How to conduct a sonwgriting workshop


 

A friend of mine just participated in a songwriting workshop and he loved it! Now he is considering arranging one, I helped him to collect the following information!

If you are interested in conducting a songwriting workshop you will need to

  • Decide how many days the workshop will be
  • Get to know your customers
  • Get to know the venue
  • Have a clear outcome and goals
  • Hire a band
  • Set high expectations for the participants
  • Develop strategies on how to help the participants unleash their creative self (tips included)
  • Calculate your overall cost, which includes your music equipment, snacks & beverages, laptop, projector and much more.

Pre-planning: Think who are your customers

When creating a songwriting workshop it’s a good idea to ask yourself a couple of key questions, a few of them  are:

  1. The people that will attend my workshop, what level of experience do they have?
  2. Have they followed any form of training in the past?
  3. What genre and songs do they enjoy?
  4. How do they spend their free time?
  5. How can I connect with them and offer the best value possible?

Get to know the venue

Every environment is different, that’s why getting to know the venue is of utmost importance. Below I present a few ideas to consider:

  • Visit the venue and try to observe in an informal way
  • Attend an existing workshop to see the way the participants interact with each other
  • Spend a few hours in the lobby and just observe the customers and personnel
  • You also could volunteer as a waiter/waitress for a day or two and see how the staff interacts with the participants.
  • Observe the staff members and pay notice to their quality of service

Know your goal

Making the upcoming night memorable for the participants should be your main target and arranging a good performance might just do the trick, there are a couple of reasons for that:
First, you set the bar high and doing so will make the participants respond accordingly, secondly ending the workshop with an amazing performance is going to create amazing memories furthermore, there is a great change it will be shared on social media thus free advertising for you 😉 .

Before the workshop, schedule a pre-listen to the songs, this will allow you to imagine how the show might go and also make the necessary adjustments.

If you are wondering what type of artists to hire, consider a sing & songwriter, a small orchestra or a full band! Whatever the case might be make sure the songs  sound good are being performed professionally.

So far we have  an understanding of the venue and we know how the performance will look like, now it time to start with the workshop!

Day one: The workshop

Here are a couple of different angles you could use:

  • Work with groups in order to create a collaborative song within a couple of hours.
  • Engage the participants into a lyric writing exercise.
  • Instruct them to find some ideas from magazines and the latest news.
  • Choose and play a couple of songs and then analyze each part of the song.
  • Take one song section at the time and try to rewrite the melody, chords or beat together with the participants, ask them for ideas.
  • Give them an exercise on how to rearrange the instrumentation of a particular song.

If you’re conducting more than one songwriting workshops tell the participants next time to bring a couple of song ideas and pre-write one verse or chorus, then at the upcoming workshop allow them to present the ideas to the rest of the team, ask the group to bring suggestions to the table.

Create a plan for the following:

How to start a melody?

Writing a melody can be a difficult process specially if you are a beginner, here are a few different approaches:

  • Create a moodboard: it is simply a collection of 4-5 songs in the same genre. Participants should listen to the moodboard before writing, the purpose of this technique is to activate the brain’s musical imagination and avoid the blank canvas issue.
  • Solo: Allow one of the participants to start soloing on their instrument, hopefully this will create interesting melodic patterns that will be useful to the rest of the group. Tell them to feel free to modify the melodic ideas as they please.
  • Harmony: Create a few chord loops or tell a couple of the participants to play a 4 bar structure on their instrument then improvise upon that harmony.
  • Beatbox: Allow a participant to beatbox, establish a groove then ask a singer to improvise a melodic idea up on that groove.

How to write lyrics?

Keep in mind that your participants may be intimidated about how to start a new song, expect that they will turn to you for guidance. Here is a list I have created I that help solving the “blank page” problem:

    • I start you finish: give the participants the beginning of the phrase and they complete it, example: “I was…”I will…” When you saw…” etc the goal here is to create a lyrical song section using this technique.
  • Topic: Pick a topic and ask for two volunteers, now tell them to write lines to each other based on that topic, exchanging lines can be a great way to add a different dimension to a story, the key here is to be creative.
  • Picture writing: show a picture to the participants or allow them to pick their own and have them write a story about what they see in that picture.
  • Freewriting: Allow them to write about something they have been thinking about and  simply ask them to tell the story through their writing.

Collaboration is key

Once the lyrics and melody have been created the next step is to create the underlying harmonization. Beginner writers don’t possess the skills to undertake this task since it’s based on musical theory.

Therefore you should become their collaborator but also ask participants that they do possess this knowledge to assist you if necessary.

PRO TIP: Having available the basic chord charts and musical scales will help speed up the harmonization process.

Involve the performers

Once the above steps are completed it’s time to involve the performers!

Ask the musicians to work together with the songwriters, they will have to play and sing their the songs for them following their instructions, but at the same time tell them to given them tips on how to  improve their songs.

PRO TIP: Remember to explain to the performers that a lot of the participants don’t possess any musical knowledge and to be patience when collaborating with them.

Day two: Perform the finished songs

Now after all this work it is time to perform the finished results.

  • Most of the songwriters will want to share their musical creations with friends and family. Therefore a crowd of 20-100 people is expected (depending on the size of your workshop).
    If you’re not having the performance at the same location try finding a venue that is appropriate. The location should look professional but at the same time can also be intimate.
  • Arrange food and drinks, as they say “music starts from the belly” 🙂
  • Next, explain the process to the audience, maybe prepare a short video, how the original ideas were created, how melody, text were created and how the chords were conducted from the melodic lines. Emphasize up on how everyone worked together and how they contributed to the finishing product in their own way.
  • Remember to give appropriate credit, that means aknlowlege everyone that contributed to the process in any way even if it is was the small contribution. You could have a projector showing the names of the people involved in each song.

PRO TIP: Hire someone to get the first day on tape, this can serve as a testimonial for future clients.

How much should I charge?

The ticket for a songwriting workshop may range from $45 dollars and go up to $450 dollars per person, per day excluding registration fees.

I found it difficult to create a estimate since the price range is greatly depended upon  location and local prices, consider all hiring all the equipment from one place and ask for a discount, also if this is your first time ask friends and family if they can lend you a couple of stuff to get the job done. If you decide to buy certain hardware have a look at ebay, there are some great deals atm.

There are quite a few of factors that contribute to the price of a songwriting workshop a few of them are:

  • The overall quality of the workshop
  • The price of the venue (check your local prices)
  • The “level” and experience of the performing musicians (check local prices)

Extra costs to consider are:

  • Price of snacks and beverages, ($20-$40 per person)
  • Salary of cameraman and photographer, ($5-$100 dollars per hour)
  • “free” promotional gifts for the participants, ($-unknown)
    Consider Alibaba.com
  • Writing material such as pen and paper, ($10-$30)
    Look for bulk deals at ebay, you can get a whole box for like 30 dollars!

Running cost of equipment needed for the job such as:

  • Recording devices (one per group), ($0-$300)
    In order to cut costs you can use a phone to record the main idea and after that ask the musicians to professionally record each song.
  • Microphones, ($14-$150)
    Buy a few budget microphones but keep in mind that most of the singing will be done by the band which has their own equipment.
  • Headphones ($15-100)
  • A Laptop, ($130-$800)
    I don’t suggest bringing your own laptop, insted consider buying a second hand one, on ebay you can find used laptops for as low as $130 dollars)
  • A projector, ($100-$400)
    Consider buying a second hand projector from ebay.

Conclusion

Arranging a two day workshop can be a lot of work but also a lot of fun! If you planning on conducting regular songwriting workshops make sure to network and to have a good website with all the appropriate information.

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