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Get inspired – it’s time to write your first rock song

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In a classic episode from the radio show and podcast This American Life, reporter Starlee Kine recruited none other than Phil Collins to help her write her first-ever love song. The writer was reeling from a breakup and thinking about all the sad music was listening to. So this time, she figured, why not channel all those emotions into her very own torch song? The experience was cathartic and the episode, called “Break-up”, is one of the most beloved in the show’s history.

Songwriting can be one of the best ways to get your feelings out. There’s a reason why we go to so many songs – both happy and sad – when something significant happens in our lives. Whether you’re celebrating a wedding or dealing with the aftermath of heartache, music is there for you. If you’ve ever dreamed of fronting a band or pictured millions of people singing along to your words on the radio, there’s never been a better time to channel your inner Simon & Garfunkel and start writing.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have an expert piano or guitar player in order to write a song. Many bands come up with the lyrics first, later setting them to music. (Radiohead and The Talking Heads have even written some tracks through a method of pulling random lyrics and words out of a hat.) Start with an image or a phrase that appeals to you. Keep a notebook around and be prepared for inspiration to strike at any moment. The best songs have lyrics and melodies that somehow earworm their way into your heart and mind. They strike the balance of seeing simple but true, with almost a cliqued degree of familiarity. For instance, who knew Katy Perry’s “Firework” would still be remembered past its three-month shelf life? It’s also why Bruce Springsteen’s working class love songs and laments are still celebrated today.

You could try writing over a pre-recorded beat or instrument or bring your notebook to a musically inclined pal. If you want to jam it out, try composing along with your guitar or piano to a pre-recorded program like GarageBand. (You can purchase affordably priced guitars and at-home recording gear at Long-mcquade.com. This national music chain has 65 stores across Canada and most of their gear comes with a one-year performance gear.) Go with your instincts, there are no wrong moves in the creative process. If there’s a melody you can hum or a sound you want to emulate, record yourself and bring references along. While lots of songs have different structures to them, the most classic pop anthems usually build to a chorus, which comes crashing down and are repeated in a refrain throughout the recording. Listen to modern pop songwriters like Max Martin (“Since U Been Gone”, “Shake It Off”) and Christopher ‘Tricky’ Stewart (“Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”, “Umbrella”) for reference. Or go the folk route and listen to the absolutely devastating material by Carole King, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

When you’re ready to put it all together, it might be time to finally perform your masterpiece live. While it can be terrifying to literally sing your heart out, this could be the start of something great. Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren once said, “What makes a great song – you don’t put into words. You feel it. The perfect lyric. The perfect melody. It makes you feel something.” Get in touch with your emotions and write arock song today.

Photograph by Valentin Ottone

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