Vanessa Collier hails from Philly and recently won 1st prize in the “Lyric Only” category of the USA Songwriting Competition for her song “When It Don’t Come Easy”.

This is no small feat, so we decided to ask her some questions about her approach to writing music and for some tips she might have for other songwriters that she has found useful for herself. We found her answers both concise and illuminating.

[GTR] What are your tips for writing great lyrics?

[Vanessa Collier] Daily object writing is immensely helpful to write using the senses. Also using a rhyming dictionary and Pat Pattison’s Writing Better Lyrics Book. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite and when you think it’s good, rewrite again.

[GTR] What are your thoughts for crafting great arrangements?

[Vanessa] Think of the groove and lyrics and what emotion they evoke; everything should agree with or add to that emotion. Listen to songs that you love and note the things that stick out the first time; listen again and see what other new nuances your ears notice.

I like the use of subtle prosody to enforce key lines in the music.

[GTR] Good answer! What about coming up with catchy hooks, lyrical and/or musical?

[Vanessa] Have a recording device handy at all times, so if you have something in your head you can capture it wherever you are. Think rhythmically and melodically for good hooks.

For lyrical hooks, keep an ear out in conversations or newspaper articles for phrases that catch your ear.

[GTR] What are your 3 tips for memorable melodies?

[Vanessa] For starters, it must be sing-able. If it’s sing-able for an audience on the second time you sing it, you’ve done really well. If it’s sing-able the first time around, even better – you’ve accomplished something. I think simple, beautiful melodies are incredibly powerful.

I have found that listening to and studying melodic instrumentalists can be really helpful and studying different styles of music can lead you into new areas. Indian classical music is one of my favorites.

[GTR] What are your thoughts for wrapping up unfinished songs?

[Vanessa] Take a walk, often getting my body moving will get my mind spinning in a new direction and inspiration often comes then. Also, try writing a worksheet of words on the topic you’re writing about. Include writing from your five senses. For me, sometimes an unfinished song becomes two songs later, meaning I’ll take a couple lines I like from the song and create a whole other song. And what’s left becomes a different song entirely. Letting go of what the song was intended to be originally can be difficult, but often, you get a couple great songs instead!

[GTR] What are about co-writing and collaboration?

[Vanessa] Find people that you trust and enjoy working with to write with and discuss the royalty percentage up front. Have weekly sessions with different songwriters. If possible never say, “No”; try out the other person’s ideas with an open mind.

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