Tom A Smith’s Songwriting Survival Kit

Tom A Smith’s Songwriting Survival Kit
Tom A Smith's Songwriting Survival Kit

Tom A Smith’s Songwriting Survival Kit: “I try not to do the same sound or thing twice.”

We hear from the indie-rocker from Sunderland who’s using his guitar, iPad and Apple Mac to create his rousing music

Having made a name for himself by performing covers of songs by the likes of David Bowie, Billy Bragg and The Stone Roses, Sunderland’s Tom A Smith recently released his debut EP, EP1, and showcased his own burgeoning talent as a songwriter. With a modest title that lets the compositions do the talking, the five-track collection is modern indie-rock packed with feeling and a classic sensibility. Whether on rousing anthems such as Dragonfly and Wolves, or on the delicately poignant love song Boltcutters, there’s a clarity of message and voice that you can’t help but be stirred by.

Inspired by what we’ve heard so far from the youngster, we wanted to learn a little more about Smith’s go-to gear…

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1. TELECASTER/TRAVEL GUITAR

It’s not always the norm but I write 95 percent of my stuff on a guitar. I have a million and one different melodies and hooks running around my mind and if I don’t have any lyrics pre-written I never end up putting them together to make a song. I normally have my pedal setup in place and really look for tone and a bit of a hook.

I try not to do the same sound or thing twice. I’m pretty certain my voice can be the constant throughout the recording so I like to play with different genres and styles as much as I can. I’m of the Spotify generation, so don’t listen to anything of one particular style so I don’t know why I need to pigeonhole myself into one category.

2. AN IPAD

I know this isn’t the traditional way of doing things, but I normally need lyrics thought out and a narrative before I even start a song. When lockdown started I no longer had to revise for my GCSEs as they were cancelled, so I decided that I had six months until college started to learn how to write a song properly.

It was actually a suggestion from my dad to write lyrics over songs that I enjoyed, this would give me a structure and the right amount of syllables and then put them to an entirely different tune I’d created. This worked really well from the very first song which I think was called Stuck On You, it never made it past the demo stage but the verses can be sung perfectly over Hopelessly Devoted To You by Olivia Newton-John.

Tom A Smith. Photo: TyneSight

Tom A Smith: “Without doubt, my best songs have the lyrics written in 15 minutes.” Photo: TyneSight

What I was trying to do was create structure and learn what works and what doesn’t. I don’t need to do this technique now but it really helped at first. Over six months, I wrote over 200 sets of lyrics and would try and get ideas from other song lyrics for a story. Without a doubt, my best songs have the lyrics written in 15 minutes.

3. CAMERA PHONE/LOGIC PRO/APPLE MAC

I record my first version as an acoustic demo for the only reason that I forget how it goes if I don’t do it there and then. It gives me a chance to imagine it as a full tune. The next day I’ll listen to it and normally record a guide track using Logic Pro and then start layering it up with different hooks and melodies. I’m least confident with drums so tend to put a sample track, unless I have something specific in mind then I’ll record some live ones. After that, it’s a free for all, with proper vocals last along with backing vocals.

My demos have ended up sounding a lot like the final versions so I must have a fairly clear picture at the beginning of where I want it to end up. I love hearing an amazing song and have it inspire me to run along a similar pattern or theme. Would hate to steal anything from a song but I do try to copy that feeling it gives me. I know almost immediately if I’m on the right path. I’m trying to write as much as I can before it all dries up!

Mike Batt at French House Party 2024

EP1 is out now. Tom A Smith’s Facebook page has all of his latest live dates and new music

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