Best Posts Songwriting

A Classic Song Finishing Tool – The ‘To Do’ List

In the realm of personal management it doesn’t get any more basic than the humble to-do list. But for me this little fella has made all the difference between a song getting lost in development hell and actually making it across the finish line.

What I’ve come to realise is this –

First we get inspired. Then we have to work hard. Things that don’t work are big and obvious and we give it all we’ve got to find solutions. We work on song vision, we fit the parts together. Finally all that’s left is to tidy up & smooth the rough edges. And that’s where we can easily get bogged down.

When I’m inspired, I’m mostly writing ‘by feel’ – sensing this chord or that phrase feels right. And eventually what remains are the few minor parts that bug me. It’s tempting to wait for inspiration to strike again. But it probably won’t. I’ve come up with every alternative there is and I just have to pick one. The song is 98% there. Whatever I decide won’t affect the song that much. But waiting to lightening to strike a 3rd time will. I’ll get bored, lose interest, lose perspective and then lose my faith in the song completely.

That’s where to to-do list comes in. I’m learning to create an inventory of all the decisions left to make, and then one by one MAKE THEM. By a process of elimination, drawing straws, asking your people to vote, doing ‘eeny meeny miney mo’. Whatever. Just make a decision already!

For example, here was my to-do list for my song Brother Bull –

1) Stick with the original structure, drop the 5th verse or move the 5th verse and drop a chorus?

I just played the options through. I knew the original was too long – that’s what was bugging me. But I didn’t want to lose a verse I liked and the narrative shape was nice.

So I turned v5 into verse 3 and dropped a chorus. I played it all the way through and it felt OK.

*Update July 2013 – during the mixing of the Let’s Build An Airport EP I hit this issue again and for the sake of not letting the song drag I cut the verse 3 (aka the verse formerly known as verse 5 and another chorus). Read about the process here.

2) soft as her skin/cheek/face/neck/breast/thigh/back/arm/throat/smile?

I had brainstormed every possible body part for this line (plus a few others we won’t mention) and none were great. But I wasn’t going to come up with a better idea. So I sang the line with every possible word in turn.

The original line (soft as her skin) wasn’t very…well…original, but I liked the way it ‘sang’ and I figured that a song built on such a weird premise (A love song that consists of asking various animals to donate body parts) could stand one line that was too normal.

3) pockets are bursting with/pockets hold nothing but

The questions were “do I want to change the chorus the last time around?” & “will ‘bursting’ sing OK?”

Answer: Yes and yes.

4) Gm or Bb?


5) F or F/A?

all through the writing process I’d been switching back and forth between these chord versions in numerous places in the song. But now I was done and it was time to nail things down. Just make a decision already!

I was uncomfortable with singing a G over a Bb chord rather than a Gm, but, emboldened by the example of John Lennon I decided to go for it.

What’s preventing your current song from being finished? Try drawing up a list and working through it as cold bloodedly as if you were doing the laundry or servicing your car. Let me know how you get on.

Download my free single Let’s Build An Airport

Student Zone

10 People – 2 Guitars

By now I’m sure you’re all familiar with Walk Off The Earth‘s five person cover of Gotye‘s Somebody That I Used To Know (122 million views and counting!)…

 But here’s a video that explains how they got the idea to play on one guitar


FAWM Song Homepage


FAWM is the February Album Writing Month challenge. Songwriters from all over the world try to write 14 songs in 28 days.

FAWM 2013 Songs – coming soon – once I’ve written some!


FAWM 2012 Songs

In 2012 I wrote 16 songs and co-wrote with Stuart Kidd (Glasgow), Steven Wesley Guiles (California) and Tom Spademan (Michigan).





FAWM 2011 Songs

FAWM 2011 – Kid’s Songs

In 2011 I wrote 24 songs during February and my track Let’s Build An Airport appeared on the best of FAWM compilation 14 Songs In 28 Days Vol 7.2

Writing Songs With

Writing Songs With – Ernest Hemingway

Here’s a tip I adapted from Brian Clark of Copyblogger in Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips For Writing Well

Don’t Be Negative!

Since Hemingway wasn’t the cheeriest guy in the world, what does he mean by be positive? Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.
This is what Michel Fortin calls using ‘up‘ words:

Stating what something isn’t can be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless for example, you’ll still focus on the word “pain” in “painless.” Instead of saying “inexpensive,” say “economical,”

In I Got Lost I had a line that said

That dream became so fragile
It wasn’t safe to hold

this was supposed to be my big crescendo line into the chorus but it felt like a damp squib. After some scratching around I remembered Hemingway’s rule I tried to focus on what the ‘dream’ was rather than what it wasn’t and came up with

That dream became so fragile
And much too sharp to hold

which has a much more visceral feel than the ‘safe’ option (and for a bonus the C natural moves up to a C sharp! immediately after). I wish I could say that was deliberate.

