Book Review: The Complete Singer Songwriter, by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers.
A book written for modern-times troubadours – but every producer who also wants to be an author can learn a great number of things from this book.
by Alex Arsov, Sept. 2016
It is the second edition of this 200+ page book written by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, ex-editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and winner of the John Lennon Songwriting contest. It is a well-written “do’s and don’ts” collection of advice that can guide you through the whole process of songwriting, recording, performing and managing the business side of your music. The whole book is written from a folk-rock one-man-band performer perspective, but most of the advice can be easily applied to any modern songwriter, no matter which genre you pursue. Maybe it is not so appropriate for a contemporary electronic musician, but if you are a band member or solo artist writing your own material, then this could be a very good starting point. It can help you get through some of those inspiration dropouts, “what to write about” moments, and “how should I finish my song” dilemmas.
There are moments when some advice is a bit too specific, suited more to modern troubadours performing in clubs and other small venues, but tips regarding lyrics, chord structure, performing, collaborating or even the chapters about agents, producers and similar topics are quite common for the whole industry. After all, the subtitle for this book is: A Troubadour’s Guide to Writing, Performing, Recording and Business. I’m not a troubadour, but I’m an author and no matter that I’ve been in the music business for more than twenty years, I still found many useful tips and advice. While the book goes through a very wide array of aspects, it never goes too deep into some small concrete details. Instead it offers you a wide insight into song structure and chord progressions that could be applied in any scale. And all sorts of lyric structures. Also a load of insider advice from some well-known modern troubadours that Jeffrey has interviewed during his magazine carrier.
Going Through The Book
After the first introductory part we fall into a detailed description of the songwriting process – how to find the right topic, where to get ideas for your song. There is a great deal of advice about where and how to use rhymes, how to build tension with a words, even offering some word games that could help you build your rhyme vocabulary.
In the second part Jeffrey offers some great explanations of chord progressions, giving a bunch of song examples that use those progressions. Major, minor, blues major and minor chord progressions. I already know all of that, but still found this part useful. However, if you are not familiar with this topic, then this could be a goldmine for you. You will not find particular chords here, but information on relationships between chords written in quite a common form by using numbers; “I” for dominant chords in a major key, “i” for minor dominant chords and so on. This chapter is quite detailed and I think it describes almost all general progressions that are used in popular music. Of course, those are just general progressions, so there you will not find all those small exceptions that most authors use, adding here and there some unexpected details. As we are all slaves of our own habits, using just a few progressions over and over, this chapter gave me some fresh ideas on how to break down my barriers, finally trying something new. It is well explained and simple enough that it can be implemented into your composition even if you are not too familiar with harmony.
Editing and On Stage chapters are those that are quite specific, aimed mainly at club performers, but the truth is, when you are starting out with your band, the clubs are your only option, so at some point it could be useful for all live performers, be they troubadours or rock bands.
The last two chapters are about studio recording and the business side of your music appearance. There are some good explanations, when and why you should hire a professional studio or even a proper producer. Not that I agree with all things that are written in this chapter, but one thing is for sure: if your intention is to be a professional performer then you should prepare yourself to produce professional results. If you don’t have all the recording, producing knowledge, then you should definitely hire the professionals. Maybe I disagree at some points as I have all that knowledge now, but I presume that I’m not the target audience for this book, so maybe Jeffrey is right. Home recording is good for demo purposes, especially if you are not totally at home in a home studio ;-). Of course there is much more inside every chapter, so this home recording issue is just a fragment inside a much wider context.
In the business part you can find some explanations regarding all the organizations that exist to protect your music, about publishers and small rights organizations: which one is right for you, why you should join such organizations and many other useful pieces of advice. Things are constantly changing in the music business, but some things are always the same.
To Be or Not To Be
I didn’t find myself interested in some chapters of this book, but on the other hand, some chapters are worth the full price of the book. I’ve been in the music business almost twenty years but still found some good advice here. If you are a club performer, a newcomer in a troubadour world, then this could be an essential book for you. If you are just an author, a band leader, then you might just glance through some topics and still find a lot of useful advice about lyric structure and lyric thematics, song structure, general chord progressions and some other things that can help you to become a better author.
This book can be a good basic instruction manual for entering the fantastic world of being an active musician, the one that writes songs and performs live.
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Price $19.99 USD