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Behind the Song

Songwriting toolbox

Here’s a selective guide to publications, organizations, websites, camps, contests, and other resources for songwriters—compiled as a companion to the book The Complete Singer-Songwriter and continuously updated. Feel free to submit corrections and suggestions.


Craft and Creativity

Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. Classic guide to the creative process. Also an online course.

Robin Frederick, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV, Taxi Music Books. Commercial, pop-oriented approach to writing songs.

Pat Pattison, Writing Better LyricsWriter’s Digest Books. Authoritative handbook on the lyrical craft.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, Songwriting Basics for Guitarists, Stringletter. Multimedia guide with tab and video (includes guitar-specific presentations of some of the material in The Complete Singer-Songwriter).

Rikky Rooksby, How to Write Songs on Guitar, Backbeat Books. Detailed theory-based instruction on melody, harmony, rhythm, and chord progressions.

Jimmy Webb, Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting, Hyperion. A deep dive into one songwriter's process.


Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, eds., Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Sourcebook, Hal Leonard. Lyrics and chords to 1,200 songs, from folk ballads to '70s rock. The sequel, Rise Again Songbook (published in 2015), adds nearly 1,200 more songs, including some more recent pop.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, Rock Troubadours, Stringletter. Interviews with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Dave Matthews, and more.

Paul Zollo, Songwriters On Songwriting, Da Capo. Massive collection of craft-oriented interviews. New in 2016: a follow-up volume, More Songwriters on Songwriting.

Literary Guides

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Harper Perennial. An intense and poetic exploration of the creative process.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeAnchor. A funny, smart, and encouraging book by a novelist and nonfiction writer.

Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others, Oxford. Thoughtful guide full of exercises for creative writers.

William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, Allyn and Bacon. The classic guide to clear and concise writing.

Digital Tools

B-Rhymes. Website and apps for finding near rhymes.

Chorderator. One of many online tools (and apps) for naming chords based on a guitar fingering, or finding a fingering based on a chord name, in standard tuning or any alternate tuning.

Lyricist, Virtual Studio Systems. Software for creating lyric sheets and chord charts.

MasterWriter. A writer's tool especially for brainstorming lyrics, using an extensive database of rhymes, phrases, alliterations, and pop culture references.

Rhyme Genie. Rhyming dictionary software.

RhymeZone. Free online rhyming dictionary.


Booking and Venues

Concerts in Your Home. Booking network and other resources for house-concert performers and hosts.

Educate and Entertain. Highly informative blog by musician Dave Ruch on making a living as a regional performer and teaching artist.

Folk venue listserv. Discussion list for presenters.

GigSalad. Booking site for event planners.

Home Routes. Canadian house-concert network.

How to Host a House Concert. Concise online guide by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers.

Musician's Atlas. Resources for booking.

National Association for Campus Activities. Connects educational institutions with entertainers.

Stageit. Platform for online performing.

Sonicbids. Online booking service.

Concert Calendar Apps

The following are some options for posting and promoting concert dates online.


GigPress (WordPress plugin)



Stage Craft and Gear

Steve Rapson, The Art of the Solo Performer, American Success Institute.

Livingston Taylor, Stage Performance, Mentor. Based on Taylor's long-running performance class at Berklee College of Music.

Frets.com. Exhaustive, illustrated online guide to acoustic guitar care and repair.

Simone Solondz, ed., Acoustic Guitar Owner’s Manual, String Letter. Player’s guide to guitar maintenance, with sections on traveling with and insuring your instrument.

Travel Tips. For musicians flying with instruments, from Folk Alliance International.


Recording Process

Jeff Strong, Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies, Wiley.

Oasis Disc Manufacturing offers free guides for recording and album budgeting.


Stephen Fishman, The Public Domain: How to Find and Use Copyright-Free Art, Music, Writings, and More, Nolo.

The Indie Bible. Directory of radio stations, publications, sites for promoting music.

The Music Biz Academy. Includes articles on promotion, copyright, and other business topics.

