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Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

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Song Process and Structure

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

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Lesson Info

4. Song Process and Structure

Lesson Info

Song Process and Structure

I guess sir talk about song process yeah I had one thing I wanted to talk about I guess two start that out of it okay with you andi it's ah there was a speech that I just watched and I just would highly recommend it it's one of the ted talks because of her that I'm sure right but it was it was this author her name's elizabeth gilbert and maybe I'll like shared on my facebook page so you guys go check it out too later if you want it's just called your elusive creative yeah you're elusive creative genius that's what the speech was called and kind of talks about something that with process that's been really important for me like I'm made a lot of records and and I've had times where it was easier times what was harder and I reached a point recently where I was like severe writer's block you know and I was having a super hard time moving forward with my career in music I wasn't sure if I could you know live up to the expectations of some past records and you know just wasn't sure if I had...

anything else to offer and so she was in a place in her career she just wrote this book called eat pray love and it was this massive success and so you know, she was kind of feel like that on dh this happens to a lot of musicians a lot of bands I'm sure you've heard this story about me yeah I mean we all feel this way as creative people like even starting out can I create something that's incredible and will it be worth doing and and then if you do get success like elizabeth did it's like where do you go from there and she's feeling all this anxiety around the creative process and how how do I follow up this huge success you know and she's facing the scary fact that likely her greatest success in life is behind her you know and but anyway what the way she dealt with that was to she took a look at our society and it kind of how we look at creativity how we relate to it and on all this anxiety and so she was looking for a model she's like how can I find a way to relate to this that makes more sense so she started looking back and she looked at like ancient greece and ancient rome and how they talked about creativity and it was this really radical idea but instead of being a genius they talked about having a jeans and so they thought of creativity more as something that was an external external force that the artist basically captured and that you know, float through you but you didn't have to hold all that responsibility and that's what I that's the point I'm making I guess it was very enlightening to me and important in terms of just keeping up this creative work you know you know what you were put on the planet to do here maybe maybe you guys want we are going to go on to be songwriters maybe not maybe you're gonna figure out that you want to be a carpenter next week and you go do that but I think this still applies like we're all creative people and we all have moments of genius that come to us when we're doing our work but we're not doing it it's it's a it's a process it's it's ah it's elusive it's it's ah it's a spirit I guess you know if you don't want to go that far call it god or that's a three letter word to a lot of people but but it's a mystical something that none of us can explain how john lennon you know writes a song like imagine you know if you asked him if he was here he wouldn't be able to tell you cause the thing is nobody knows and so and that's really what this ted talk was about and and it's ah it's just gives an example you know, they talked about how back in these ancient cultures they talked about how like, you know the genius or the and they called it a damon or I guess in roman culture it was a genius but it lived in the walls and it would come out when you were doing your project we're writing a book or song or whatever it would come out of the walls in your studio and kind of put some fairy dust on your project and that's what major project so it wasn't it wasn't you doing it and every everybody who was an artist knew it because they couldn't repeat great success every single time and so you know the good thing about looking at it that way is it take the pressure off you know you don't have to swallow the sun and own this genius you're not a gene you don't have to be the genius all the time yeah I don't have to live up to this it's really freeing actually that's cool I've never thought about it that way yeah and so you know I don't know if that's a stretcher if that's helpful but I mean definitely I kind of butchered her delivery so go check out the ted talk from elizabeth gilbert it's uh she delivers it much better than that but that's the basic idea is created creativity moves through us it doesn't come from us rocky showed s a book earlier by julia cameron I called the artist way and it's feels like a part of that could be this feels like it could be part of the inspiration that we talked about earlier the inspiration section but the artist way what is it's? Kind of like a guide through your creative world and one of the big exercises that she talks about is called morning pages basically it's a bit of a creative recovery exercise so a lot of us have this sensor inside of us that every time we want to do something it says no or it says why that's not a good idea and we can't be creative when that sensor is always there just breathing down our neck and so this this exercise called morning pages helps you get rid of that sense or a little bit so every morning when you get up you write three pages stream of conscious I've been doing this for about two three years now and I haven't done it every day but I'll go through stints where I'll do it for like forty days in a row or something like that and especially I like working on an album it's like a really great way for me to get back into just putting the pen to the pad and just starting to write and you could just be writing I don't want to write I don't want to write the whole time the point is you get into the flow of just writing again and not being scared to write something on paper