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Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

Lesson 1 of 6

Developing Your Sound and Influences

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

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Lesson Info

1. Developing Your Sound and Influences

Lesson Info

Developing Your Sound and Influences

My name's chris orlovsky I'm rocky boat a lotto and today we're gonna be talking about the fascinating, mysterious world of songwriting we thought we'd kick it off first by talking more about our influences and how we kind of started out yeah so you know quick disclaimer before we get started I'm I definitely don't have all the answers I can't speak for chris he might have all the answers I'm still learning about this process you know, I think it's an ongoing thing that you're always doing writing songs is mysterious and elusive and but I guess what we want to talk about today are things we can do teo put ourselves in a place where we're set up for success, you know, and just cem cem tips and things we've learned along the way tio help you create that environment that you can actually you know, write good songs first part of that really is you know, for when we talked about this what I came up with is you can't create on empty I'm so you know you have to start by absorbing some music o...

n guy think you know really that's just it's listen, listen listen like that's the that's the thing that I came to you know, it was like when I was starting out writing songs ah, you know, just learning from the artist that you love is such an important first step and we got together with zac for the first meeting for this and come on one of my favorite songwriters and a friend of mine guy name day bazan actually said that you want to absorb your favorite songwriters music but not copy them but that wasn't to that effect yeah we're cem your favorite song writers you know when I was starting out it change so much from you know the beginning to now but in the early days it was like what my dad was listening too so it was bob dylan kris kristofferson cat stevens you know I kind 00:01:56.958 --> 00:02:00. of got my start in folk music and and you know but 00:02:00.91 --> 00:02:03. acoustic guitars the main thing I play and harmonica 00:02:04.4 --> 00:02:06. you know really got interested in lyrics 00:02:08.14 --> 00:02:10. then I moved up to seattle and got interested in punk 00:02:10.64 --> 00:02:14. music so I was like jawbreaker fugazi society real 00:02:14.18 --> 00:02:16. estate and other bands that around here who I saw 00:02:16.6 --> 00:02:20. how about you yeah, it was similar like I didn't I 00:02:20.77 --> 00:02:23. I grew up around music but I didn't really with the 00:02:23.77 --> 00:02:29. latch on it right away in a bizarre way um like three 00:02:29.33 --> 00:02:31. years old my dad put christmas order on me brought 00:02:31.82 --> 00:02:34. me up on the piano in a church and like maybe sing 00:02:34.02 --> 00:02:36. a song he wrote called papa won't you tell me about 00:02:36.47 --> 00:02:38. christmas? So that was like my first at three years 00:02:38.52 --> 00:02:40. old, you know, like some kind of around all the time, 00:02:40.79 --> 00:02:43. but at one point something clicked when I was listening 00:02:43.48 --> 00:02:46. to paul simon this song came called graceland came 00:02:46.62 --> 00:02:49. on and the hook in the doo doo doo doo doo doo doo 00:02:49.74 --> 00:02:52. doo just like all of a sudden it was like wait what 00:02:52.15 --> 00:02:55. was that and I think from then on like kind of things 00:02:55.0 --> 00:02:58. turned for me and simon and garfunkel james taylor 00:02:58.41 --> 00:03:01. radiohead like all sorts of different but mostly in 00:03:01.93 --> 00:03:06. the folk and rock and pop genres for me yeah and so 00:03:06.2 --> 00:03:09. I guess back to the point that you know would you 00:03:09.35 --> 00:03:12. agree with that like listening to music is such a 00:03:12.07 --> 00:03:15. vital part of yeah being able teo you know know what 00:03:15.95 --> 00:03:18. you like? I guess that that's the point that I thought 00:03:18.36 --> 00:03:20. that to make from that you know what I would want 00:03:20.88 --> 00:03:22. to impart to you guys is like you can't create on 00:03:22.71 --> 00:03:25. empty but you need to just absorb what you love and 00:03:25.9 --> 00:03:27. it happens in actually for everybody like once you 00:03:28.01 --> 00:03:30. want something sparks your interest you know I'm sure 00:03:30.08 --> 00:03:32. each of you guys I've got your favorite artist you 00:03:32.16 --> 00:03:35. know like and then you start there and then you just 00:03:35.59 --> 00:03:38. naturally listen to so much music and you absorb it 00:03:39.13 --> 00:03:43. but the first song I ever learned actually was it 00:03:43.63 --> 00:03:46. was my uncle used to come over and play songs around 00:03:46.87 --> 00:03:50. around the house like it on holidays or whatnot and 00:03:51.87 --> 00:03:54. I learned creedence clearwater revival songs 00:03:56.07 --> 00:03:58. it's uh it's pretty easy they are like the song of 00:03:58.98 --> 00:04:01. the song structures were super simple good gateway 00:04:01.72 --> 00:04:05. so boards yeah similar like early dylan stuff but when you learn people songs and the songs that you that you love the most like you kind of you just you absorb what the way they go about it and I think that's that's a good thing to do it's a good exercise that's funny when I was first learning how to play guitar the first song I learned was country roads by john denver yeah and like you know I think that's actually pretty common it's far from what I'm hearing from not like other people and what you just said you like me to kind of like one of the first ones have you learned that one too? Yeah it's awesome but I it's funny like I was like totally against like learning songs when I was first learning them because because I was like I don't want to like I don't I don't have my own voice I don't want to like get two to absorb too much like so to the point of copying and write and later on I realized that's a total fallacy like you develop your own voice just by working on your craft by getting better at it and so I'm totally into learning covers. But another thing that I thought about as I was thinking as I was saying about what's my for the first time I learned was I've kind of come back around from trying to do these complex arrangements to like country roads is such a simple song yeah and it's cowboy chords and everything so and I'm just like kind of come full circle like simpler is better you know yeah that's what I was that's one of the points I was going to make when I learned that the the cretan song was like three four chords and those same chords kept showing up in all these songs that I really loved and I just and then you know you see that there's just little tricks it's not quite as mysterious as you think and so I think it's a really good idea we talked a lot about that when we were getting ready for the class like how do you how do you absorb all that but not copy and that's that's the thing that I'm sure you were worried about that too yeah I was super worried about that and like trying to develop your own sound but I think that just happens naturally like basically you know in order