Here is a listing of all the tools and resources we use and recommend. We’ll update them as time goes by as we find new and cool things that help us all move ahead in our songwriting journeys (please note: if you become a huge star after using one of these links we hope for a mention in your liner-notes, or whatever your equivalent shout out is in the future).
Janice told us about the great process she uses to find the emotional truth to a lyric. Special thanks to Janice’s former singing teacher Veronik Fournier for passing this on. Click here to download it.
Services | Books | APPS & Programs | Gadgets
SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) is a not-for-profit organization that represents the Canadian performing rights of millions of Canadian and international music creators and publishers. Not only does your membership at SOCAN ensure that you are compensated for public performances of your music both in Canada and abroad, it also makes you eligible for valuable benefits that can help you manage your career both at home and on the road.
The S.A.C. is a friendly community of songwriters that support each other in the creative journey. Being a member has many privileges including opportunities to network, get your music heard, as well as honing the craft. You can also protect your work through the Canadian Song Vault, or have your music assessed through the Song Assessment Service.
Even if you have a soundcloud or bandcamp page, having your own website with your own domain can really help folks find you or, perhaps, you’re going to be on a radio show and the hosts need info or photos for promotion? You can’t go wrong with BlueHost. They’ve been around forever and lots of major podcasts and businesses rely on them. Good prices too. (note: I’ve tried lots of super cheap hosting companies over the years and it’s always been hell. These guys are the best. – phil)
Soundcloud is like youTube for audio. It’s very easy to use, and you can comment on other user’s stuff in real time. Plus, you see the audio waveform of your tracks. It’s great, too, for embedding on forums and other websites. The Scope at Ryerson archives all of Song Talk’s shows on Soundcloud.
A free resource to upload your finished work, sell songs and albums (downloads and physical), sell your merchandise, and showcase photos, upcoming shows, and much more.
Similar to Bandcamp, you can upload songs, albums, videos, merchandise, and promote your upcoming shows. They also facilitate many opportunities to be featured on radio shows, blogs, magazines, festivals and other live shows, but you have to purchase their press kit to take advantage.
This forum features sub-forums for lyrics and song reviews, friendly contests, and a great community of songwriters who support each other with passion. There’s also lots of opportunity for online collaborations!
This free, 7-week course is taught by none other than Pat Pattison of Berkeley School of Music, and facilitated through Coursera. Through video lectures, song examples, exercises, and peer reviews, you learn the fundamentals and more about expressing your ideas through song. Neel has referenced this course many times on Song Talk Radio, and recommends it to beginners and veterans alike.
Neel regularly blogs about his songwriting and production processes, with links to other resources and interesting anecdotes along the way. Find out what makes Neel tick!
For many years I wrote lyrics and always wondered if I could write whole songs too. However, something always stopped me. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was a lack of encouragement. Who knows? What I do know is that when I read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and used her practical exercises I kick-started my song writing to a whole new level. Suddenly I was up at 7 a.m. each morning writing lyrics and guitar chord progressions, and then singing entire songs into my recording device. This was not a one-time thing. Within a year of buying her book, I had written more than 50 songs and released my debut CD of 10 original songs. If you need a little encouragement to get those creative juices flowing, get this book now! – Bruce
This is book for those really serious about getting into songwriting DEEP. Reading more like a doctoral thesis on phenomenology then beach fiction, Jimmy goes deep into what makes a great song — and I mean really DEEP. You’ll read a couple of pages then go away and let the info sink in. Filled with numerous specific examples and details, you’ll become a true master songwriting by the end of this book. And it’ll last a long time as its so dense — I’m still going through it! Highly recommended for folks who’ve written some songs but want to go deeper into the craft . Eric’s also a fan! (not recommended for beginners – it’ll just make you gloss over).
