Jan 23, 2011

Great article about Katie Cole

“I try not to tell the same story people have heard before” Katie Cole

I always find it fascinating how certain songs will instantly take my mind to a specific place and time or even a general location in my past. Music has a unique way of helping us remember life events in a vivid way by adding context and emotion to a situation. While there is no way to guarantee a hit song, a songwriter will generally know when a song has that special chemistry and spark. The journey of writing is what makes us better and when that special moment does strike, savor it and enjoy.

Our latest stop found us in Los Angeles where we discussed the songwriting process with Aussie-born Katie Cole who prefers to write happy songs because she feels that people can get depressed and angry without her help.

McCoy: When did you first start writing music and what instruments if any do you use in the initial raw stage of a song?
Cole: I love telling my story so hopefully I make it exciting with some verbal pyrotechnics somewhere. I grew up in a really musical family with the entire family singing, playing piano.... I was singing show tunes around the piano when I was 5. Bear in mind this was before TV shows like "Glee" were cool. (hahaha). I am self taught in voice, piano and guitar... so I started singing when I was born pretty much. I taught myself "Moonlight Sonata" on piano at 12 by ear and thought "people don't usually do this"... and taught myself guitar at 15/16. 

When I was about 15, I decided I wanted music in my life "for realzies" and started playing live acoustic shows for money. I was a professional musician from the start. Since I was playing and singing all popular top 40 songs, I quickly grasped what constituted a HIT song. I started writing songs on guitar at around 17 and this is still what I primarily use today to write music.

McCoy: Where do you get your inspiration from?
 Inspiration is a good word. I don't think you always need inspiration to write - many great songs are "observational". I think SHOWING people a good story rather than just TELLING it helps the listener to connect better. That way, they paint the picture of whatever they think the song is about in their head. I generally write about love, life and find an interesting twist or phrase to tie my stories together. I am a story teller ... so I try not to tell the same story people have heard before. It has to be familiar, but not cliched. Yes "heart" rhymes with "apart" but it doesn't mean you have to use it in every song. As a hopeless optimist, I try to keep an uplifting nature to my songs. I figure, that I'd rather write happy songs.

McCoy: Do you tend to stick to just one genre (rock, alternative, rap,etc...) or do you jump around a bit?
Cole: For my style of music and my career, I like to describe my genre as pop/rock with a twist of clever. Not too much though. I am a singer-songwriter, but there is a stigma of female on piano or guitar playing ballads when you say, "I'm a singer/songwriter". I treat my music more like I'm in a band, but we drink more iced tea than whiskey. I also write songs for other artists, so those songs can be hard rock, country, rnb, dance and Disney pop. There is a language and chord difference with genres. Some things will not translate from genre to genre.... so when I sit down to write a song, I work better when I know who I am writing for.

McCoy: Have you ever hit a dry patch where you wondered if you had anymore songs in you?
Cole: Nope. I am an ocean with lots of fish to fry. Sorry, that analogy was awful. ha!

McCoy: What roadblocks have you run into during the writing process and what do you do to overcome them?
Cole: Sometimes you have language or subject constraints for writing specifically for an artist or TV placement where you can't be specific about the subject or characters. So, it fits better with the TV/movie scene. (That can be challenging). I think there is always an answer to writing blocks. Sometimes it comes instantly.... sometimes weeks later. You just have to assess as you are writing so you keep on track with where you are going with the story and style. It's like wearing an artist hat, then switching over to a supervisor hat every so often, but without disturbing the flow. It takes time to get used to.

McCoy: Do you find it easier to write the music or the lyrics, and how do you overcome the more difficult portion of the process?
Cole: Some days lyrics just flow out, other days it's good music. I like to sit and write some blobs of lyrics and form good phrases, then when I am writing music, I have a number of different starting points. I still write a lot of songs: music, then melody, then lyrics to suite. I think it's important to be able to write with different methods. You can't force a great song out, you just have to be honest about what's working and what is not. Then change it IMMEDIATELY accordingly... you can't afford to be precocious.

McCoy: What is the general song structure that you use? Intro, verse, chorus, etc...
Cole: I generally run with intro verse, pre, chorus, verse2, chorus, bridge, double chorus, but many songs today skip the prechorus or just have a b part to the verse with the same chords and different melody. I love prechoruses!!!! I use them when I can. As long as the songs is fascinating, not confusing... catchy.. but not too repetitive and ends before 3:45... great!!!

McCoy: Do you use a lyrical or musical bridge in each of your songs, and how important do you think the bridge is to the song?
Cole: I usually use a lyrical bridge to my songs. I think it's important to include a bridge.  A bridge says, "I'm really emotional and here's another point to my story in case you don't get it yet!!". You need that.

McCoy: Is there a general theme/mood that you find yourself writing about more than others? Love, happiness, sadness, etc...
Cole: Most of my songs are uptempo numbers 130bpm... or mid tempo 90-110. I like fast... and I like happy songs. I figure people can get depressed and angry on their own... they don't need my help. But you don't have to be in the mood to listen to an uplifting song. I mostly use lyrical hook about love and life and changing your circumstances and not being afraid.

McCoy: If you look at a song you wrote when you were first starting out and compared it to a more recent song you have written, what would be the biggest difference?
Cole: Yep. You develop better language skills, rhythmic skills and analytical skills as you write songs. It takes years to feel comfortable with saying, "I just spent 2 hours on this verse and it still sucks." Ego has to take a back seat. Just because you wrote it, doesn't make it right. You can always make a good song great, or an ok song better. You cannot make an ok song into a hit. There has to be something really special to work with initially.

McCoy: What has been the biggest change in your writing style over the years?
Cole: As I said.. it's mostly language and phrasing. You get a feel after a few years for what words sound great and what do not work and also how to rearrange a sentence to make it rhyme without changing the meaning. I think I have learned how to tell a good story without being predictable. I am always interested in GREAT melodies, so making a song elevate at the chorus is a big focus for me.

McCoy: Do you have any songwriting tips for our readers?
Cole: Listen to all your favorite songs. Then listen to at least 20 hit songs over the past 10 years... and assess them. Why do they work??? How can you learn from those songs and apply it to your style??? How do they emotionally connect to the listener? Ideally it's more about the asking questions. Nobody knows all the answers... but you have to be willing to learn. If Diane Warren (hit writer of "Unbreak My Heart", "If I could Turn Back Time", etc) can take notes today from producers about how to make her songs better, surely we can do the same.

McCoy: If you had to pick one song that you were the most proud of writing, what would it be?
I love one of my songs called "Breakout". It's on my "Lost Inside a Moment EP".

McCoy: What's your favorite hometown venue?

Cole: I love playing at Room 5 for acoustic shows.. and at the Mint for band shows. I always play well there.

McCoy: Where can our readers go online to take a listen to your music?

Cole: My "Lost Inside a Moment EP" is on iTunes currently.... and you can listen on my websitewww.katiecoleofficial.com  www.myspace.com/katiecoleofficial and www.facebook.com/officialkatiecole

Solo project name: KATIE COLE
City/State: Los Angeles, CA  but originally from Melbourne, Australia
Years in Business: 10

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