If your song is lacking punch, look through the lyrics and try to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and e-lim-i-nate the negative

Let's Build An Airport EP

Studio Update #4

What’s happening with my mini album Let’s Build An Airport I hear you say?

Well, even though I haven’t finished all the vocals we have recorded
Acoustic Guitar (even though I had planned to make it an acoustic free record!)
various bits of percussion
and Accordion on one track.

I’ve also recorded
backwards Guitar
and Bass Xylophone
at home which we’ve then flown into the master track.

I’ve been filming bits along the way but that’s all taking a while to edit so here’s the latest vid. Back in the studio next wed.


Welcome – again

Hey there – if this pops up in your feedreader it means I have successfully transferred your feed to my new blog over at Matt If I haven’t…then you won’t be reading this anyway!

Set Lists

Set List: Jam Cafe Nottm Open Mic – 13 Jun 12

Here’s a quick run down of the set I‘m hoping to do did tonight at the very compact and bijou Jam Cafe, Nottingham

(Everything Is) Broken
Count Me Out
The Facial Hair/Creativity Ratio Theorem
Let’s Build An Airport


Let's Build An Airport EP Song Vault

Brother Bull


To pen such a sonnet that dry ink will sing
A twisted courtship song
Download     Buy mp3     Chords (pdf)     Lyrics (pdf)     Behind The Song :The ToDo list

Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?
Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?
For a belt of black leather to give to my girl
Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?

Brother Worm would you spare me some silk?
To make her a dress pure as milk
Spin a thread that’s as smooth and as soft as her skin
Brother Worm would you spare me some silk?

For I’m off to court my darling Christine
Whose eyes shine like crystal the bluest of green
3 rings on her finger, a gold trinity
My pockets hold nothing but promises and dreams

Brother Gander please give up a quill
Though your breast it may smart for a spell
To pen such a sonnet that dry ink will sing
Brother Gander please give up a quill

Brother Sheep please, your stomach for strings
And my guitar like a siren will sing
When plucked with a sliver of dear Turtle’s shell
Brother Sheep please, your stomach for strings

For I’m off to court my darling Christine…

Some things are given and some things must die
To give love the slenderest chance to survive
But there’s nothing I miss, and less that I mourn
I gladly gave everything the day I went to court my darling Christine
Her eyes shine like crystal the bluest of green
3 rings on her finger, a gold trinity
My pockets hold nothing but promises and dreams
My pockets are bursting with promises, promises and dreams

© Matt Blick 2012

A Blog's Life

A Week In The Life

What does a freelance music teacher do? I thought I’d give a week in the life – this week was busier than normal (but then there isn’t really such a thing as normal)


On the way back from Church I get a call from Rich the guitarist from Balkan Gypsy wedding band Aistaguca – their soprano sax player has gone on holiday at short notice and they have 2 gigs next weekend. If I can fill in on guitar he reckons he can cover bass and or sax parts. I depped for Rich once before and know 14 of their songs so I’m in!

I spend several hours filling music away from the 200 guitar magazines a pupil gave me and loading up my mp3 player with all the tracks I need to learn for this coming week.


Teaching guitar all day at a Junior school (8-11 yr olds). At lunch time I go next door to the Infants and run a ukelele club for a bunch of 6 year olds. They’re having a coronation party this week and wanted me to play God Save The Queen on a union jack uke one of them has brought in. Then I just have time to eat a sandwich while I edit a backing track that one of my guitar groups is going to use for a concert on Wed.

After school I teach a rock band of 10-11 year olds. Today we start recording the drums and guitar of a song they’ve written on garageband.

At 5 I grab a taxi to cellist Rachel’s house and we head over to Old Library Studios to record her parts for my upcoming mini album Let’s Build An Airport. While producer Mark is setting up I upload the backing track I edited earlier to a pupil page where they can download it to practice to. Apart from the odd issues with semitone clashes in my arrangements and phantom xylophone parts appearing we get everything recorded the right side of ten o’clock and head home brain fried but happy. Rachel introduces me to the music of Amanda Palmer on the way home and she goes on my ‘music to check out’ list.

I send out late invites to the monthly songwriting I’m hosting next week via Facebook.


Head out to my first school to record a 10 year old pupil with autism. He has perfect pitch and an endless supply of ideas. But he’s off school ill. So I do some editing and go to junior school number two. I teach there for 3 hours, doing more editing in the lunch break. I also have a first try at the song Catrin wants me to sing with the choir at a school gig on Thurs. It’s in 7/8 and in macedonian. I hope my bass droning isn’t freaking out anyone within earshot. After school I had planned to record some tubular bells that the school have for my album, but didn’t have to time to pack mics, audio interface and all.

After a couple of hours at home I head for my practice space for a couple of private lessons.