and judging it right away I don't like this and then it just like kills your your buzz right away and so I I would urge you to try that exercise if you're looking for ways to get into the process of writing the next album and also it doesn't it's not just for music that's not just for music it's also for any type of creative writing you're doing and also just first you know, business start ups right like literally for anybody so don't feel like well I'm more producer type or I'm I'm looking to be in more legal you know in the legal part of the music world morning pages works for everybody it's perfect for what we're talking about right now because it's really about process like creative process artistic process no matter what your art is if you're a painter a musician you know however you relate teo to the world whatever your purpose is wherever you want to do and it goes back to there's something from that book actually that that I was I had a quote really to say that was perfect perfect timing because it's the need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist at all and then the need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce anything at all well and so that that idea was really helpful to me because I was super stuff when I made my last right I hadn't written a song in over a year and this is what I do for a living and it was like really hard on me I was like having a hard time I couldn't write because I was so self critical and I've gotten so far down the other path from from any of this that I was so lost and confused about creativity and I thought I'll never be able to make something great but if you live in that world you'll never make anything at all so you gotta loosen the reins a little bit and just be okay with making a bad song and that's a lot of what stephen king talks about in his book on writing he writes tons of shitty novels and then that's how he gets to the good ones he's just writing all the time and that's you know, you just have to you have to be able to allow yourself the freedom teo say something stupid and morning pages are a great way to go pass that I have been that discipline with it you gotta you gotta do it for a little while for you to start kickin yeah, I've let it happen in my own way just through like to writing songs yeah letting myself write bad songs or do you write songs that soon we're gonna hear one right right now okay everything but no that's that's a great point you know that's really for the process I think that's the point I wanted to make yes don't be too hard on yourself um and just let something flow out yeah totally and when it comes to taking on a project there are a lot of different ways to write an album. I I've approached it from the standpoint of just all right, I'm gonna write ten songs and then I'm gonna put those on an album. I think that what's changed for me recently. Rocky and I were talking about the other days, did I? Actually, I started writing more songs than I needed, because then I could I've heard of people doing this. I thought it was ludicrous. I was like, why would you write more songs that you need, then try to parent down to the best ones, like what you gonna do with all these other songs you wrote, but I'm in the process. I just twenty eight songs this past year and, ah, I'm putting twelve on this next twelve to thirteen on this next record, and I just finished recording mall and the alan just feels so much better. The quality is so much better because of it and so that's. Just one way to do it if you're thinking about how to approach an album eyes really else you want to say about writing an album I think that's a great point you know just just and it kind of goes to the same same point we're making in each one of these sections is just more content better why not have more to choose from because I started the same way like the first few records I made were just the first nine or ten songs that popped out totally you know and that's kind of that's where you start but then when you want the more you make the more you can the more you can kind of um I guess from a concept or thematic perspective make this make the elements sense what makes what 00:10:04.575 --> 00:10:07. which you know ten out of these thirty songs I wrote 00:10:07.72 --> 00:10:10. I wrote thirty for the last record two away yeah not 00:10:10.56 --> 00:10:13. e I was wondering you know and chris chris swallow 00:10:13.6 --> 00:10:15. produced it from death cab and he said all thirty 00:10:15.94 --> 00:10:18. demos or whatever we were just sorting through it 00:10:18.64 --> 00:10:21. we had to pick which songs and so partially it's a 00:10:21.45 --> 00:10:24. there's pros and cons that you do have more decisions 00:10:24.5 --> 00:10:27. to make and artists objective so you know who decides 00:10:27.91 --> 00:10:32. which song goes on the album but I don't know I tend 00:10:32.6 --> 00:10:34. to completely agree with you it's better to have more 00:10:34.98 --> 00:10:38. than two little it just have to use those songs because 00:10:38.34 --> 00:10:40. it's all you have so in terms of the songs that were 00:10:40.67 --> 00:10:44. on this last album how did they parse out in terms 00:10:44.53 --> 00:10:48. of song structure was it like your typical like a 00:10:48.11 --> 00:10:51. b a b c a b you're like you know it was interesting 00:10:51.64 --> 00:10:53. is when I kind of went through creative recovery I 00:10:53.98 --> 00:10:56. feel like after when I started writing for this record 00:10:56.52 --> 00:10:58. like I said hadn't written in a long time have been 00:10:58.34 --> 00:11:00. a couple of years since I've been in a good work flow 00:11:00.86 --> 00:11:03. and isis started writing I did not care about some 00:11:03.65 --> 00:11:06. structure it was the last thing on my mind whatever 00:11:06.18 --> 00:11:09. came out really happened yeah like I wasn't I wasn't 00:11:09.41 --> 00:11:11. consciously thinking about like I would I would do 00:11:11.83 --> 00:11:14. so the structures were kind of strange like they're 00:11:14.09 --> 00:11:16. a little bit more weird than some of my earlier work 00:11:16.91 --> 00:11:20. really yeah and I have I have ah 00:11:21.46 --> 00:11:24. an older song that I wrote where actually diagramed 00:11:24.29 --> 00:11:27. it out here too for you sweet and past that we're 00:11:27.66 --> 00:11:30. talking thanks yes so that that