PD Info. Reference site for identifying music in the public domain.

Star Polish. Extensive advice section covers all aspects of the record business.

Taxi. Independent A&R company for unsigned artists and songwriters.

U.S. Copyright Office. Includes FAQ, copyright search, and eCO online registration.

Online Studio Services

Session Players. For booking Web-based sessions with studio pros.

StudioTraxx.com. Web portal for hiring studio musicians and collaborating online.

Indaba Music. Online platform for finding musicians and working together on songs and tracks.


CD Baby




General Business

Justin Gomer and Jackson Hille, The Freelancer's Essential Guide to Business and Taxes. Free online advice. Also from the same authors: A Tax Guide for Independent Contractors and the Companies Who Hire Them.

Donald S. Passman, All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Simon and Schuster. An authoritative, accessible, and highly readable guide.

Peter Spellman, The Self-Promoting Musician: Strategies for Independent Music SuccessBerklee Press.

Fan Funding

Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, Grand Central. Reflections and advice for artists in the Internet age.

Indiegogo. Fundraising for individuals, groups, and nonprofits.

Kickstarter. Funding platform for creative projects.

Patreon. Fan funding for artists (video creators, visual artists, and others as well as musicians), supporting the ongoing creation of smaller works.

Music Publishing

Publishing administration. Web-based services include CD Baby Pro, TuneCore, and Songtrust.

Randall D. Wixen, The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing, Hal Leonard. Clear, concise, and useful discussion of a vital topic for songwriters.



Folk Alliance International. Organizes an annual trade show for musicians, presenters, deejays, and others in the folk trade, as do its regional subgroups: NERFA (Northeast), SERFA (Southeast), FARM (Midwest), SWRFA (Southwest), and FAR-West (West).

Future of Music Coalition. Advocacy organization focusing on technology and public policy.

Nashville Songwriters Association International. Trade association for songwriters.

Performing Rights




SOCAN (Canada)

SoundExchange. Collects royalties for noninteractive webcasts, satellite radio, and music stations delivered by cable TV.

Mechanical Rights

Harry Fox Agency. Central agency for mechanical licensing in America--see website FAQ. Search for copyright/licensing information on millions of published songs at Songfile.

Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA)


Songwriting Camps

U.S. Northeast

Berklee Summer Songwriting Workshop (Boston)

Cape Cod Songwriters Retreat (Massachusetts)

Frets and Refrains: Richard Thompson's Acoustic Guitar and Songwriting Camp (New York)

New England Songwriters Retreat (hosted by Ellis Paul)

Steve Earle's Camp Copperhead (New York)

SummerSongs (New York)

Writing a Song That Matters, with Dar Williams (New York)


Interlochen Center for the Arts (Michigan)

Lamb's Retreat for Songwriters (Michigan)


John McCutcheon's Songwriting Camp at Highlander (Tennessee)

Kerrville Song School (Kerrville Folk Festival, Texas)

Mountain Songwriting Retreat (West Virginia)

Nashville Songwriter Camp

NSAI Song Camp (Nashville)

Opelika Songwriting Retreat (Alabama)

Performing Songwriter Creative Workshops (Nashville)

Song Traveler's Songwriting Retreat (Nashville area)

Swannanoa Gathering, Contemporary Folk Week (North Carolina)


Americana Song Academy (Sisters Folk Festival, Oregon)

California Coast Music Camp

California Songwriting Camp

Camp Ned (Colorado)

Colorado Roots Music Camp

Eliza Gilkyson's Songwriting Workshops (New Mexico)

Moab Folk Camp (Utah)

Rocky Mountain Song School (Colorado)

Pacific Songwriting Camp (California)

Yosemite Songwriting Retreat (California)


Judy Stakee's Songwriting Retreats (various locations)

The House of Songs (songwriting residencies in New York City, Texas, and Arkansas)

Listening Room Retreats (collaborative writing retreats, various locations in North America and Europe)


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