Reviews: Write Your First Song by Robbie Calvo and Song Factory: Birth of a Song by Ellis Paul

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Personal note: Whoo boy, it’s been a long time since I wrote. I took a forced sabbatical from playing guitar due to carpal tunnel surgery in both hands. Technically I could have written reviews, but I feel that they are completely useless unless I have a full on “hands on” experience with them. 

Songwriting… I have done a few songs, I even have one award on my wall for doing some, but I’ve been in a creative block for quite a while. I decided to see if going back to basics can help, and if these new Truefire lessons can help.

Robbie Calvo’s Write Your First Song is the first course I should have looked at. This is the most foundational of the two. Robbie does an excellent job of covering all of the foundations by defining the absolute basics of music, some basic stylistic elements, and basic parts like verse and chorus. From there he goes into some interesting building blocks with “sweet notes” (chord tones, keeping it to C major for this course) lyric writing, etc.

If you know very little about the basic building blocks of what makes a song, but want to write them, this is an excellent starting point. Robbie has this course laid out well and explains things in an easygoing manner.

Ellis Paul’s Song Factory: Birth of a Song is much less a basic structure series, and more like a creative writing workshop and idea generator. While it does also spend some time describing some of the nuts and bolts, the real strengths of this course come from the start where he explains starting journals and setting up a space for writing, to the exercises  for each individual approach such as writing using books or movies, or starting from your instruments.

The information ON songwriting is great, the approaches should be helpful to nearly anyone getting started or getting better at the craft of songwriting. The lessons are great, Ellis seems like a great guy to meet… and (*sigh*) I really can’t stand listening to Mr. Paul’s songs. They are not at all anything I want to listen to, in fact I bounced out laughing at one point because of I story I’d heard about another great singer songwriter; Harry Chapin, writer of great songs like “Cat’s in the Cradle, “Taxi”, and even “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” (great if you listen to the live versions with the alternate endings) but… I remember hearing a story about Rolling Stone Magazine having a Harry Chapin Singer Songwriter award, for awful songwriting. This was due to a song he wrote called “Sniper” which was basically inspired by the UT Austin gunman and told from the perspective of the killer. According to the story I heard they kept this award annual until Mr. Chapin’s untimely death.

Early on, Mr. Paul gives an example of a song he wrote from the perspective of a shooter…

I threw up my hands and walked away for a bit. This is all personal taste. There are a lot of musicians I don’t particularly enjoy listening to, that I still respect their ability, success, and connection to their audience. Ellis Paul, is a fantastic teacher on the subject of songwriting, I just don’t want to listen to his songs, entirely on me. I still have a great set of songwriting exercises to work through.

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