one is that one's 00:11:30.46 --> 00:11:33. more traditional it's like there's more than a b c 00:11:34.52 --> 00:11:36. baby well it's a little bit different than your normal 00:11:36.96 --> 00:11:42. standard pop song which is I guess verse chorus verse 00:11:42.26 --> 00:11:46. chorus bridge course course yeah is that like standard 00:11:46.52 --> 00:11:49. pop yeah there's no one here is kind of two standards 00:11:49.73 --> 00:11:52. I'm seeing now it's like the standard used to be reverse 00:11:52.98 --> 00:11:57. course verse chorus bridge course maybe even a double 00:11:57.03 --> 00:11:59. course at the end we'll see that so if you start with 00:11:59.98 --> 00:12:02. the verse maybe you'll even do like a half versus 00:12:02.19 --> 00:12:06. an instrumental okay and you do the verse first course second burst second course bridge third chorus and maybe the course is a little bit bigger or they double the course to really sell it okay but what I'm seeing now it is kind of similar to this and so I guess is usually verse he's usually a pre or chorus and sees usually the bridge or the course depending on how people are referencing it just you guys kind of everywhere for you guys at home and uh this in this in this particular song abc what these stand for so that's is verse is eyes chorus and see is bridge so yes so a lot of the pop songs now do verse pre chorus sometimes usually tohave course now first pre half course then another verse sometimes it's just a happier and then another pre and then a chorus and then they'll do a bridge it's like totally cliche now and then they'll do ah final big big of course and the personal you like seeing overtop and do all these crazy things like really sell it it's like the formula now I think it's the max martin dr lu formula but I could be wrong because I don't haven't studied them enough to know that so take that with a grain of salt but right but I think I think it works really well I love it I love that formula I've been using the pre a lot more than I used to yeah but well what else are you going to say let's say for you meeting a pre corps three course yeah something just like a little piece of some music like that gets you into the chorus right ramps human yeah it was interesting is that this doesn't have this song doesn't have a record just verse chorus and then bridge this like yeah third part which is you know but this is this is my most popular song is this is this is for white daisy passing which is the song it's the first song on an album I did called makers and I have that home yeah okay good yeah so that's why I thought you know if if people knew me at all that they know this song and whenever I went back and looked at and I was really amazed because I didn't intentionally make it that way it just sort of naturally happens a really cool idea to do a bridge kind of right after the course yeah and then and then it happens again and then there's a just another version chorus the thing I notice about this and what I try to work on now is I don't I like shorter songs personally yeah, I'm more of like that elliott smith school of like anything over three minutes starts to just get teo it's a folk song with acoustic guitar yeah unless you have strings and a big arrangement and there's other things to keep you a concert there were not this yeah I can feel too too long yeah and so I don't know maybe it's just a personal preference but I'm trying to keep things really kind of concise yeah totally and I think it can always be more economical like we always had two long an intro or the bridge is justice too long like this there's always these things that like kind of get in the way in my mind yeah that we are so invested in that we don't see it maybe so it's nice to have an outside producer or right or somebody the bango you know this is too long total in a store producers can really help yeah yeah I mean in all of this stuff to me is sort of the details like this this stuff is like it's all personal preference like it doesn't really matter at the end of the day like this is just kind of stuff that do what you what's most interesting to you look there is no perfect formula for success or hit songs like go look at what was popular and you can even charted out like yeah there's not like exact things that are happening that always will guarantee success I think it's boring to try to do it that way yeah. Look, I just sort of flow with it and what comes out and I think that he interesting what you just said there was make it interesting like for you if if it feels kind of boring or too what's the word like you conceived like you don't like I know what's gonna happen next then it can become something that's not as easy to listen to you because you're like a I already know what's gonna happen with this song surprises are always good yeah and what's the goal you know like for me the goal has always been make something authentic make something that I love that I'm happy with from songwriting craft perspective yeah and for a lot of people the gold is like let me get famous let me how do I get people to like me like that's that's never been michael you know and so I think coming at it from that mind frame I guess you know hopefully it keeps it can keep it more authentic and exciting and fresh and you know, I think that's a lot of people in our culture and society get in trouble by chasing that and you could make really bad art that not that you don't even like and you may not accomplish the goal of getting famous and getting people to love you by doing something that you that is not really authentic totally I bertha song called believer that was like tipping the title track on the last album and believe it can be kind of a loaded words people you think it's about like no religion or or it's you know like that could be really loaded and ah I guess that wasn't really what I was talking about when I thought I just thought of that sometimes you can mean one thing and it comes off another way but when I wrote that song I got my buddy david dorado reached out to me so they hate me and I really like this song what you did it all wrong and I was like oh thanks uh he's like no I mean when I guess what I'm saying is that I I would just do it differently and I'd love to do it differently do you wantto get into studio for day and we'll try it out and so we went into the studio and with a couple