It’s a great read. They give very specific and clear points to consider when songwriting. For each point they provide an example of a lyric that has the particular “wrong” and where and why it’s a problem and how to fix it. It’s not too lengthy and it’s a very quick read – they don’t spend a lot of time messing about with needless blah blah. A really useful guide to pickup for yourself or a songwriting friend. There are a few business books that could take this as an guide for quick and effective communications. (Great for beginner and experience songwriters too). – phil
Guitarist’s Picture Chord Encyclopedia: Every chord you’ll ever need to play. Shown clearly in photographs & diagrams
This is one of Eric’s favourite books. It lists about every chord possible on the guitar (310 pages!). Not only does it have your standard TAB diagrams but each chord includes a photo of someone actually playing the chord so you can really get a sense of how to get your fingers in those various shapes. Also a neat way to find inspiration when our brains are empty: open a page at random, close your eyes and point your finder at the page – that’s your first chord; do the same with a second random page = A whole new chord sequence that you’d probably never think of. A surprisingly fun process too! Eric Recommended!
Neel took an online course with Pat and hasn’t stopped singing his praises. He’s said its been one of the best bunch of hours in his musical education. Pat’s been around for a long time teaching lyric writing and is considered to be one of the best. Writing Better Lyrics has been a staple for songwriters for nearly two decades. The revised and updated 2nd Edition provides effective tools for everything from generating ideas, to understanding the form and function of a song, to fine-tuning lyrics. Great for beginners and experienced songwriters alike.
Recommend by composer and klezmer expert Martin VanDeVen, this book really cuts through many of the myths on practicing that we’ve all been fed over the years. Using research, the author examined examples of people with little practice and few resources were able to achieve remarkable results. In short practicing hard isn’t the key, practicing SMART is how you really get good — and with much less time invested. The idea is that you should be practicing stuff that is always just beyond your reach with “focused attention”. Quite a good read and a fav of the Song Talk Radio staff ever since Martin told us about it. I wish I had this book 30 years ago!
Written by the same fellow who wrote The Talent Code, this book offers exercises and real world strategies to put into practice the theory of “Focused Attention” or “Focused Practice”. The Talent Code is more about the concepts and cause and effects of being smart about practicing. This book offers more real world exercises. I’d recommend getting the both – they’re both pretty quick reads.
Recommended by our guest David St. Bernard.
We talked about some of these on our first APPS Show – episode 96.
Idolumic’s Rhyme Genie a fully cross-platform (PC, Mac & iOS) program that boasts over 330,000 rhymes and more rhyme types than you’ve ever heard of. The desktop versions are brilliant and much better than any online rhyme services I’ve found (it even give you Feminine Pararhymes – so you know, there you go).
A great interface too. It lets you select “similarity of sound” of the rhymes, gives you filters for adverbs, adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc, and lets you select how many syllables the rhymes have. Full review here.
Rhymezone is a free website that features perfect rhymes, near rhymes, and a host of other results with one to six syllable combinations. Try it out before you shell out the bucks for Rhyme Genie.
(Note this is not related to Jimmy Web’s book!) TuneSmith (Mac OSX & Windows) helps you keep a list of your musical contacts, your songs and meta info about them (time, who played on them) attach sound files to the entry and even keeps a list of songs you’ve pitched to people (a must if you’re someone trying to become a pro songwriter) with a great CRM (Customer Relations Management) system just like those corporate sales folks have. I’m using this one myself. Full review here.
Suggester is an iOS app that helps you find chords that go together. Put in your first chord and go from there. You can touch and drag around chords you’ve added and you can add even add rests. Other features are selectable tempos, etc. Quite user friendly. You can also export your creations via text or by MIDI for importing into your DAW of choice (cool!). Here’s a fuller review.
Song’s Pro (OSX only) includes a more full featured version of ChordMate with a chord suggesting algorithm and adds the ability to create lyric sheets with chord symbols on top of specific words. I really liked how you can indicate quite clearly exactly WHERE the chord falls within a word. It’s actually pretty cool and useful. More info.
Neel likes this iOS only fun alternative to a metronome based on the Rolands venerable 808 rhythm machine. As with the original you can adjust tempo and adjust swing amount. Additionally, you drop in fills automatically (4, 8, 12, 16 bars) or manually and it comes with 12 patterns and 4 fill patterns to choose from.
