Brendan Cleary talks songwriting

Brendan Cleary is a seasoned singer/songwriter with years of experience to his name. Now a regular teacher at Song Academy, Brendan encourages and mentors young people through the creative world of songwriting. Alongside this, Brendan recently signed a publishing deal with Rude Food Publishing, having showcased his skills by working with various DJ’s based in Holland. If that wasn’t enough, he is currently in the process of setting up a music teacher recruitment website. Inspired by lockdown and the ability to learn from anywhere in the world, the app/website will match up students with their ideal music teachers.

Brendan has kindly provided us with some brilliant tips regarding the craft of songwriting…

Start writing – My first suggestion is to simply get started. If you are a complete beginner, head to YouTube and search for some tutorial videos (they are endless!). Maybe look for something simple, such as ‘how to write a song’ or ‘how to write lyrics’. Then, simply start writing whatever comes to mind. There is no right or wrong, just begin.

Learn an instrument – I would also suggest learning four simple chords in any key. You would be amazed at how many songs use only four chords. In fact, some of the most famous songs in the world use only four chords! They can take your songwriting a long way. Piano and guitar are the usual instruments of choice as they accompany the voice brilliantly.

Lyrics – A great way to start writing lyrics is to write poems as this will help with rhyming patterns. Learning how to use rhyming couplets is a great place to start. Not only are they pleasing to the ear, but there are very few pop songs which don’t utilize rhyming structures, especially in pop. If rhyming is a particular challenge, I normally suggest RhymeZone to my students. Although it seems a little formulaic, the site is perfect for finding that perfect rhyme, and it can even spark inspiration for further writing and help to make sense of the previous lyric.

Find your style – Everyone has their own style naturally, mostly due to the accumulation of years worth of music consumption. Whilst it is great to take influence from other artists, it is really important to stay true to who you are and your music style. Don’t write a song which spans two octaves if your vocal range is much more limited. Equally, just because a style is ‘trending’, doesn’t mean it is the style for you. A great example is Jack Johnson. He has a memorable, distinct tone, and his lack of vocal acrobatics works for him.

Say yes!A modern day singer/songwriter has to be willing to take on a few different jobs and gigs. Streaming has significantly altered the industry, in many ways. I encourage my students to gain as much experience as possible, and to take up offers of paying gigs.

Release music – With streaming services, it has never been easier to release music. Not only is it fun to release music you’re proud of, it is also a great opportunity to showcase your music to publishers and managers. Luck definitely plays a part in the music industry, but more often than not, hard-work is much more important. People need to be able to listen to your music and releasing music independently demonstrates that you are taking your work seriously, especially if you gain an audience. If you are looking for publishers or labels to get on board, my advice is to keep emails short and sweet. People are busy, and just don’t have a lot of time. In fact, make sure the first 15-20 seconds of your song is memorable because realistically, they may not have time to finish the song.

Find the right people – It’s easy to suggest emailing people in the industry, but how do you know if they are the right people for you? A good way to find people who might be on the same wavelength is to search for your favourite artists on Spotify, artists who maybe have a similar sound or vibe to you. If you head to their biography, there are usually details of their managers and labels. Take a chance and send them your music, but make sure the music is high quality and your best work.

Be versatile – One thing I have learned is that you need to be incredibly versatile as a songwriter. I have to do a bit of everything on a daily basis. When I first started out, I used my acoustic guitar to write melodies. Now, I write a lot of toplines for dance tracks which requires a totally different set of skills, since dance music is mostly about the phonetics and the sound of words as opposed to the telling of a story. Also, with dance music, the lyrics tend to follow the melody rather than the other way around. That was something I had to get used to over time. Sometimes I will receive a brief from a specific client or company. They usually know exactly what they are looking for and it can be much easier to write in that way. So it is important to be able to deal with a variety of situations and requests.

Time management – Balancing time can be difficult as a songwriter. I have to sacrifice my social life on many occasions because writing sessions can continue well into the night. To be a successful songwriter, you should really, really love the craft because it can be very difficult and you need a lot of mental stamina. It is crucial that you don’t spread yourself too thin and try to do everything at once. You don’t want to burn out!

Thank you Brendan.