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Pro Tip: Having A Songwriting Life

Pro Tip: Having A Songwriting Life

I was recently in Nashville recording a demo at The 515 Studio, and got to know Chip Hardy, a long-time music industry producer and songwriter. Chip’s been a producer or composer on albums for Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Conway Twitty, T.G. Sheppard, Lee Greenwood, Waylon Jennings and more.

He graciously gave me a copy of his book Chip’s Tips: Tips For Songwriters And Life.
It’s one of the best songwriting reads I’ve come across in quite a while.

I had a few follow up questions for Chip after reading his book.


Q&A With Producer, Arranger & Music Consultant Chip Hardy


Q Do you think there are moments for a songwriter when they are about to hit “the next level”?  If so – how can they tell?  Is there a way to push themselves to that next level?


Chip:  Yes–Probably the easiest way is to have songs critiqued professionally.  Although, professionals’ opinions will vary greatly, their opinions can tell a writer when they are getting closer to achieving writing a “tight” song.

To push to the next level many times involves co-writing with someone who is already at the next level.  It’s not so much about the song that’s written as it is about the learning experience.

Buy Chip's Book!


Q  You talk about the value of therapeutic songs and work songs in growing a songwriter’s skills. It sounds like you don’t believe everything has to be for commercial radio – can you expand a bit about the value of the song being the song?


Chip:  Songwriters have many reasons for writing songs besides for commercial purposes.  I can’t tell you the number of times my writer’s had a new baby or lost a loved one and their next song or songs would be about the life event.

For real songwriters, songwriting is a way of expressing their lives through music and lyric.  Many times writing about the loss of a loved one or friend can actually be a healing experience.  The issues come when a songwriter believes that a song written for therapeutic purposes can become a “hit” for Tim McGraw.  The song has already fulfilled it’s mission once it was written and possibly performed for other friends or family members.


Q  Can you talk about the role of the songwriter in not only the lyrics, but the bringing the value of musical elements like a motif, musical signature and “ear candy”? How does a lyricist develop an ear for it – that should probably the first question!?


Chip:  Signature “licks” are extremely important in commercial music and songwriting.  Songwriters should be just as aware of “Sig licks” as they are of melody and lyric.

It’s really hard for someone who is strictly a lyricist, who doesn’t sing or play an instrument, to dial in to how to create musical signatures.  The way a lyricist “develops an ear” for musical sigs is by listening to commercial songs and attempting to use what they have learned in their own writing.

Most of the time though, a lyricist is writing to an existing melody or track that should already have the sig licks incorporated into it.


Q  You mention Spring Training and getting back to basics once-in-a-while.  Do you recommend a time frame or a way of doing it?

Chip:  Seasoned, professional songwriters are almost always “getting back to the basics” when they review and critique their own songs.

Is the melody easy to sing along with?  Does the melody “lift” so listeners know when the song is going into the “sing-a-long” portion–or the Chorus?  Is the lyric tight–meaning that the story line is clear and taking listeners from “point A to point B” without confusion?

For the non-professional songwriter, who is writing about anything and everything, they should take note every once in a while of whether or not what they’re writing is commercial.  That’s what I mean by “getting back to basics” for them.


Q  Do you think conferences or songwriting groups are ways to either get back to basics or grow your overall knowledge base? Any particular process you would use for determining how a songwriter might fit into either one/choose one for themselves?


Chip:  As I pointed out many times in the book, co-writing with someone “higher up the ladder” is the best way to learn.  If conferences and songwriter groups provide that kind of atmosphere for a non-professional songwriter then the conferences and groups are a good thing to be a part of.

If everyone in the group is at the same level though, the songwriter must find different ways to plug in to better songwriters.

The only “process” I would recommend is one of trial and error.  The non-professional songwriter needs to have as much exposure to the professional world of the craft as possible.


Q  What’s the #1 best way for a songwriter to know if they’re progressing?


Chip:  Probably having their songs listened to by professionals.  Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, etc., are all going to think a non-professional songwriter is “great” just because they write songs.

There’s a huge difference between just writing songs and writing on the competitive, professional level.  Crossing the line between writing for “fun” and for friends and family members into the world of professional songwriting brings a whole new meaning to the word competitive.


Chip Hardy

chip hardy the 515 studioChip Hardy is a producer, arranger, composer  and songwriter with more than 30 years in the music industry.  He’s been a composer and producer on albums for Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings, The Whites and a number of top-selling artists.

Currently at The Studio 515, Chip and is available to consult on or producer your songs. For more information give him a shout!


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