Alicia Bognanno of Bully joined the Berklee Online Live: Songwriting series where she delivered advice that would be helpful for aspiring songwriters. Watch the entire interview below, and see Alicia’s top 5 songwriting tips.
1. Don’t make it obvious who you are writing about.
“I don’t ever want to throw anybody under the bus [in a song]. I think when things are personal or I’m throwing myself under the bus that can be okay at times, but if [a song] is ever about somebody else then I try and not make it obvious… because I don’t want to be mean or on bad terms with anybody.”
2. Write what you feel, then think about how it will transfer to a live or studio setting.
“Usually, I don’t try and limit myself so that I can [play] live. I write things that challenge me so that I can become a better guitar player, and then just know I have to practice them a bunch. To be totally honest with you, playing ‘Kills to Be Resistant’ can be really difficult for me. I have to practice that [song] a lot. I will still sit in my room and just practice it… I try to just write and come up with a song that I like and am happy with and after that think about how it’s going to translate live and how it’s going to translate in the studio.”
3. Contrasting vocal melodies add a lot of variety to songs.
“Bridges are always really difficult for me [to write]. Lots of times, bringing up a melody can do so much. I hate to say this because I feel like I’m ratting myself out and I don’t think it necessarily makes the song less of a song because of it, but if you listen to ‘Trying’ it’s pretty much the same chord progressions throughout the song except for the bridge. Really what is changing is the vocal melody and the dynamics. I think that’s a good example of something that goes to show if you spend enough time working on dynamics and figuring out how to lift the melody a little bit more or make it a little bit more exciting in the choruses, that can really do a lot.”
4. Make music that you like.
“Just make music you like and that makes you feel good and that makes you happy. Hopefully, it will speak to somebody. Keep making music you like because that’s all that matters. If you make a bunch of crappy music then finish out, you won’t be happy.”
5. Write lyrics you want, despite what people will think.
“I actually think about [whether or not] an extended family member [will] call out something in my lyrics… Like, ‘That wasn’t appropriate for you to write about!’ But I think there is this line of respect with those people who are close to you. If they really support you, [they] know that [songwriting] is your creative outlet and it’s kinda what you need to do to get through the day… When I first listened to Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, I remember distinctly thinking I really appreciated how honest [the lyrics] were. To me, it’s harder to do because I’m forcing myself to really understand what I’m writing and making sure that the whole song makes sense… Being honest in lyrics is just kind of a part of that for me. Just do what you want to do. If you want to write [lyrics] nobody understands and it’s abstract, then go for it. If you want write personal, don’t not be personal because you’re worried about what people will think.”
Bully’s new album “Losing” is out now via Sub Pop.