Charles Jenkins Songwriting Workshops have arrived. With three decades of song writing experience and 17 albums under his belt, this rich experience is now complemented by a Masters of Music majoring in Songwriting Techniques. At present I work with songwriters face-to-face in Melbourne, around Australia and overseas.
Workshops can be one-on-one or for groups of friends – tweaking the latest song, or writing for a special occasion. Established musicians, budding writers and absolute beginners are accommodated, warmly.
The results thus far have frequently been fun and extraordinary
“It is blowing me away how much better songs get when you get Charles Jenkins to help you work on them”
“Some songs stay with you, while others fall into the background. And like all art, it is not always obvious why one thing works and another does not. Charles Jenkins has studied song writing and gotten to the heart of that difference. His own music is great, his songs amazing. Better yet, he knows how to teach others how to turn a good song into a great one. I was already a successful (and awarded) songwriter before I met CJ. Yet, I have learned a great deal from our sessions, and am writing better and more confidently as a result of them.”
“Working with Charles has been a wonderful experience for me. Giving me the perfect sounding board to explore musical and lyrical possibilities, polish my songs for recording and performance and expanding my songwriting toolkit immeasurably.”
“My son Clancy is in Yr 12 and is a pretty good songwriter with his band, Monkey Biscuit. After just a few lessons with Charles, I noticed Clancy’s song writing had definitely advanced lyrically and his songs flowed better and were more structured. Clancy often says how much he likes how Charles thinks and how his lessons really make a lot of sense to him as a songwriter”
“I’ve been writing songs for 25 years. Since being mentored by Charles he’s inspired me to write the best bunch of songs I’ve ever written.”
Pauline ‘Bones’ McKinnon:
“Acclaimed songwriter and musician, Charles Jenkins welcomed me to have the incredibly rewarding and unique opportunity to work with him, in one on one sessions, to breathe a rich life into my own song ideas and words – a process and result that brings immense joy and fulfillment!”
Workshops can be arranged perhaps in relation to a milestone birthday, a personalised ‘song present’ for a music-lover birthday girl or boy. Or perhaps a song written for a special someone, or about a significant place, a team song, or for absolutely anything! Music is medicine, and the heart-warming possibilities that the combinations of music, lyric and rhythm provide are limitless.
If you would like to find out more, contact Charles on
As Bernard Zuel concluded in relation to Charles in the Sydney Morning Herald, “He’s too good a songwriter not to be in your life”.
Songwriting workshop history:
Charles has run songwriting, vocal and performance workshops over the last 15 years across Australia.
With years of experience as a songwriter, recording artist and performer, in 2007 Charles ventured into the field of song writing education. He commenced with Living Music in the Juvenile Justice System and with those in disadvantaged situations via Gateway House. With the Festival of Healthy Living and the Berry St Organisation he then taught song writing in regional Victorian schools. He has facilitated song writing and performance programs with Whitehorse, Pakenham and the City of Wodonga Councils, and with Karen (Burmese /Thai) refugees at the Newport Substation.
Charles has also delivered songwriting workshops for the Bendigo Writers Festival, the Semaphore Music Festival and for the Telstra Road To Discovery program. At tertiary level he has taught songwriting at the University of Tasmania, JMC, Collarts and Southern Cross University.
For 11 years from 2009-2019 with the program Push Songs, he facilitated one-on-one and group songwriting workshops and performance nights, providing mentoring for over 500 up-and-coming Victorian songwriters, across 2,000 workshops, and employing over 100 experienced songwriters.
He has recently completed a Masters of Music from the University of Tasmania, is an Ambassador for APRA AMCOS.
“His songs are beautiful.” Don Walker July 2019
“…delivers the kind of set that astonishes in its depth, variety and good humour, (and) reinforces Jenkins’ position as the songwriter’s songwriter’ “ – Time Off Magazine
Here’s a review of a songwriting workshop at the Bendigo Writer’s Festival
For more details contact Charles using the enquiry form below:
Here’s a recent interview with Charles’ on songwriting and more, conducted by Steve Tyson: Byron Bay Songwriters
Charles, I’m assuming that the first instrument you wanted to play was the guitar. We naturally assume that because that’s what we’ve always seen you playing. But I learned from last month’s discussion with Dan Parsons that those assumptions aren’t always correct. Dan, the mighty guitar player that he is, was first drawn to music via the drums. So, am I safe in saying that this time – guitar was your first weapon of choice? That being the case, do you remember the thing you first heard, the first band or the first song, that made you think to yourself, “that’s what I want to do….”?
There were a few guitars around the house. My older brother had one, and my sister had one. It wasn’t so much the guitar itself that appealed to me, more that it was a major component of this ‘song thing’, which from an early age seemed magical. I’d been on a school camp a few years earlier, and a teacher played a song that had everyone laughing and clapping along, it seemed to change the shape of the room. I wanted to be a part of that.
And when did the next step happen for you? Was there a particular song, or a particular moment, that made you want to write songs rather than just play them?
