records over and over when I was young--the Beatles' 'The Beatles' ('The White Album'), Cat Stevens' 'Teaser and the Firecat', and Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. I was also into Stevie Wonder's 'Songs in the Key of Life', the Doobie Brothers, some Chuck Berry, and Ry Cooder.

What genre/type of music do you mainly listen to now?

It's pretty random these days. People give me their own music, or make CD mixes for me, or recommend stuff and I'll check it out. I don't chase music as much as I used to. Maybe I should.

Names some of the artists you listen to now?

Sam Phillips, M. Ward, Wilco, Nick Lowe, Neko Case, and Gaby Moreno. Gaby is a relatively new artist--someone to keep an eye on, definitely.

What cover songs did you first learn/play?

My first, I think, was "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry.

What musician/bands in particular have you learned the songs of?

None in particular, though I can probably play 100 Beatle songs from having listened so much as a kid and through my whole life. I've rarely sat down to actually learn these songs. I know them deep down. I did learn "Julia" note-for-note a few years ago. It's so great!

What age were you when you started writing songs?

I started writing when I was 12 or 13, then soon stopped--as I got much more interested in playing the guitar for its own sake. I started writing songs again when I was 37 or 38. I'm 43 now.

How long have you been writing songs for?

As a real pursuit? Just the past six or seven years.

What instrument (if any) do you mainly use to write?

The guitar. And a pen.

Of those songs that you are most proud of, what is it you like about them?

That they seem inevitable. I don't feel I "wrote" them, so much as found them. They were going to be written with me or without me.

What is the first thing that happens - that leads to a song being written?

It can start in many different ways. I've been into starting from titles lately. If a turn of phrase hits me as interesting or intriguing in some way, I'll try to build a song around it. When I'm lucky, simply saying the phrase out loud seems to suggest a melody. If I've got a good title and a few notes of melody, that's enough to get me off and running.

What percentage of the songwriting process would you estimate is down to inspiration as opposed to perspiration?

For me, it's usually very close to 50/50.

List three techniques that you use when writing songs.

Use the meter and/or rhyme scheme of another song as a model. Use pen-and-paper (not the laptop) and keep the pen moving non-stop for a certain amount of time--say, 10 minutes, on whatever subject I have in mind. Write one line of lyric, at the top of a page, then fill the rest of the page with lines that rhyme with the first line.

List three overall ideas or 'things that you know' that help you finish a song.

Book a gig, or a recording session, or a song date with a friend. A real deadline is the only sure way I know to get a song finished.

How do you create melodies for your songs?

I often write words first, with a metric scheme in mind. (The meter may be inspired by another song, or a poem, or a roll of the dice.) Words written in strict meter, when read aloud, suggest melodies to me. That's the most natural way, for me.

How do you come up with your lyrics?

I'm driven by meter and rhyme, the old-fashioned way. I and I borrow ideas all the time--from poets, painters, film-makers. I try not to lift ideas from other songwriters, though I'm sure I do. I'm always happiest when the lyrics fell like strangers I'm meeting for the first time.

Did you learn music as an academic subject?

Yes. I studied music at the Dick Grove School (now closed) in Los Angeles, in the late 1980s.

If so how did it impact on your songwriting?

I'm not sure. Back then, I mostly was interested in studying jazz guitar. I don't think many of my songs reflect my jazz studies.

If you had to choose - would you say you are better at - the words or the music?

I think I'm naturally more gifted with music, but I work a lot harder at crafting the lyrics.

How did you learn the techniques/mechanics of songwriting?

Studying the mechanics of classic songs--Dylan, the Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Waits. Transcribing the lyrics by ear (not looking at them from a book or the Internet), watching how the chords move, how the words and melody become one.

What makes your songs different from everyone else's?

I don't know. I really don't know how to answer.

What advice would you give to a person who is just starting out writing songs?

Always be writing! Scribble ideas on whatever paper you have handy, right away. Sing into a portable recorder or leave yourself a phone message. Some ideas--many ideas, actually--will go nowhere, but you must follow where they lead. You always learn by trying, and by finishing what you've started.

Where can people hear examples of your songs (URL).

http://adamlevy.com or http://youtube.com/bagelwide

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

A new songwriters website?

