Songwriting Interview with Ian Sherwood
Songwriting Sprints, writing songs for your album in record time!
While I was talking with Ian Sherwood about Bring the Light, his latest album, how he recorded it and how it’s been doing since its release.
He said something that struck me:
Ian had more than 40 songs to record for the album, but he took time off and over 3 weeks wrote 6 more!
This left me with three questions that I needed to answer:
- Why write new material for an album, when he already had too many songs to record?
- How to write that many songs in a short time?
- How to set up a songwriting sprint to create a batch of new songs?
Ian, what was your motivation to write more material when you already had 40 songs ready to record?
I needed new songs. I already had a lot, but I had performed and toured with some already. They weren’t current, they weren’t the right songs, they weren’t where I was at the time. I had to meet myself where I was artistically, instead of stepping into my past. My old songs were old news. As you grow as a person your songs and your songwriting grows and changes.
I wanted songs to reflect who I was and where I was as a person and as an artist at the time I was recording the new album.
This was an important album for me. Like any album, it’s a snapshot of where I was emotionally as a person and as a songwriter. I decided to avoid any theme for the album, instead I chose to write honest songs reflecting where I was and how I was feeling at the time.
I wrote 6 new songs in 3 weeks, 4 made it to the album.
I got in the groove of writing everyday. I tapped into something, I kept getting the “I don’t know where that came from!” feeling. I was really excited about the new material.
I don’t even know how much I did each day. Some days were more productive than others, it varied each day. Some days, I would just keep working until the song was done. I felt it, there was magic… taking a break would have lost the magic.
Ian, what can you tell me about your songwriting sprint?
Start with the following songwriting assumptions…
- Write what you know about
- Write about topics important to you
- Write songs about ideas and things that resonate with you
- Write honest songs
- Keep listener engaged with emotional content that resonates with your audience
- Write so your audience feels something, but “Don’t strap them into a chair and tell them your problems!”
- Tell stories that are interesting to your audience!
To write you need:
- Motivation, the need and desire to write and finish songs
- Inspiration, what you want or need to write about
- Craft, how you capture the inspiration when it happens and finish a song about it
What was your motivation for this songwriting sprint, Ian?
It was time for a new album, as a songwriter and performer. There’s a time when you need new material and a new CD, it keeps your career working and keeps you stimulated and fresh.
There is a natural life cycle to an album. You write it, record it, release it, publicize it, tour, it gets airplay…. But you need something new for the next tour… new music for people to hear and purchase. You don’t want to tour through a town using the same material, if you want people coming out again, there has to be something new for them.
Where do you find your inspiration for your songs?
I am inspired by a good meal, human interaction and human relationships, I watch people and how they interact with each other, listen to their stories. I’m visually inspired, so visual images, movies, plays and human situations.
The trick is learning where to find inspiration… being open to inspiration wherever and whenever it strikes.
Ian, what’s your take on songwriting craft?
Anyone can, in theory, write a song. You can learn songwriting techniques, how to rhyme, rhyme schemes. Once you have the writing skills, you still need to decide what to write about. That’s where inspiration is needed.
Craft is writing everyday, whether you write something good or bad. Work on your songwriting craft so when inspiration taps you on the shoulder you have the skills to write a song about it. Then you have the ability to write it. Pursue it until you have a song. Then edit and polish it and test your song until it’s stronger.
Tell me more about your songwriting sprint, Ian.
My songwriting sprint, or my creative sprint started with the feeling I needed to write new songs for Bring the Light.
Ideally you should be writing everyday. It’s how you get good. When I was first learning the craft of songwriting I wrote everyday. My commitments don’t allow that any more, but the process of regular writing is how I developed my songwriting craft.
Write as much and as consistently as possible, but don’t set strict parameters. You can get caught up in the parameters and distracted from the songwriting. Set a goal to write consistently, rather than a set number of songs.
Writing is habit forming!
My ideal process is going for a walk. I’ll use my phone to capture ideas, lyrics or melodies. On a good day, I can have most of a song worked out on a walk. Then I’ll get home and pick up an instrument and polish the melodies and add chords.
For me it’s best to follow it through to the end. I keep at it until a rough draft is finished. Stopping part way through the process is the best way to lose a song. Once a draft is completed you can always edit it later.
How to Create Your Own Songwriting Sprints!
From my conversation with Ian and my own songwriting practice, I some suggestions to help you develop your songwriting:
I believe that motivation is admirable, but it can be fickle. I prefer to concentrate on habits. To create a regular songwriting habit of writing consistently, you can avoid the entire issue of self motivating… you just go write because that’s what you do….
Learn about my system to develop your own Daily Songwriting Habit.
Set Process Goals, instead of Product Goals
Choose to write consistently (process), instead of setting a goal of finishing X number of songs a month (product). By considering the process you need to accomplish a product goal, you are creating the path to achieving it. Product goals are useful if you use them to measure how effective your process is, but they can be distracting if you only focus on the product.
For more details about setting and achieving process and product goals, read Mental Toughness for Songwriters.
Finish your songs… stop tossing out your songs because you lose momentum because that rush with a new song idea burns out.
Take songwriting inspiration and lessons from unlikely situations.
One of the challenges with writing a song is knowing when your song is done… does it need further editing, or are you only procrastinating?