My ambition outstretched my talent for many years, it still does. Before I could play the guitar, I would re-write the lyric of existing songs. As a kid I’d re-write Skyhooks songs, merely changing the locales from Melbourne to Adelaide. Eventually I picked up the guitar so I could write my own, and every new chord learnt would become part of a new song, which it still does.
In my opinion, and it’s one shared by many, many people, Ice Cream Hands was the most under-rated band ever to have made records in this country. I remember a conversation I had with Noel Mengel, the then Chief Music Writer of the Courier Mail, maybe a year or so after “Sweeter Than The Radio” came out. I said to Noel that I couldn’t understand why the band wasn’t as big as Crowded House, and why Charles Jenkins wasn’t spoken about with the same reverence as Neil Finn. Noel couldn’t have agreed more. So, I know you are an extremely humble person when it comes to discussing success, but don’t be shy with this question! Did you find it frustrating that Ice Cream Hands didn’t get the same sort of recognition as bands like Crowded House, or Powderfinger (although a completely different beast), or even The Hoodoo Gurus? You must have felt what you were writing and what the band was producing on record was world-class….?
Those bands you mention contain great songwriters, so thanks for the outrageously flattering comparison. I knew enough about the industry by that stage (STTR) to know that more than mere great songs were required for chart topping action. The only record I’ve ever done that had any sort of promotional budget was Sweeter Than The Radio. We needed another push for the next one, Broken UFO, but things changed at the record company and we were back to the margins.
Did you feel you simply couldn’t make records any better as Ice Cream Hands? Jesus, I know some writers who would have happily died and gone to heaven if they’d written songs as good as “Spirit Level” or “Why’s You Have To Leave Me This Way”. But was that the reason the band sort of ended (recent reunions aside)…?
It’s kind of boring and kind of brutal. Icecream Hands had a break because I wanted to travel. I could afford to take myself around the world but not take a band, so therefore I needed to make some solo records!
Regardless, you have ventured on with an incredible solo career, releasing something like a further eleven records. Some of those have been just under your own name, some with the Zhivagos, one with The Amateur Historians. Your latest record “When I Was On The Moon” is probably the most stripped back, exposed set of songs you’ve ever released. What sort of dictates how you are going to approach a new album? I mean this one is in direct contrast to “The Last Polaroid” which was released under the Zhivagos moniker and to me really felt like a band record. But the songs from “Polaroid” you still can still perform in solo mode, as I’ve seen you do in intimate house concerts. So what sort of drives the decision as to how you will approach a record…?
I mostly do a loud record, then a quiet record, then a loud record etc. I like lists, and I like planning albums. Those lists always need more songs, and so it’s a good parameter to have. If you’re shy a few songs for a new Icecream Hands record or for another country record or whatever, then you already have some sort of impetus, something to raise the antenna a little higher or in a particular direction. It’s not completely the idea to a song that’s important; it’s how you approach the idea.
When you do record with the Zhivagos, do you go into the studio or rehearsals with songs pretty much fully formed, is it a more of a collaborative process, like a “real” band? You know what I mean, do the other guys have creative input into the songs?
Each record is different. We did one, Walk This Ocean, where the whole band played in one room smacking songs about. But due to a lack of coin, we mostly assemble them over time, in bedrooms and lounge rooms, before it all gets sent to mission control where we fit all the pieces together. Certainly not ideal, but it does mean people can play their parts when they want to, take as long as they want, play in their pyjamas, however they want to, and not have a clock ticking, or other distractions. If the song is good enough it can withstand any lack of coin.
Just talking about technique a little bit. You are the master of the 3 minute song, it seems like you can say all you need to say so effectively in that time. Also, it seems like the usual unforgettable melody of your song is often introduced very early in the piece. I think you often get to a chorus very quickly, sometimes after only one verse. It seems like you don’t follow any Ralph Murphy formulas. Is that a fair comment, and if it is, is that a conscious way of writing?
I probably get to the chorus fast as perhaps I don’t use pre-choruses enough? I obviously need to keep myself interested, and every line needs some juice as Charles Bukowski said. Each song varies in its construction. I can often sit on a melody and a chord progression and tempo for a few weeks until I realise what I could be singing about. My favourite Sondheim maxim is ‘content dictates form’, so whatever the form is – melodically, harmonically, structurally, tempo, etc, therefore determines the content.
Generally my songs tend to be about very little, or small things, and so it doesn’t make sense to me to go through a lot of structural changes in a song. They would sound like structural changes for their own sake, and therefore you’d hear the writer at work. Having said that, I was commissioned to write a song called Separation St (https://charlesjenkins.bandcamp.com/) for my local council, and as I decided to take the song up and down the length of the street and backwards and forwards in time, the song has about 6 sections to it, because as we already know, content dictates form. And also I need to make every song memorable from the get go, as it would be pretty rude to expect a listener to sit through a boring bit in order to get to the good bit!
