The modern pop artist lays down a sextet of useful hints for any songwriters looking to get their journey started
Formerly the lead singer of the Dublin-based rock band State Lights, Shobsy recently released his debut solo single, Vanity. Though his old band’s sense of grandeur still remains, his new music hits touchpoints such as The Weeknd, A-ha and George Michael. At the heart of his sound is a dynamic voice that knows when to stay grounded and when to blast off into outer space.
Launching himself for the second time, Shobsy is ideally placed to guide others through the early stages of a songwriting and performing career…
1. WRITE EMOTIONALLY, NOT LOGICALLY
For me, the main goal of a songwriter is to capture a feeling first. Any song I have ever been truly happy with has written itself. I believe this happens when a songwriter writes a quick riff or a chord progression that makes them feel a certain way. It could make them feel playful, hopeful, nostalgic or unearth a sense of pain. Any time I capture a completely vivid feeling from playing a certain musical progression, I know the song is already written.
I then see it as my job not to let my critical brain get in the way of it arriving. It’s very possible to start to panic when you really vibe off an idea, there is a sense of desperation that can develop to finish it. You desperately want it to arrive and you can start to think in a very practical way to try to nail it down. Oddly, I have found that a more original and exciting song is found if you can manage to silence this critical voice (at least until you have captured most of the song).
If the song is a great idea you will finish it someday when it’s right
Don’t get me wrong, applying critical thinking to a song that is practically written can be a very positive thing. It helps you to cut off any fat, or any unneeded sections. I just certainly wait to think in this way until I feel the song’s essence has truly been found.
2. TAKE TIME AWAY FROM AN IDEA
If you have a great idea that you are utterly loving and then suddenly get stuck on where to take it, walk away from it for a while. A few hours, days or weeks! I have found myself getting frustrated with a song I’m struggling with and almost building resentment towards it. It’s important to remember that there was a reason you started writing that particular song, and just because it is momentarily a struggle doesn’t mean it always will be.
So rather than powering through and writing the song in a state of frustration to the point you begin to dislike it, walk away from it and have a coffee. If the song is a great idea you will finish it someday when it’s right.
3. WRITE SOMETHING THAT CHALLENGES YOUR OWN EAR
Strangely, this is a fairly recent challenge I have set for myself as a songwriter. The temptation to write something that is easy or sounds like something you already love can be overwhelming. It can end up stopping you from writing something that sounds like…you!
That’s not to say that you can’t incorporate your influences into your songs, rather, try to make sure you include something in the song that surprises you. It could be a particular lyric, an interesting chord, a new synth or sound that brings a new atmosphere to your song.
I have found that this way of thinking has created some truly interesting songs in my catalogue recently. I didn’t find it easy at first, but be brave and try to do something that feels challenging to your own ear. It may well end up being considered ground-breaking to someone else’s.
4. WRITE WHEN YOU WANT
I have heard many varying opinions on how much a writer should write over the years. Some say to make yourself write every day, that it will up your chances of catching something golden. I completely see this point and if this works for you, that’s great. However, I have found that the best songs I’ve written have always come in a wave, a burst of sudden energy. It’s almost like a tap on the shoulder or a call that must be answered.
I don’t wait around for this to happen, unexplainable inspiration doesn’t happen every day. But I allow myself not to write if I feel not in the mood. I never want the process of songwriting to resemble anything like a chore in my life.
I would suggest that if you are in a spell of not feeling it or having what people describe as writer’s block, then don’t write and just live instead. I hope this doesn’t sound too airy-fairy but I believe that we are vessels for songs that are already written. We just get to nurture and bring them to life and maybe someday have the honour of performing them. So if nothing is happening and melody isn’t scratching at my door, I catch up with friends, I walk through town, I watch a film, but I certainly don’t panic about it. Stick the kettle on!
5. MAKE YOURSELF HEARD
When your song is finished, a whole new process begins. A process that a lot of artists, including myself, can struggle with. Self-promotion is an essential part of the song creation process in the modern era, what exactly that looks like can be varied depending on what type of music you make. It simply isn’t true that there is a one-size-fits-all method of getting your music heard.
Some musicians are particularly suited to promoting music on certain social media. For example, one viral piece of content on platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram can transform the size of your audience. However, other musicians are not as suited to these platforms, and that is ok. I think it always shines through when a great artist is being themselves, and this is revealed in the way they present themselves online or even in person.
Don’t forget the massive importance of face-to-face discussions, at gigs and industry events. People in the industry will be attracted to you in person if it is clear that you truly believe in yourself and your music. So arrive unapologetically as yourself to important nights/events and talk to people. One good conversation with the right person could be as valuable as that viral video. The art doesn’t end with the songwriting, it continues and manifests itself in you and your actions.
6. DEVELOP YOUR LIVE SHOW
Once again, the live setting is not every artist’s favourite aspect of music creation. Though I would recommend nailing down and having a very clear sense of who you are in a live setting. Live performance is one of the few areas that musicians can truly make a considerable profit from to allow them to continue operating.
Because of this, make sure your live show is as thought out and exciting as your song and social media presence is. If a song you release catches fire on Spotify/Tik Tok or any other platform, it would be such a shame if half the industry’s A&Rs came down to your show and decided your live show isn’t ready.
So most of all enjoy it, carve out an identity and break some rules. I love the live setting as it is one aspect that no one but you at that moment is in control of. In the age of social media, it can seem like those in-person musical moments no longer matter, I wholeheartedly disagree. One great performance can still change the world or at least transform a moment, the prospect of this excites me and gets me out of bed in the morning.