Finding a place to learn

At the Nashville producer’s suggestion to find other songwriters in my area, I did some research and found the Arizona Songwriters Association. I discovered that they had a Songs in Progress workshop once a month at the Glendale Public Library and in June 2016, I decided to give it a try.

Not knowing what to expect, I asked my husband to accompany me on guitar and we recorded a song I’d been working on, “Among the Shadows.” He has a good ear for music and can play by ear and understands music theory much more than I do. As you can tell by the recordings I’ve posted so far, my guitar playing wasn’t very strong at that time and I typically used the same chords in every song. I felt like this recording brought my song to a different level, one that I felt comfortable bringing to this songwriting group.

At the time I wrote this, there was somebody at my office going through a difficult time and she had recently shared that information with my co-workers. She had kept it quiet before then and nobody had been aware of what she was facing during her hours out of the office. That realization led me to this next song.

We live among the shadows, life illuminates behind
Each facing their own battles with troubles on their mind
We greet each other with a smile, crossing paths throughout our day
Idle chit-chat in the lobby, pretending we’re OK

People often hide what’s going on inside.

I thought I saw you crying, though your tears were wiped away
We don’t see each other’s struggles as we go about our day

I know that I tend to not share much of my personal life with my co-workers, except in some rare cases, and I realized this was true for many people. Everybody has their own thing that they’re dealing with, whether it be health-related, financial challenges or family issues – the “shadows” hanging over their heads as they go about their day.

We also never know what’s going on people’s heads. Are they going through a break up? Dealing with a family member’s illness? Overwhelmed by life? You should try not to judge others because you never know what is going on in their lives – or in their heads – that makes them respond in a certain way.

We live among the shadows, seeking solace where we can
Immersed in our memories, grieving unfulfilled plans
I thought I saw you crying, but your smile hid it well
If you feel broken on the inside, on the outside I couldn’t tell

All that we can really do is be kind to others and try to help when we can.

We live among the shadows, yearning for a little light
Thirsty for a show of kindness, dreaming of a peaceful night

We’re all just trying to get through the day and live our lives.

I thought I saw you crying though your tears were wiped away
You’re turning toward tomorrow as you try getting through today

Songs in progress workshop

The Songs in Progress workshop is organized by the Arizona Songwriters Association and led by Jon Iger (who was just inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame yesterday at the songwriting gathering) and Randy Brown.

Both are professional songwriters who have had songs placed in TV shows and movies and I think it’s so wonderful that they devote this one afternoon each month to helping songwriters. Songwriters bring a song in any format – some bring their song on a CD, others bring a guitar and perform live and lyricists read or sing their lyrics.

The meeting starts with an educational component, where Randy or Jon share some songwriting tips then they give feedback on everybody’s songs and other participants are welcome to share their thoughts as well.

Here were the critiques/compliments about “Among the Shadows”:

The main critique of my song was that the chorus and the verses sound too similar and need some more differences between the two. Not a big surprise as I used the same chords throughout, although I tried to switch the order in different places.

One person really liked the lyrics and the message behind them.

One person said he liked my singing voice and that the song had a Pretenders sound to it, but he was waiting for the big chorus that never came.

Some tips that I found really helpful:

A song is a short story – it should have a beginning, middle and end (especially in the singer-songwriter and country genres.)

When writing a song, decide what the goal of the song is – is it for commercial purposes? If so, what kind? A specific genre?  To get picked up by radio? (If radio, it should be about 2 1/2-3 minutes long, which pretty much all of my songs are.)

Who is the singer singing to?

One of the things that came up is whether you write the lyrics first or the music first. Up until this point, I had always written the lyrics and melody first and then added the instrument. That could explain why my music up until now seems to sound so similar.

That evening, I started writing a new song, determined to write the music and the lyrics at the same time as I worked on the song. And I also learned a new chord: C.

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