Some Random Stuff about Songwriting

Added on 16 March 2011

The UK Songwriting Contest 2011 is now open for entries. You have to pay to enter, and if you win you don't receive any money, but no doubt it's a chance worth taking. The prizes are all about exposure and the chance to breathe the same air as Simon Cowell.

I've entered the last two years, because obviously while I rank somewhere alongside JK Rowling, Dan Brown and Bob The Builder in terms of book sales, in songwriting terms my success to-date is a big fat pile of rancid hopelessness.

Points are awarded out of ten to all contestants along the following lines:

10 - The winner in each category

9 - The three runners-up

8 - The Finalists (think there are ten of each)

6/7 - The semi-finalists

4/5 - Not very good

2/3 - Really really execrable fetid pish

I have a feeling they don't award 0 or 1 point in case they offend people. Or perhaps it's in the small print that if you get 0 or 1, someone comes round and breaks all your fingers and chops your ears off to dissuade you from writing songs in the future.

They implore all finalists and even semi-finalists to contact the local media and get themselves some much-needed 15 minutes to hail their success. For the winners, this seems fair enough. For the semi-finalists? Across all categories there are something like 1300 songs awarded semi-finalist status. So you made it into the last 1300... Fuck yeah!

That's not celebrating mediocrity, that's....  well, actually, yes it is. It is exactly celebrating mediocrity.

Two years ago, fresh out of the recording studio with The Strange Case of Solomon Green, I entered seven songs. I genuinely thought I would win, and was already planning what I'd say to Simon Cowell. (Either: Who the fuck are you? or You really have achieved the impossible. You were even more smug than Clarkson on Top Gear.) None of my songs won. One of them was rated Not Very Good, the other six were all semi-finalists. To be honest, I didn't celebrate mediocrity, and didn't even print off my certificate.

Last year I hadn't written any new songs, what with me spending my time writing award-winning barbershop death junkie fiction. I had an idea though. Being of the mind that the strength of my songs, assuming they had a strength, was in the pithy and sharp lyrics, rather than the tunes - have always struggled with tunes, not so much lyrics, what with me being a writer 'n all - I divested the songs of their tunes and entered them all in the Lyric Only category. I genuinely thought it would be enough to bump them all up into at least being Finalists.

There are some sharp lines in there. Such as:

"You get paid to make speeches, you feed from the leeches..." from Song To The Departed, a gentle lament to the passing of Tony Blair, and

"I met somebody new that night, I tried talking family planning, she said,

Maybe you can throw a ball my friend, but you ain't no Peyton Manning..." from The Quarterback Song.

I was confident. Eventually the results came in. All the songs that had been rated semi-finalists the year before were now rate Not Very Good. My plan had failed.

I took a look at the winning entry. A love song. First runner-up. A love song. Second runner-up. A love song. Third runner-up. A love long. Hmm... There was something going on. I was beginning to see a pattern. I revisited all my Not Very Good lyrics. None of them were love songs. However, I had also entered one lyric for a song I hadn't entered the previous year. It was, kind of, a love song. It, at least, made the semi-final; but was no doubt skewered by lines such as "The old guys drinking coffee talking 'bout Brady's knee..."

(That line of course dates the song, as these days the old guys will be talking about Brady's hair, or Brady's interception against the Jets, or Brady's anti-trust lawsuit.)

And so the way forward seems clear. Stop slagging off Tony Blair and writing about quarterbacks. Write love songs.

"I saw you standing on the corner, waiting for your prince;

Your hair was lank and greasy, your breath it smelled like mince..."

Time to dust off that greeting for Simon Cowell.