The Year of the River

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Songwriting Process

The song ideas are always floating around and seeking out a writer. I try to pluck songs out of the air wherever I'm lucky enough to be in the right spot when they fly by me. Now that you've caught an idea, what to do?

I jotted down a few things I've discovered about the songwriting process along the way,
One main thing I've found is there are two phases of songwriting, the initial creative rush and the editing phase.

Phase One: The Creative Rush
Always be ready for a song. You never know when one will find you! Keep small notebooks handy. Keep one in the car, keep one in your laptop bag, keep one by your bed. Also, feel free to write it down on what ever is available, but just be prepared!

I have a Google Documents account which allows me to access my directory of documents from any computer that has internet access. No fear of loosing your ideas due to a hard drive crash.

Develop a simple song structure for your idea
Once you have an idea or hook that's motivating you, jot it down. Then, before writing any more lyrics, create a basic song structure or outline. simply describe what you want to have happen in each verse. Then write to that outline.

For example your outline could be as simple as this:
Song Idea: A song about to hometown friends who were so close as kids, but tragically lost touch as time rolled on.

Verse one: Create the setting, Identify two best friend, mention the lake and the childhood memories spent there.

Verse two: Create some tension, weave how time has moved them down different path, but they still try to keep in touch, but with pressures from jobs, family, etc, they loss touch.

Chorus: Introduce the hook

Bridge: Describe how little things remind them of each other. Mention the reflections in the lake, They think of each other other, but yet they never bother to get back in touch.

Chorus: Go back to the hook.

Final Verse: Many years later, both have passed away. Neither friend bothered to get back in touch. Wrap it up with the families of both friends standing on opposite shores of the lake, scattering their ashes into the water.
Simple as that. Now you have some structure to write within. Of course, this can always often does. Use this as your guidepost to remind you of what you wanted to achieve in each verse, as well as the entire song, when you get into the editing phase.

Check in on your old ideas from time to time
Finally, don't forget to go back and read your old ideas from time to time too that you've captured in your notebooks! You never know what might spark a new song.

Phase Two: Editing
After the initial idea is captured and you feel it's worth pursuing, You most often will enter into the editing phase for your song. Get your idea and outline into a document on a computer and save it in a safe place. Again, Google Documents to is a huge help in this case. Edit when you feel like it, from any machine.

Often editing can be a very tedious process. But to me, I enjoy it. The thrill of constantly massaging the flow and wordsmithing sometimes can be very therapeutic, especially when you have an idea that you feel you really passionate about expressing, and you feel as though you are making progress each editing session. If you feel you are not making progress, don't be afraid to move away from it before it turns into something you are not happy with.

Don't become too sentimental to any idea
If it's not working, drop it. Move on to another idea for a while. I find so much joy in returning back to an idea, even years later, and approaching it with new perspectives and new life experiences.
"Mark Twain mentioned about his writing process saying he always stopped writing for the day at the highpoint of his inspiration, as opposed to writing until the ideas were no longer flowing. The reason for this was, it was so much easier to pick up the next day from a previous high point, then to try and start from an uninspired low spot."
Setting it to music
Once I have a good grasp of the concept and where I want to go with it, I try to match it up to a chord progression, just enough to capture the right mood and feel. I'll capture rough musical ideas in Garage Band which I use as my "audio sketchpad." This is a great tool to capture ideas without any commitments. If I have more complex rhythm ideas or more complex song structures, I'll move into my studio where I can start blending in a rhythm track (bass & drums) in ProTools to help move the song further along.

How do I know this song is working?
I do have one rule before I start the final recording process...the song has to hold up completely with just vocals and an acoustic guitar before I start making the commitment to lay down the final tracks. It proves to me that the song is "real"

What's your songwriting process?