This is Phil’s DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice. One of the few truly cross-platform recording packages out there, you can create and record a bunch of tracks and produce a song, then package it up and share it with your friend (on Windows or MacOSX) and they can add a bunch of overdubs and then send it back to you. You do a final mix of the song (like here: I created the music on my Mac then sent it to his Windows using friend Karl to add a sax overdub. Karl send it back via dropbox and it was like he was in the room. Worked perfectly). Favored by folks like Kraftwerk, Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, you have lots of options to find a Cubase that works within any budget: from the clean and basic Cubase Elements (usually for $99 online), Cubase Artist which is a nice mid-level program that should do for most songwriters, to the full-out pro level package Cubase Pro which can be found in the leading recording studios on the globe (I use Cubase Pro). There are even Cubase usergroups that get together once a month or so to share tips and network (and sometimes go for beer after the meeting). – Phil
Neel’s DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice. Very user-friendly, with great upgrade pricing, and a very capable home version that’s only $20. Features includes creating templates for starting a session (I always have a piano patch pre-loaded, along with a track already set to record vocals), a handy step-sequencer that’s great for quickly laying down a backbeat loop for your song, and the super-fun Matrix View, which lets you load loops, trigger them in different ways, and record a live performance of triggering them to create a song.
Hardware and other miscellaneous things we’ve found useful.
There are a few things that I’ve purchased that I wish I purchased long, long ago, and this is definitely one of them. Peterson Strobe Tuners were always the “go-to tool” in guitar repair shops, instrument manufacturers and scientific testing labs. The precision of the tuners was unmatched by any other technology at the time. The problem was they were all well over $600 at the time. Now, thanks to the power of the microchip you can get the same level of precision tuning for a fraction of what it used to be.
You get insane levels of accuracy — 0.1 Cent Accuracy (1/10 Of A Cent; 1/1000th Of A Semitone). Even better it comes with “sweeteners’ which will very slightly flatten or sharpen a note so that your instrument sounds more in-tune. They have presets for guitar and acoustic guitars, 12 strings, drop tunings, bass, etc.
I was alway unhappy with my stage tuners, the results always sounded a bit off to me but I could never figure out why, I never go into a studio using any thing else now. I use mine every day. Highly Recommended (I can even do my own intonation on my guitars now!). – phil
When recording demo’s at home, vocals often sound “unprofessional” as one can’t help but pickup the sound of the room. This simple tool really helps blocking out room ambience. I’ve used it a ton. I used it for a voice-over recorded in my home studio for a corporate video and it sounds like it was recorded in a real studio. This is one of those “wow, this REALLY works!” things. You can get fancier and more expensive ones made out of metal but they don’t seem to work any better as far as I can tell. This is the one I have at home. Best $150 purchase I’ve made! – phil
I had the great fortune to work on a release with the very talented JUNO Award winning producer and mixer, Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Big Wreck, Monster Truck, Arkells, Big Sugar). I asked him what kind of headphones he uses to mix with and he pointed me to these. He added a warning: “careful, these headphones are so clear and flat you’ll hear all the mistakes on tracks from your heros.” He wasn’t wrong. These clear up so much of the muck and blurriness that other headphones and speakers create that you’ll discover stuff on songs you’ve heard a million times that you’ve never heard before — (wow, there’s a background vocal THERE? wow, that line is really out of tune. I never realized there’s a second guitar there adding a counter melody, etc). Many hours have since been spent listening to all the classic tracks and finding a whole new world.
These produce the most transparent and clear sound I’ve ever come across (I spent an afternoon at Bay/Bloor Radio going through every headphone they sold) and use them constantly. At $300+ they ain’t cheap, but they’ll last a lifetime and they won’t make things sound better than they are – it’s like a perfect mirror. Try em with your favourite CD’s and you’ll be a believer too! – phil
So, what are your favourite books, programs and gadgets? We’d love to hear about more cool stuff, so let us know here and we’ll share it on the show and you’ll be famous!