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The Complete Singer-Songwriter

The definitive guide, updated and expanded

The Complete Singer-Songwriter, 2nd Edition
By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Backbeat Books

Check out the Songwriting Toolbox guide to resources, camps, contests, and more

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A great source of inspiration... Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers takes you through all of it—from the fun stuff to the daily grind. And the insightful quotes from working songwriters give you a true sense of belonging.

Ellis Paul

The Complete Singer-Songwriter is the ultimate guide for the modern performer, chock-full of tips, tools, and inspiration for both aspiring troubadours and those looking to take their craft and career to the next level.

Author Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers draws on firsthand interviews with songwriting legends and rising stars; expert advice from managers, agents, lawyers, and publishers; and his own experiences as a performing songwriter. He offers this invaluable companion for singer-songwriters on their journey from idea to song to the stage, studio, and beyond.

The updated and expanded second edition features songwriting tips and techniques from more than 100 artists, including Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, Paul Simon, Rosanne Cash, Jewel, Jeff Tweedy, Ani DiFranco, James Taylor, John Fogerty, Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Jason Mraz, Rodney Crowell, Jerry Garcia, Dar Williams, and more.

Also new in the second edition:

There’s a whole lot of fun in this book for a song lover. I prescribe it for the layman, the budding writer, the veteran songmaker who needs a goose, and any touring/recording troubadour who just wants to talk shop and keep company with their own.

Ani DiFranco

"Jeffrey's conversations with songwriters over so many years have resulted in the most creatively valuable book on the subject."—Ben Harper

“If you are interested in writing songs or making a living writing and performing songs, this is an essential book. I wish I’d had it when I started, and I still find value in it now.”—John Gorka

"A lucid, well-written, fact-stuffed work. If your dream is to be a songwriter, and if ever a book could help you realize that dream, this is the book."—Bruce Cockburn

From the Introduction

One of the powerful and beautiful things about music is that it leaves you a way to express a set of emotions that has never been expressed before. Whether or not it is earth shattering or necessary even, it's just unique, and it's something the world doesn't have.

Kelly Joe Phelps

It might come from one little moment on a track, remixed and reimagined in your head as you walk down the street. Or from a conversation overheard in a café, or the rhythm of the windshield wipers and the summer rain. Maybe it's the way your fingers happen to fall on your instrument, suggesting a groove and then a snippet of melody.

Wherever it comes from, a song idea is an extraordinary yet everyday gift, and following it through to a complete expression of words and music—and then sharing the result with others—is the most creatively exhilarating experience I know. No wonder, then, that so many people become hooked and want to make writing and performing songs an active part of their lives. Songwriting engages so many of your faculties, from the most intuitive/creative to the most analytical/practical, and that's true whether you have professional aspirations or just want to make music in the available time around your day job.

One of the great things about being a musician today is that you can participate on so many levels. Even if you're not heading out on a cross-country tour, you can audition your songs at a local coffeehouse or open mic—and that may actually turn out to be the first small step toward that dream tour. The major labels may not break into a bidding war for your first album, but you can just release it yourself—even if your audience consists of only friends and family. And no matter what kind of career you choose, you can keep raising the bar on your art.

This book is written for both active and aspiring singer-songwriters, amateur and pro and all points in between, as a guide and companion for the journey from idea to song to the stage and studio and beyond. The advice and perspective in these pages is informed by my thirty-five years of writing, performing, and recording songs and my twenty-five years of interviewing singer-songwriters—legends as well as hardworking underground talents—about their careers and creative processes. Pearls of advice from these conversations appear throughout this book, along with tips and insights generously shared by producers, managers, agents, publicists, lawyers, record-company owners, and others in the singer-songwriter trade.

The opening chapters talk in detail about the songwriting process, from finding ideas to editing to collaborating, but they do not tell you how to write a hit song (there’s a whole shelf of books for sale purporting to share the “secrets” of commercial songwriting). The philosophy of songwriting here is that if you do what you love, and pursue it passionately and relentlessly, the rest will follow. The ensuing chapters then proceed to lay out exactly what does follow, from performing and recording to promoting your music in a crowded marketplace. More and more singer-songwriters, both well-known and obscure, oversee every aspect of their music down to the last design detail of the album cover, so this book offers many tips for do-it-yourselfers. It is by no means a complete business and legal guide, but these pages are packed with real-world advice and lessons learned the hard way.

As a singer-songwriter, you wear many hats: composer, lyricist, vocalist, instrumentalist, frontman/woman, and often manager, agent, label executive, producer, publicist—not to mention roadie. No one is born with the ability to perform all these roles well, and that’s the greatest challenge of this gig as well as its greatest reward. I hope this book inspires and supports you along the way.
—Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers