Whether you are new at writing songs, or you’ve been doing it for a while, eventually you’ll notice something about the process: it comes in stages. Great songs are born inspired by the perspective of the writer, and the emotions he or she may be feeling. Some songwriters would agree, however, that the art of writing a song does’t come in to play until one begins editing the raw idea into something more polished.
In his course, Song Factory: The Song Grows Up, Ellis Paul takes you through the process of moulding the raw ideas you come up with. This way, you can dive into the science of songwriting, and how you can make song truly come to life.
Here are six video songwriting lessons from the course. But, for the full course, check out Ellis Paul’s Song Factory: The Song Grows Up on TrueFire!
Songwriting Lesson – Rose Tattoo: Full Song Performance
In this chapter, I sing “Rose Tattoo” a song about a family struggling through economic hardship. Here are the lyrics:
Rose Tattoo by Ellis Paul
I got laid off, it’s Monday
And I’m calling to tell you
It don’t sit with me well
I feel like I failed you
You say, “We got each other
And that’s plenty enough”
And I know that’s true
But we’ve got one kid coming
And one still in diapers
It’s a rainy drive home
With one good wiper
Leave the porch light on
I need a beacon
Just to pull me to you
If I ever lost you
I would be lost too
Just drifting in a sea of blue
You’re in my skin
Like a rose tattoo
Like a rose tattoo
Now, the economy’s crashing
And this poor boy’s laughing
Cause there’s nothing to lose
We don’t live in no mansion
There’s no bling to put on
Only Walmart fashion will do
Inside the house the baby’s screaming
And the pasta is steaming and
I look through the windows
It feels like I’m dreaming
You pull the door open and say
“Daddy, when you comin’ home?”
You say, “We’ll fight for the best case scenario”
Then you put Van Morrison on the stereo
Sure there’s trouble in the boardrooms
Trouble in the factories
Trouble in the alley out back
But we’ve got love in these patterns
Love is what matters
And baby, I’ve got your back
I’ve got your back
I’ve got your back
Hey, I’ve got your back
Songwriting Lesson – Your Verses: The Story Begins
This chapter deals with the verses. Verses define the information of the song. Who’s talking, who are they talking to, what are they talking about? It’s also a moment being heard by a listener, how do the verses treat the listener? Depends on the song. Here, the listener is overhearing a private conversation between husband and wife. It increases the vulnerability of the moment. The verses paint imagery that the mind of the listener needs to interact with. Tap into your own life in order to paint that picture. Don’t be afraid to access moments in your life that were hard, joyful, meaningful. Look for lines that lie flat. You want to paint a picture using active verbs that create an image in the listener’s mind.
Songwriting Lesson – Chorus: The Emotional Lift
The chorus usually has an emotional, spiritual, philosophical shift from the verses. In “Rose Tattoo”, the song uses space, a staircase melody, a lyric that is more about feelings, and sustain notes.
First, think of your favorite song. Does the chorus have an emotional, philosophical, spiritual shift from the chorus. Define what it does on paper.
Then, look at your song and the shift from the details of the verses to the more emotional, spiritual, metaphorical in the chorus? Define what your chorus is doing, and how you can make it better.
Songwriting Lesson – The Innocence & the Afterlife: The First Draft & Song Concept
Here’s the acorn to the oak tree story of my song, “The Innocence and the Afterlife”. This song came from the guitar first. It was a Celtic styled pattern I fell into one day that sounded both very somber and beautiful, like it could played at an Irish funeral. I decided to bring my father’s death into it, and I remembered the day I explained his passing to my daughter who was five and how beautiful that conversation was. That became the idea for the lyric.
Songwriting Lesson – The Innocence & the Afterlife: The Mission Statement & Editing
The challenge here was making it believable. Vulnerable. So I start with, “This is my true life story.” It’s a universal conversation parents have with their kids about the passing of loved ones. But not many songs have been written about that moment. That makes it unique, and why it should be heard. It’s a private conversation but one we all have with our children. It’s universal in that way. I explain how the song drifted across the wheel and became refined draft to draft. The poetry was important. The flow of the words had to be in a perfect dance with the flow of the melody. The key was how the phrasing and melody weaved together like a braid.
Songwriting Lesson – The Innocence & the Afterlife: The Final Version Performance
This is a full performance of “The Innocence and the Afterlife”.
Digging these free video songwriting lessons? Check out Ellis Paul’s Song Factory: The Song Grows Up.