Been thinking about an idea for a new songwriters' website, which would include the following:

  • Unfinished songs vault; upload unfinished songs; browse and download those you like and want to finish. Upload: chords, words and an mp3 demo.
  • Upload your 'How I Write My Songs' articles: description of how you write your songs; sharing personal songwriting experiences.
  • Songwriting tips drawn from existing published sources.
  • Social networking around songwriting; yes another bloody one.
  • A safe environment for presenting new songs - even if they are unfinished.
  • A feedback system that only allows positive constructive comments. Believe me - this will be a lot more helpful than so-called 'honest' feedback.
  • Articles about famous songs?
  • info about song marketing?
  • info about song arrangement?
  • Facility to find a songwriting partner?

What's needed?

  • A website - with appropriate software to make the stuff above work.
  • At least one person to be the center of the network; encouraging, promoting, building and inviting content, interviewing songwriters. Would need someone with time, interest and good communication skills.

Why bother?

What would make this different from existing websites and magazines about songwriting and songwriters?

  • Non-judgemental approach; positive only feedback.
  • Songwriters thinking about and writing about how they create songs.
  • The mix of features? I don't know if the above features exist on existing websites - could be they are unique?

Things to worry about

  • In relation to the unfinished song vault: everyone will need to agree to a set of rules related to the resulting ownership in order for this to work.
  • How to resolve disputes regarding ownership.
  • Lack of time and resources to build a big enough initial network to make it useful.
  • Stamina of the people running it -
  • Spam
  • Disruptive individuals who won't follow rules and want to tell members that their songs are rubbish
  • Money to get it up and running and develop it.

Post your comments on my Facebook music page; is this a good idea? Or contact me via my contact form or phone for a chat 07810098119.

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

The songwriters' dilemma?

Was thinking yesterday about songwriting, about my awareness of different musical genres and about how best to be a songwriter in the future.

Here's the picture; when young you write and play the music that is 'yours'; it's obvious; it's what excites you; it's what your friends like. I.e., it's 1977 you like punk, you join a band and you play punk music and you write punk songs. Another generation grows up listening to dance or electronica or grunge or whatever - again if it's your music - that's what you play and write.

You get older - you still play music - your tastes change and you latch on to different forms of music that excite you; what you write and play changes accordingly. You get older still - and for whatever reason the notion of a particular type of music beng 'yours' diminishes. i.e., you don't have the emotional and cultural ties to a particular form of music you did when you were a teenager.

Now, assuming you are not writing music entirely in response to what you think the market wants; how should you respond to this change?

Do you put out CDs that contain a host of different genres - because you just write music intuitively - and don't worry about the style of the songs you write. Or do you decide to narrow your focus because you know nobody is interested in the jack of all musical genres (so to speak) - and intuition tells you that to do so would probably mean the end of playing and writing (no audience would be a good reason to stop)? Is it dishonest to decide instead to concentrate on a particular genre of music? Or is that the only reasonable response?

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

Featured in the Clydebank Post

My mum phoned to tell me that I'm featured in the local newspaper, The Clydebank Post. :-) The article is about the gig in Old Kilpatrick on Monday; a gig to raise money for a memorial garden for the people who have taken their lives by jumping from the Old Kilpatrick bridge.

These gigs are being organised by Ann Morgon; Anne's partner Hamish took his own life a number of years ago. The song, 'You can't catch the butterfly' - which you can hear on my Myspace player - was written by myself and Pat at Anne's request - to be played at the fundraising concerts.

If we can figure out how to do it - the plan is also to release it as a single with profits going towards the memorial garden. If you have expertise in this area and would like to help get in touch.

All the best,
Jim

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

A song written to play at the Butterfly Ball - to raise fund for a memorial garden

I was asked to write a song by Ann Morgan; a good friend of both myself and Pat. Ann is raising funds for a memorial garden in Old Kilpatrick to remember all those who have taken their lives by jumping from the Erskine Bridge. Ann's husband Hamish took his own life in that manner.

Initially I drew away from taking on such a responsibility; I wasn't sure I was up to the task - however with a bit of help from Pat this song appeared. The words were always going to the most important part of this song; hopefully we have been up to the task. I sent Ann a rough recording of the song and she said 'We love it' - so that's great to know.

