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Toni Land's Top 8 Songwriting Discoveries

Reprint from Portland Songwriter Association Newsletter-December 1999

Notes from Toni Land's Songwriter Presentation for Nicola Gordon's Songwriter Class, Santa Barbara, California 9/29/99

When Nicola asked me to come and share my songwriting process with her class, I initially hesitated because I'm a performance coach not a songwriting teacher. I have written songs for over 25 years and I've made more than a nickel doing it so I guess that puts me in the professional category. I decided to share some things I discovered not things I've read in books. The fact is I haven't learned that much about songwriting from books except maybe how to start up my hard drive and load my Word program. The following are truths for me. They may or may not resonate with you. They are not scientifically proven.

#1 Space

This is where songs come from. You can't make creativity. It seems you have to allow for it. This seems to come from completing or finishing things in my life e.g. clean house, communications that need to be made and other things that are buzzing around my head.

#2 Creativity

Creativity can be used for writing songs, creating paintings, making babies, building houses, and for me, writing and delivering performance workshops. Although in principle this juice may be unlimited, in my physical world it seems to be finite. Therefore I have to choose where to use it. I try and make choices about it that produces more songs than clay statues, homemade quilts or architectural plans.

#3 Songwriting is a muscle

Songwriting works better with regular shorter practice than inconsistent long marathons.

#4 Songwriting is developmental

Songwriting is an art form that goes through stages of development. Children learn like this. Children learn to walk before they run. They don't speak in paragraphs until they speak in words and short phrases. You can't really skip the steps to learning to write songs, although with the right stimulation you might accelerate your process. Prodigies may be exceptions to this sort of development but I would guess even Mozart's work at ten was probably more developed than at five.

#5 More on the developmental process

These are some of the characteristics of less experienced songwriters compared to more experiences writers.

a. Earlier writing tends to say too much in a song. There tends to be too many ideas that are often only vaguely related.

b. Rhymes are used at the expense of semantics. It takes time to be able to handle saying what you mean and saying it eloquently with rhymes.

c. Being clever without heart. Emotional impact is what popular music is all about and it comes from a connection to both the heart and mind. Cleverness is cool but it's not enough.

#6 Great songwriting comes out of commitment.

I don't understand the word "hobby" when it comes to songwriting. I don't recommend it for anyone who isn't compelled to write. If you are looking for a hobby, try something that makes money, requires less heart and soul, and is just plain fun.

#7 Art and Business

There is a big distinction between good art and good business sense. It's great if you can do both.

#8 The good news and the bad news

The Bad news...Songwriting will challenge you and make you crazy for a whole lifetime.
The Good news...If you keep doing it, chances are you'll get better at it.

One more tip: A mother doesn't just love her newborn child. Try loving all your creations including your earlier work. They got you where you are now.

Toni Land

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Stagework courses are led by Toni Land, performance coach and creator of "The Power of Performance" workshops.  She is a professional performer, award winning songwriter and recording artist.  

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