What amazes me about your songs is that they are so melodic, and often sound so simple, but when you pull them apart, they are anything but straightforward. I tried to cover “Trees of Brisbane” at one stage, but I was rubbish at it. I guess it’s something about the Charles Jenkins delivery that adds to the uniqueness of your songs. Have you had that comment before?
Ha! No I haven’t. I’m always interested in how to best phrase a line. It can make an ugly looking lyric work incredibly well if you put it in the right spaces, thereby falling believably from the character’s mouth. When I realised we are song singers, not song-writers, that was a significant leap for me.
It’s well known that you use a lot of geography in your writing. Real places are referenced in so many of your tunes. I guess no more so than the Amateur Historians project, which is like a Melbourne travel guide! Where does that come from? A genuine love of travel, or history maybe?
For me it makes the song so much easier to write, and deliver. If you name a place, it creates an authority, and also that name will have its own melody and rhythm that leads the song along. The Amateur Historians project was a wonderful one for me. Again a recording budget of zero but we had three voices and three instruments to write for. And we were writing quickly as we had a deadline, and would therefore add whatever we could to the list, the first things that came to mind – Hookturns, Trams, Trains, The Melbourne Eye. That simple parameter was fantastic. Also, and it’s embarrassing to admit, but prior to that record I honestly thought if someone didn’t understand the song straight away, they eventually will once they take the record home, put the headphones on and have a few wines. Which is the reason why some of my earlier songs tend to be a few good chords in need of a more cohesive idea, or a few snappy lines in need of a bit more direction. So I learned a lot about removing the ‘hit or miss’ aspect of song writing. The fact that the Historians’ record was more like a theatrical show than a regular album, had a seismic shift on how those songs were conceived, written, constructed and performed.
I’m really interested to know about writers’ routines – or lack thereof. Is the process completely organic for you, or do you get up in the morning and say, today I’m going to write until lunchtime? I guess what I’m asking is, do songs have to come to you, or do you reckon you are the sort of writer who could have worked in the Brill building and written songs like a 9 to 5 office worker?
I walk my songs. Everyday I try and walk for an hour. And I’ll take a new idea with me, a song I’m working on, and nothing else is allowed to come with us. No Walkman, no form guide, just the burgeoning song. The brain works better when we move. It’s as simple as that. We are not designed to sit in front of a computer, and we have the perfect frame for a long day’s march. I take a small idea or lyric with me, and it always leads to another idea. If the outcome is big or small it doesn’t matter, if it leads me up the garden path or towards the top of the charts, I don’t care, because it always leads me somewhere.
One of the things I love about your songs when I listen to them is trying to figure out if something is personal, or are you looking at the subject matter through the eyes of another character. Sometimes it seems obvious, but then there will be some little change or quirky moment where I think, no, that can’t be personal, you’re writing in character – or vice versa. It’s an incredible writing ‘technique’, for want of a better word. Is that a conscious thing, or am I over-thinking it….?! Good example – who’s “Kathleen”….?
Surprise in any shape or form is an essential component of a song. I don’t know a Kathleen. This is going to sound weird, but I’d never written a song with two different bridges, and that was the reason why that song came about. I’d also re-read some Hemingway by the sounds of things and so lyrically I was trying to create these life and death situations, trying. The chords and melody kept me motivated enough to work hard on the words, and yes I’m pleased with that song. The band played so beautifully on it, amazingly. It’s an event. It creates this little world and takes the listener through it. Again when you name someone or something, it creates believability, which when coupled with rhyme and rhythm, melody and harmony, can obviously produce a powerful effect.
Much of your career now is dedicated to teaching songwriting, and running writing masterclasses. I know this is probably an unfair question, but if there was one single piece of advice you could give to aspiring writers – just one thing —- what would it be…
For any aspiring writer my favourite quote is Robert Frost’s – “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader” Songwriters should surprise themselves throughout the process, throughout the fun of writing the song. The best songs always contain an element of surprise; when what you think might happen is then superseded in some form or fashion.
So what’s next on the horizon for you? You’re still out there promoting “When I Was On The Moon.” You seem to be doing a lot more teaching and songwriting masterclasses. Is that where you see yourself heading more and more? I know you’ve toured the US and Europe – do you still have audiences there? It seems to me that Europe in particular would be fertile ground for your live shows. Any more thoughts in that regard?
I’ve got a few songs left over from the When I Was On The Moon album, so I might do something similar, sort of a part 2, digital release only type thing, perhaps. Icecream Hands are making a new record, which is exciting. I’d love to travel with them overseas if we can. I’d love to head to Europe solo. Next year must be the year for that. Surely! I do love song writing teaching, and mentoring and coaching, whatever you care to call it, and co-writing. I love being involved in the genesis of songs. It’s my favourite art form, and I love stealing from all the other art forms to help my own.
Thanks for talking to us Charles. I think Neil Finn should take you on tour. Maybe then the imbalance can be corrected…!
Nah, he’d blow me off stage every night. I’ll let him take someone else.