Writing to a theme: Liverpool Acoustic 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge by Alison Benson

As part of the Across the Threshold Festival, Liverpool Acoustic and the festival team ran a 24-hour songwriting challenge.  It worked that a theme was released at 1 pm on the Friday and any songs entered into the challenge had to be submitted (title and words) within a 24 hour time period.  The songs would then be performed the following afternoon.  Only the first twenty songs submitted would be performed and judged.  I wrote a song, composed on the ukulele with voice, and performed it…and I won, which I was really pleased about.  Here are my thoughts about writing to a theme – I’m going to ignore the deadline element.  The theme given in the 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge was Across the Threshold.     

The first stage for me was to mind map everything I could about the theme itself.  I considered synonyms for threshold which led me down a path of doors, being carried over the threshold, which then led to thinking about marriage. I went back to the idea of thresholds and was reminded of the poem ‘Gate of the Year’ about stepping out into the unknown new year.  For a moment, my mind went to the idea of the Greek God Janus, with a face looking forwards and backwards – both sides of the threshold.  None of these ideas stuck, but there was real value for me in pondering the theme and what it meant, playing with words and ideas.  I turned on the TV to the news that Tom Daley was speaking for LGBT rights at the Commonwealth Games.

The second part was then to run with the idea and link it to the theme.  Daley was speaking as though this was an opportunity to bring change, to step across a barrier that had been constructed – to cross a threshold. 

Perhaps the first and second parts aren’t so different!  The third part was the words, which gave me a bit of an idea for a melody, as well.  I worked around the idea of identifying what the problem is that I want to address in the song (the situation of LGBT people) and what would be a better situation.  The chorus, I felt, needed to include something clear about the theme but aware that the threshold has not yet been crossed, I referred to being ‘at the threshold’.  It was at this stage that I reached for my ukulele.

The final part was working it all into a song, so tidying the lyrics so they fitted neatly into the melody, adding a chord structure (which was already in mind, underlying the melody) and deciding how it would be performed.    As soon as it took shape enough, I began to record it so I didn’t forget it as I picked out notes and harmonies.  The first performance was on the guitar, although all subsequent performances have been on the ukulele. I’m still not sure which sounds best.

Something that was fascinating about the challenge was hearing the various ideas people had regarding the theme…there were no two songs the same.  I’d recommend choosing a theme or idea with friends and then going away, writing songs and sharing them with each other because you never what great ideas you’ll hear and how it develops your songwriting. 

If you’d like to hear the song Here we stand you can listen to it here: https://youtu.be/E5jUWQBBPFg

Or if you want to hear the guitar version, it’s here: https://youtu.be/7HfWZxHiilA

I’d be interested to hear which you prefer!

Alison Benson





One Response to Writing to a theme: Liverpool Acoustic 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge by Alison Benson

  1. nick cody 5th June 2018 at 7:37 pm #

    I think writing to deadlines is a great way to develop skills. I recently saw the Carol King musical “Beautiful” which details Carol and Goffin King’s history of writing songs professionally for artists often with very tight deadlines. Bravo for anyone going down this route to produce original songs

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