Words and music by Jim Byrne and Pat Byrne

You can't catch the butterfly

Your life is short, but beautiful
you do not fear the dying day
flying free, warm summer breeze
from flower to flower your path is clear

You display your colours, for all to see
and it's nature's job just to keep you free
but fragile thoughts are just like a butterfly's wing
so easily torn, and with a troubled soul
there's the pain that brings

But you can't catch the butterfly
it's always on the wing
so don't shed a tear
your memories will keeps them near

An innocent, magic man
so many gifts, so full of charm
you heard him laugh and tell his tale
gave his family love
gave his friends the same

You can't catch the butterfly
it's always on the wing
so don't shed a tear
your memories will keeps them near

Your life was short, but beautiful

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

New songs uploaded: You always look for the good in me

I've uploaded a new song. It's are rough home recordings - so I aplogise that is not studio quality. It's just me playing my acoustic guitar and singing - while sitting in our living room.

The songs is called, 'You always look for the good in me'. I wrote about the process of composing this song on my first songwriting blog (January 11th 09). It has been through quite a few revisions since then - including a change of key and a change of Rhythm. It is a song from the point of view of people who have been together for a while - and who still love and support each other. Pat contributed to the writing of the lyrics on this song - and I have to say - I think she did a great job. :-)

I'd appreciate any feedback you have after listening.

Lots of gigs in the pipeline I've got quite a lot of gigs coming up over the next few months (full list at http://www.myspace.com/dexterslim). Gigs I'm particularly looking forward to will be the one's I'll be playing with Jan Byker and Kenton Hall. Jan is from Holland and Kenton is from England. I met both Jan and Kenton at a songwriting retreat over in Italy. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with them when they come to visit - and also looking forward to playing music with them.

Other things coming up include a redesign of my website (hopefully in the next few weeks) and some recording of new songs with backing from some talented people. I'll keep you posted if the plans come together.

All the best, Jim

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

Songwriting and radio interview

I'm always coming up with ideas for new websites, new businesses and new plans for a bright and shiny future. But - as everyone and their granny always points out; while you're busy planning - the stuff of life just happens - sometimes uninvited and mostly unexpected.

For example, in the last few weeks (as I've mentioned before - maybe I mention it too often) I've found out that a song I co-wrote will be included on Marti Pellow's next album - and in the last few days I've co-written a song with a fantastically talented and well known singer songwriter. None of these were in any plans I'd ever made.

I love writing songs; I love the process of creating something when nothing existed before; and I love developing songs so that they have strong personalities. A brand new song can be like the wine a cook pours into a saucepan to make a sauce; developing a song is like putting the heat on the wine; making the flavour more defined and stronger. A Tenuous analogy I know, but I've been watching too much Masterchef on the telly lately - and I expect you get the idea.

In truth, writing with other people is a relatively new thing for me - but it's definitely something I'll be doing more of; for example, many of the songs I've written recently have been co-written with Pat. This includes a simple Lullaby written a few nights ago - and the song I wrote about in my last songwriters blog; hopefully I'll get some of these songs recorded soon.

If you read my last post - you will know I'm going to be appearing on the Mary Kathleen Burke show on Sunday (Celtic Music Radio 7pm till 9pm). I intend to play the new songs and give my co-writers a name check - so be sure to listen in.

Please get in touch and say hello while I'm on the show - via the email studio@celticmusicradio.net and if you know any of my tunes feel free to send a request. I'll be very happy to hear from you.

Put the date and time in your diary: this Sunday evening between 7pm and 9pm. You can listen to the show on the web via http://www.celticmusicradio.net or 1530AM. :-)

After the show I'll be going along to the Butterfly and Pig to play a set. This wasn't a gig I planned - but Callum, who runs the Sunday evening session asked me to fill the slot as someone had canceled at the last minute. I'm happy to play - in particular as also playing that evening will be Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence - a couple of great musicians we met when we were up in Colonsay at the Colonsay Folk festival. I'm looking forward to meeting them and catching up with their news.

That's all for now.