songs three songs or four songs and just did the acoustic versions of so what was an a b a b c a b song became a b a b b so so first course first second course third course no bridge and we wanted to remove the yeah and so we had this conversation on bridges I was like I like the bridge and he's like well here's the thing and you know I like no you go I was like, all right let's take it out like you know totally down to try it so here's the thing like how many songs do you know that have a bridge and that air like classic songs he's like take out like yes the beatles and led zeppelin out of the equation are there any other songs you can think of and I was like and at the at the you know I went home and found a list that I send in the next day but but like at the time I couldn't think of any and it begs the question is a bridge necessary and I would I would tend to think it's not always necessary but sometimes it can help so I think it's when you're thinking about these songs it really is about where the song wants to go it's not really about you it's about where the song wants to go that would be my only thinking about yeah that's so interesting yeah I didn't sell my first tours with damian oh really? Yeah that's awesome yes seattle's a small town that really is man really is what a great songwriter yeah his latest records made yeah it's really good he's I used to not like his music that much I don't think I've ever told them that but he's going to see that yeah totally hey sorry damien he's gonna be so pissed but I love the newest the newest couple of records like the last three records so I called him when I was having the writer's block actually really and he helped me I think what they say he just said I'll never forget it it was so helpful he's like you're trying too hard man like just just write it when when you feel like it it's funny and I did and I just let I let go a little bit of trying to be so critical and so perfect and yeah song started coming they weren't all great songs but at least they thought it was something and then they let two songs that I really believed in and wanted end of recording it's funny when he was telling when he did this thing at the recording recording academy conference and he was on this panel three lyricist there talking about lyrics and they asked him these like intricate questions about his songs get I don't really know and like so what does that look like I literally don't know at one point he goes listen like I don't know what my songs are about I'm just I just write what comes out of me and it was just like what that's so crazy I go back to being like the thing I was saying about the elizabeth gilbert speed it's like you know the artist position it's different in the way we look at it but I think if it is a very humble role I mean you're basically just a channel for something that's showing up and you learn how to get your like all these things we're talking about are just putting you in a place where you can capture that thing that wants to move through. I think that's this also just proves that there's no one way to do it. Totally not nothing's nothing's really wrong in many different ways to do it as there are people? Yeah, nothing like that's. Why? I said this stuff's just kind of details to me. Yeah, and it's a it's a way to approach it. If your doctor, if you're looking for other ways too, to explore our total, I think we should place more songs person do it. Yes, keep moving. You're gonna go first? Yes, you want to go for it? What do you know? That's? Unbeliever? I think I think that's the one to do I'm going to do the dorado version without the bridge. Unfortunately, guys probably haven't heard the other one, so you can't really compare, but I don't think it matters. I think, um, it's cool to notice how short this song is, but still gets to the point. It says everything I want to say so. See if this is in tune. Fingers crossed. Only one, you said, was three. So, in the guarantee, passing right in front of me. My sunday agreed. I'll be here until it's, right could be here sunday night. Holy rollers see me rise. Foreign I stands. I'm a believer. We should phone words carry on. Yeah, I want anyone, who's. All I known, oh, no, along the street and roads when the fever's taking roll off your balls. Priskin chance to take what's mine deviating from the line who's inside who's in town. Lose mama. Stay in good, I believe. Fishing for carrie. Stands. So I'm a believer. Wishing for a way to kill me on go! I'm a believer. Wishing for will take care. So I'm a believer. Wishing for teo carrie oh, will curio. Oh! No. Stan that's a great haste. I have heard that song before. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that was that's pumping shit, right? You probably heard the other version. Did you hear that version of it? Yeah, we're like donkeys, only good, charge rocking out. Yeah, yeah, that's, great that's, a really, really good song. Thanks, man. Which one of you? But I'm looking forward to hearing the version with damien. Yeah, all sitting on it, tio no, I wish it had been awesome. He just played guitar and helped arrange. Just arranged would produce the whole piece. Yeah, which was really, really fun, it's awesome. So I guess, uh, um, I'm just going to do the song that I diagramed so sweet. This is white daisy passing. Three. There's. A c green magic passed, but you only know when looking back. Oh, dude, turn. I'm going down to sleep on the bottom of the ocean, because he couldn't let go water setting. Ehsan. Why daisy taking turns? For the door walk to street kitchen. A raindrop on your tongue. Kitty. But it won't. Last man passin. So slow. There's. A secret place that I know where I could dig a grave out climb on. They're good dudes. I'm going down to sleep on the bottom of the ocean. Because I couldn't let go what? It said. Daisy he's taking time. All those evenings on the back deck of our first. Everything. But the winds carry. I really can't go back. It's passion moment. Go! Slow. She imagined past world, you know, swimming. Dude, turn around. I'm going down to see the bottom of the ocean. Because you couldn't let go, water said so. Because he couldn't let go. Person moment. Go. Oh!

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.

Ratings and Reviews

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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!