Off to another school to set up all the PA for their big annual music night tomorrow. Once I got round the fact that there were 2 electric sockets in the hall and the dinner ladies wanted em both we were OK. The head sorted me out with a free roast dinner. Then teaching two groups at another school. Easy day.


Long trip to Mansfield to teach at a secondary school. Not everyone could make it due to a Coronation picnic being organised. One pupil brought in Carry On Wayward Son to learn. That’s one ‘Carry On’ film I haven’t seen but it’s still a cool tune.

I get a taxi to another junior school for a very special music event. The food and drink flows freely, the place is packed and the staff are fully involved too. So much fun that I’m sure there’s all kinds of rules against it. As well as 3 songs with my guitar pupils, I played bass on a Tennessee Ernie Ford song with the staff band, played Djun Djun on a drumming piece and sung the aforementioned Macedonian song with the choir. None of which had any rehearsal. As a finale the whole school, plus audience, sang a slightly cleaned up version of Jessie J‘s Price Tag. Realising the song has 4 chords I taught the bass line to a 10 year old guitarist and got him to perform it 5 minutes later while I covered the guitar part. Having previously seen Catrin, the music teacher, direct choirs of hundreds of kids with only 10 minutes rehearsal I know that tonight was all in a days work for her. She is one of the most amazing musicians I have ever worked with. The head sends me on my way with a bottle of wine and Catrin invites me to a Klezmer jam session.

On the downside, I’m starting to become aware that a pain I’ve got in my right thumb is turning into pins and needle in my whole hand and forearm.


I have a day off. Pins and needles in both hands and forearms. Very worried about the weekend gigs knowing that the last time I played with Aistaguca I played so hard my finger bled. My brain is fast forwarding through RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome and other life/career threatening possibilities. I soak my arms in hot water to ease the discomfort and take my daughter to see Prometheus.


The pins and needles are still bad. I take Ibuprofen and consult Dr Google. (I know that’s bad, but whenever I visit my real GP that’s all he does and I can type much faster than him, even with pins and needle). Most of the bad stuff seems to be ruled out and a trapped nerve in the shoulder may be the culprit. I remember pulling a muscle in my back last week quite badly due to rucksack full of music and macbook. Then I remember easing the pressure on my back by holding the strap with my right thumb. Someone online recommends ‘waving your arms like a mad thing’. I do it and the pins and needles recede as the original pain in my back reappears. I go to the gig.

As is common with Aistaguca there is a new member I’ve never met (Abel on alto sax), someone is filling in (Pete from Satnam’s Tash) and someone gets up to jam who I’ve never seen before (Irene from Muha). We have a great time playing for the coronation party and by the end all the reserved English villagers are up and dancing on the village green. Although we are playing Balkan gypsy wedding music people are doing the Macarena, pogoing, jumping around with their children or just throwing together any moves they’ve picked up from Strictly Come Dancing. The weather stays dry but my ears are frozen and I resolve to wear long trousers tomorrow.


Rich picks me up around 11. We head off to buy a new capo after his last one went M.I.A. then to a cattle shed near Radcliffe for another coronation party. Today we have lost Pete on bass but gained Belinda on violin. During the break I buy a roast pork and stuffing baguette from the local pub and get back only to find the band has started without me. The second set ends with wild applause as once again these English villagers discover their inner gypsy.

Coming home to an empty house I watch almost the whole of Casino with Robert De Niro before I thaw out.

Next week is the half term holiday. I need to write a song to share at the songwriting group, do a few private lessons and maybe visit a chiropractor at Nottingham Sports Injury Clinic. Should be a bit more relaxing.

Let's Build An Airport EP Song Vault

Better For Me If I’d Never Been Born


Silver accuser moon, witness my fate
The Ballad of Judas Iscariot: a mournful waltz
Download    Buy mp3     Free Lyrics (pdf)

You bear my name if you betray
Take me for your patron saint
I kiss in hate like a snake
Better for me if I’d never been born.

Silver they gave to buy my grave
Potters field they call my resting place
What rest in Death’s cold embrace?
Better for me if I’d never been born.
Better for me, better for me
Better for me if I’d never been born.

The prophecies spoke of me,
The writings fulfilled in me
Destruction my destiny
Better for me if I’d never been born

Hard to believe these hands once healed
They fed crowds with just a few crumbs
Bloodstained these hands won’t come clean
Better for me if I’d never been born.
Better for me if I’d never been …

Commonplace pottery (the prophecies once spoke of me)
Chosen to show glory (the writings fulfilled in me)
To those who receive mercy (destruction my destiny)
And don’t taste the anger they see,
Poured into a vessel like me
Better for me if I’d never been born

One coin still shines, burns through black sky
Silver accuser moon, witness my fate
Will rope so frayed bear my weight?
Better for me, better for me
Better for me, better for me
Better for me if I’d never been born
Better for me if I’d never been born
Better for me if I’d never been … born

© 2012 Matt Blick