All the best,
Jim

------ Buy the album On these dark nights by Jim Byrne

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

Hand injuries, blues stomping and in awe of Kris Drever

What have I been up to since my last update? Well in terms of playing I've been taking a rest as I seemed to have overdone the guitar picking lately; resulting in a very painful and stiff couple of finger on my left hand.

I had been planning to practice a couple of new songs this week - for the gig tonight at the Woodend Bowling Club (with Scott MacDonald and Jay Brown). I'm looking forward to the gig - but I don't think I'll be playing anything new - unless I have late burst of practice today. However, I'm expecting it will be a good gig - as both Scott and Jay are experienced performers and songwriters.

Talking of songwriting - I'd been writing a stompy kind of blues song recently - which when I've practiced it for 3 months solid will include percussion; played with my legs - one with an egg shaker down my sock (taking the job of a snare) and the other making use of the foot stomper type noisy thing that Seasick Steve uses (i.e. to simulate a bass drum). That's the idea - if it ever happens it will be a miracle.

Apart from injuries - there have been a few other interesting things going on. On Sunday evening Pat was the guest of Ciaran Dorris on his Celtic Music Radio Show - the show is based around the 'Desert Island Disk' idea - but called, 'The Dorris Island Experience'.

Luckily for me Pat choose a couple of tracks from my CD to take with her - which meant both 'The Holiday Song' and 'The handle's broken on my cup' got played on the radio (cunning eh!). I was in good company as the other tracks she chose where one by Kris Drever who is a current favourite of ours and a track by the Buena Vista Social Club. The books Pat mentioned she would take with her to the island included, 'Along the Great Western Road' by Gordon R. Urquhart and a book by Denise Mina (I didn't catch the title of the book). Denise Mina is one of Pat's favourite writers. The choice of the book by Gordon Urquhart is related to the fact that Pat runs the Glasgow West End community website - so it was an appropriate choice.

After the radio show, Pat, with all the Celtic Radio presenters in tow, turned up to see me at the Butterfly and Pig gig later that evening. It was a busy - and noisy gig. The noise didn't bother me too much (anyway, I was having my own internal battles playing through the pain in my hand) - but Mary Kathleen Burke who was also playing that evening - found it quite difficult to concentrate on her singing with such a racket going on.

Other things of note included being the guest blogger on the Spiral Earth website (Thanks to David Kushar http://spiralearth.co.uk/) and having my CD reviewed by the singer and songwriter Helen McCookerybook:

"I have been listening to Jim Byrne's CD, On These Dark Nights and have been enjoying his guitar pickin', especially on the track Weather Girl, which has a sparkly old-timey feel. I also particularly like the countryish Tenderness, but the best track (I'm a sucker for the catchy ones) is Sunday Morning, which has a strong riff and a sing-along chorus, and a dark little twist to the lyrics. "

Thanks Helen, very generous and nice of you to say.

Last night we went along to see 'Drever McCusker and Woomble', i.e. Kris Dever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble, at the ABC as part of the Celtic Connections programme. As I mentioned I'm a real fan of Kris Drever - he's just seems to be a natural music maker and communicator when he sings. I can't put it into words what it is that makes him so good (arpart from the amazing voice, great songs and fantastic guitar playing) - he's just got it - whatever 'it' is. I'm also a fan of McCusker's fiddle playing - and his general musical genius like behaviour.

Any I'd better stop there and get some practice in for tonights gig, without overdoing it and exacerbating my current injuries.

All the best, Jim

Click this link to download two free tracks plus a unique ringtone

A songwriters blog

Millie McTernan emailed me after listening to my CD to say that - as a songwriter herself - she is interested in hearing about the process other songwriters go through - and suggested I should write a songwriting blog.

Hmm - this might - or might not - turn out to be that blog. For now though, I'll give it a go.

Thinking about the last song (a very very simple song based on a fairly traditional chord progression) - this is how I remember it evolving:

Writing a song: the first thirteen steps

1. Picked up the guitar and played - with no intention of writing anything - just messin'; at some point an interesting rhythm and feel caught my ear.

2. I developed a basic chord progression that seemed consistent with the style of the rhythm.

3. I played through the chords absent-mindedly - over and over again. When my brain decided to spit out a line of nonsense lyrics, I scribbled them down. I'm not trying to make any sense of anything or trying to write a song about anything in particular - just waiting to see what comes out - with little sense that I'm in control of the process.