to create something amazing you need to have a starting point like a reference point and it's really not about stealing as much as it is about combining and transforming your influences into your own unique sound one example of I was working on an album a couple of years ago and I bought a violin like a new I'm sorry I'm not a vinyl new record player and I only had enough money for like five records so I bought of course you know the shins mgmt radiohead remix album and james taylor's greatest hits and because I only had four records either listen to james taylor a lot not how do I got to and so I got I think I got carolina in my mind stuck in my head a lot and I ended up writing a song with the mainline innit going to carolina going until she finds it leaning all the way and an interviewer asked me is like a sow use blatantly rip off james taylor like later on and that hit me like right then that oh my gosh I kind of did like or maybe I did or no and then I thought about it some one is like you know what like it's a different message it's subconsciously it was a tribute to him and it's still my song because I'm not you know blatantly ripping him off a cz much is just like I guess a tribute to old music and writing something that feels authentic to me if it if you consciously rip somebody off and and you know it then that's something question but there's some consciousness oh yeah I guess I did that and I think that's that's where the line gets a little bit fuzzy but I think that was a good example of yeah, there is a fine line there yeah and you don't wantto, you definitely want to steal something out, right on. You want to be careful, but I think it's really about just, you know, like mixing those influences and you and you need that, you know, you need a starting point, so, yeah, totally. 00:08:02.256 --> 00:08:05. So I guess maybe we should sing a couple songs. Yeah, 00:08:06.09 --> 00:08:08. let's, let's, finish up this segment by singing a 00:08:08.28 --> 00:08:10. song each. Do you want to sing first? You want me 00:08:10.17 --> 00:08:14. to? Sure, I'll go first. Got a song here. She gotta 00:08:14.47 --> 00:08:16. grab my harmonica for. 00:08:28.74 --> 00:08:29. Thanks, chris. 00:08:30.55 --> 00:08:32. All right, this sounds called ten for hats. 00:08:39.24 --> 00:08:44. You mean the only way keeping me from reading your 00:08:44.77 --> 00:08:50. mind where? Ten for hat friend, where all the time, 00:08:52.09 --> 00:08:53. so change it. 00:08:54.64 --> 00:08:59. Stay still. Want this? That just watching me like 00:08:59.72 --> 00:09:01. you, ana. Good. 00:09:16.74 --> 00:09:21. Transistor tape record. Tell me about everything that 00:09:21.76 --> 00:09:25. I love. No, you've got it. All starts soon where I'm 00:09:25.41 --> 00:09:27. keeping my fingers grow. 00:09:30.64 --> 00:09:32. He saw changing. 00:09:33.29 --> 00:09:34. Stay still. 00:09:36.09 --> 00:09:40. Just watching him like you honor. Good, 00:09:42.11 --> 00:09:43. I'll keep this good. 00:09:57.14 --> 00:10:00. Kid, I'm going to be with you long working. Stand 00:10:01.33 --> 00:10:05. like this stronger shining out of your eyes. I see, 00:10:07.71 --> 00:10:09. uh, 00:10:11.46 --> 00:10:18. so changing stay still want this? I just watch nam 00:10:18.37 --> 00:10:20. hee like you, ana. 00:10:23.93 --> 00:10:31. Changes. Stay still elicit. Just watch me, amy, like 00:10:31.12 --> 00:10:33. you. Good. 00:10:34.81 --> 00:10:35. Yeah, it's. Good. 00:11:04.41 --> 00:11:04. Right? 00:11:10.31 --> 00:11:11. Has awesome. 00:11:14.16 --> 00:11:16. I don't think I'm gonna play a song anymore actually 00:11:17.51 --> 00:11:19. as I think enough that was good 00:11:20.61 --> 00:11:25. down what I mean I just kind of nod off cuba how long 00:11:25.24 --> 00:11:28. ago did you write that song I wrote that I think it 00:11:28.41 --> 00:11:32. was in two thousand six cool oh yeah it's been a while 00:11:32.72 --> 00:11:33. since I wrote that 00:11:34.41 --> 00:11:37. yeah and that that song actually you know it was inspired 00:11:37.52 --> 00:11:39. by a moment that I was I was hanging out with my son 00:11:40.11 --> 00:11:42. and he was talking about aliens and like how to keep 00:11:42.98 --> 00:11:43. him from reading your mind 00:11:45.61 --> 00:11:47. so it's like those little moments in your life that 00:11:47.74 --> 00:11:50. you can capture in a song you know that's that's always 00:11:50.91 --> 00:11:54. what I'm looking for and I and I'm constantly you 00:11:54.23 --> 00:11:57. know writing on my iphone now used to be on no pad 00:11:57.62 --> 00:12:00. but but you know, just picking up those little things 00:12:00.59 --> 00:12:03. and back to our point like this was something I was 00:12:03.29 --> 00:12:05. going to say about you know walking that fine line 00:12:05.76 --> 00:12:09. and not copying people it's like I guess what we're both trying to say is don't worry too much about it like you got to start somewhere you got absorbed your influences and you know maybe have somebody near you you can ask a sound too much like connor overs you know yeah totally not to pick on connor but like it's just like when I was started touring all the songwriters that opens for me they sounded just like on it on, it was super annoying, as like, you know, it's it's too far. Sometimes, like when you sound just like another artist, you won't have success that way, because people will just think I was just a rip off of this other person. But the thing I want to say is, don't worry too much about it, cause each individual is so unique, you know, your everybody is just perfectly unique and it's, hard to sound exactly like somebody, even if you tried. So, you know, just follow your own voice in your own heart and put together what you love, and you probably going to come up with your own sound that way. Does that make sense? Okay, well, that's it, but what's, the song called this is called carolina. I thought, since I talked about it that nest, I'm no but saying that one first. I love that song, by the way, thank you for thinking about it. And, uh, ok, this one's called carolina. On I'm not gonna do the michael bubbly version. I'm gonna play it in the right key here. Well, a little, too baritone, if I do it that way, because you're being so patient. Thank you. That's call numbing. Hurry. Send bro hanging while these fall looking, too. Hey! A strong force, hoping she will recourse. Mind field takes the lead horse impatience in this place. Uh, no, you will find when you can't speak that shoes. I no way tell. You can see the movie scott on scorn, karolina going until she finds it leaning on the way. So going to caroline, go until she finds you lean in a way. I mean, in a way. Passing rows of swinging cobs and tender green gold straws, pasture is like canada. Friends. No writer. If this is wrong, easy, too soon, too long to give it away. I know you will find when you can speak to no. You find tell you can't see through god she's going to care a lot, going until she finds meaning our way. Whoa! Going to care? Going until she finds it leaning on the way. Wait! No. I know you will find when you can't speak the truth. I know you will fight it. Tell you can see that. She's got going to care until she finds a way. Well, I'm going to caroline only tell a finer leaning away. Wait. Wait. Thanks. Thanks, man. It's been sweating in playing sports.

