Songwriter U: It All Starts With a Song 

Written by Judy Stakee

Videos by American Songwriter

I was born to develop and mentor songwriters. I spent over 35 years in the traditional music industry, most recently 20 years at Warner Chappell Music, guiding songwriters into successful careers. 

When I left the corporate structure to start my own artist development company in 2009, I was forced to outline in detail how I did what I did. I took all my experiences, resources, tactics, and advice and created my own methodology.  

My first order of business is always to make sure that a writer has a creative process; the time, space, and tools you give to developing your art and yourself. In other words, a place to fall, mess up, make many mistakes, and yet still be motivated enough to keep going. 

If you want to make cakes you need two hours, a kitchen, and lots of tools like bowls, spoons, flour, sugar, an oven, etc. It’s no different when writing a song. You need a three-hour block of time in a sensory pleasing room and lots of tools to help out such as a rhyming dictionary, a guitar, pencil, paper, dictionary, etc. 

After that is established, I ask two very simple but powerful questions. The first question: What is a song? And the second: How do you develop yourself so that you can write more effective songs?  

What Is a Song?  

A song is the integration of voice, lyrics, and melody. It is the product that you are going to create. 

The voice that sings the song has the power to make that song tangible. I never exclude the voice when I am speaking about or critiquing a song. It is just as important as the melody and lyrics (if not sometimes more so). 

Lyrics are the words you put together in a certain order so that you can tell your story. There are so many to choose from. Which ones resonate most deeply with you? 

The melody represents your emotions and feelings. Beyond the basics (happiness, excitement, tenderness, fear, anger, sadness), a nearly endless list of big feelings exists to be captured by a seasoned writer. You can even combine them to form new emotions. For example, put anticipation and joy together and you get optimism.  

How Do You Develop Yourself?  

We experience life in three ways: body, mind, and soul. This encompasses anything we can touch, know, or feel. 

Body: your structure  

Mind: your intellect 

Soul: your essence  

You will have to develop facets of your body, mind, and soul to achieve results in your voice, lyrics, and melody and effectively create songs. In other words, you will need to be inspired, nurtured, and educated in all of these areas for you to succeed.  

These six tools, the body (linked to your voice), mind (lyrics), and soul (melody) are what will aid you in laying the foundation from which you will build your creative process, both for writing your songs and for developing yourself as a songwriter. 

It is also the filter from which I use to critique and develop my clients. When I am listening to their songs, watching them perform or they are explaining themselves, I evaluate the six tools first, to gain awareness on what needs fixing. In which area do they need a lesson, homework, or practical experience in order to develop? 

My passion is to share this information with every single songwriter out there. I wrote about it in my first book, The Songwriter’s Survival Guide, which has become a staple text in music colleges across the US. It is written for every 16-year-old whose dream is to become a songwriter and for the parents who want to help guide the 16-year-old into their dream. I also offer consultations, song critiques, and week-long retreats, all with the intention of making sure the writer has solid tools to help them on their journey.  

Let’s face it, writing songs takes patience with a healthy helping of determination. That is why laying a foundation is so important. I want my clients to have a career that will last a lifetime and not be just a flash in the pan. 

To every budding songwriter out there, I invite you to set intentions, make a plan, enlist help, seek advice, forever be willing to learn, become an A student, and most of all, get up after you fall down, soothe yourself off with your favorite ice cream and begin, again. 

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