If I was being airy fairy I'd say I'm trying to open the door to my sub-conscious mind - in the hope that it does the work or writing this song for me. Or perhaps it's that classic idea that I've heard other songwriters mention; trying to capture as song that already exists out there - and just transcribing it.

4. I forgot about those first lyrics (I usually lose them) - and repeated step three for a few days - scribbling down different lines.

5. Kept banging away at the chords until I seemed to be singing the same couple of lines - lines that somehow feel good in my mouth - and reflect the feel of the chords and rhythm. Wondered what the song was about - I didn't know at this point.

6. Came up with a few more lines that seem to follow on from those I have. Looked at them - still didn't know what it's about.

7. Let my wife Pat hear my idea for a new song. She asks me 'what is it about?'; this helps me focus more on the subject matter of the song. I often use Pat as a sounding board for new song ideas.

8. Pat - being a 'let's get it done' kind of a person encourages me to do more work on it - and we start to work on the lyrics together.

9. At this point in every song I have ever written I go through a period of 'is this a crap song or a good song, is this song worth writing, does it have any magic in it, should I stop wasting time on it right now.' I go through a period of liking it, not liking it, thinking it's crap, thinking It's got potential, thinking I don't like the words, thinking there are some words I do like and so on ad-infinitum. I also think - 'would I sing this song live and would I record it - is it in a style that is consistent with who I am - is it in a style I'm comfortable playing and putting my name to.

10 At this point - many songs hit the skids and I don't take them any further - say 1 in 10 or more - don't get past this stage. As we are talking about the last song written - clearly this one got beyond stage 9.

11. Play it over and over again - getting a clearer sense of the song - and changing the words accordingly. Also changing the words so that it feels nice to sing, has words that I'm happy to have written (or co-written as Pat is now helping with words for this particular song) - and are stylistically consistent throughout the song.

12 While this a going on I was developing the chords and the melody. I never think about developing a melody; the melody is just whatever I sing; it's formed by the words, the style of the song; the chord structure; my likes and dislikes; my singing style. None of this is done consciously - the melody just develops as the song is written. The chords usually arrive - as I develop the idea of what type of song this is - and what chord progression is consistent with this type of song.

My 30 years of playing my guitar and writing songs - probably comes in to play here. The building of tension, releasing tension idea, that is part of blues music (which I listened to and played a lot when I was younger) probably plays a part in helping develop the chords. So does a knowledge of chords that go together in a particular key; which from my point of view is drawn from experience not from any technical knowledge or musical study.

13 I know that forever more there will be lyrics in this song (and every song I've ever written) that I will never be completely happy with, and bits of the music that I'll never be happy with. But - there comes a point when I'm no longer writing the song, no longer changing the lyrics and no longer developing the chords. The creative tension that led to writing the song has dissipated; the song has been written; it's finished.

The song this blog describes is not at this point yet - it's still being written - though it's nearly finished; most of the words are written and all the melody and chords are done. I'll post a rough demo of it when it's finished; after what I've written above I'm sure it will be an anti-climax to hear this particular song - as I said it's the simplest of songs; and quite light in tone and subject.

All the best,
Jim

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What the critics said about 'Every day is sunshine' by Jim Byrne.

  • "a heady and exotic mix. " Q Magazine.
  • "..full of cinematic turns of phrase, dressed up in alluring melodies delivered by some of the most respected players on the modern-day Celtic Folk scene." UNCUT
  • Album of the week on Celtic Music Radio
  • Added to 'God's Jukebox' on Radio Two Mark Lamarr show
  • "A beautifully produced collection of Americana" The Daily Record. Four Stars
  • "Great record... a complete, compelling listen. ", Adam Levy (Songwriter/artist, guitarist with Nora Jones)
  • "ten beautiful, atmospheric songs..", Folk, Blues and beyond
  • "a fresh, original album", Eilidh Patterson (singer songwriter, vocalist with Beth Nielsen Chapman)
  • Sounding like Johnny Cash never left Folsom prison...meditations on life that'll soon sound like old friends. Spiral Earth

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