Class Description

Learn the seven elements of successful songwriting in Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class with Rocky Votolato and Kris Orlowski. 

Robert Lang Studios, one of the Northwest’s most iconic recording studios, is world-renowned for recording bands like the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews and Deathcab for Cutie

The studio’s unique stone and marble live room (built into the side of a mountain) along with the very best of analog and digital gear has attracted producers, engineers, and artists from all the world. 

Rocky and Kris will teach real-world techniques that are guaranteed to make you a better songwriter. 

You’ll learn about: 

  • Lyrics and phrasing
  • Inspiration, process and technique
  • Collaboration, and song format and structure.

Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class with Rocky Votolato and Kris Orlowski, shot in Studio A’s live room, puts you into the writer’s room with two of the Pacific Northwest’s most respected songwriters and teaches you songwriting techniques you’ll use again and again.


Ashton Thebault

I'm mixed with this class... there are some good insights and useful tidbits of information to be had but nothing to really blow open your world. Really, that's the point - you need to do the work so inspiration finds you and there is no silver bullet to successful songwriting. Both hosts are great songwriters and that helps them punctuate the points they make. It's not an amazing class but it is useful and simple which is enough to be inspiring for some.

David Nelson

Alright, here's the thing. This course is the perfect course for young songwriters who are wondering where to start and how to write songs when they've done very little or haven't been writing for a long time. It gives a great overview of how to find inspiration, how to write with others, and how to overcome the urge to write cliche, typical lyrics. It provides the basic building blocks for beginning songwriters to find direction. If you're an intermediate songwriter, or have been in the business for awhile, you won't learn much from this course. There isn't a lot on specifics, on structure, on stuff like that. However, it provides a wonderful starting point for those of us seeking direction in how to start writing songs and communicating the ideas we have most effectively.

Oxford User

This was a fun course, that was easy to understand as a complete beginner, and as someone who isn't musically gifted but is more interested in the lyrical side of things, I did feel like I definitely learned what I wanted to from the lessons. Also the duo have a great dynamic, highly reccommend!