Published January 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

This week I’m starting a new series in between “Meet ‘Faces in the Fog’” and “Meet ‘[untitled]‘”. It occurred to me that I’ve never gone into great detail about the process of writing and recording a song, and that said information may be of interest to someone out there. There are lots of ways to complete this process, and in this four-part series, I’ll be discussing how I do it. This series will update daily, unlike the other series posted on this blog, so if you want to just skip to the “[untitled]” content, check back on January 27th.

For me, every song begins with an idea. It might be a character, one or two words, a phrase, a setting, or an entire story arch that hits me at once, that serves as inspiration for a song. Once I’ve found something to write about, one of two things will happen next:

  1. All of the lyrics tumble out of my head all at once, with or without a tune
  2. I have to tease the lyrics out into the world over the course of days, weeks, months, or years (yes, I’ve had songs that took me that long to write), and they again either come with a tune, or I have to spend more time pondering that part of the puzzle

A very small number of my songs fall into that first category. “Hush and Shush” was one of those. The chorus—lyrics and melody—came to me pretty easily at work one day. I was toying around with it when I got home, and then while I was taking a shower, the last eight lines of the third verse came to me. The rest of the song followed shortly thereafter. Spitting out a song like that is its own unique type of craziness, and one that I very much enjoy.

But most of the songs I write come out piecemeal. I’ll get an idea, jot down some lyrics, maybe record a snippet of a tune idea, and then run out of inspiration for a time and have to move on to something else. This used to feel like a failure—I thought that if I couldn’t get the entirety of a song out at once, that that was a bad thing. (Also, I tend to get excited about new things I’ve written and want to share them immediately—it can be pretty agonizing to have to wait for an idea to fully formulate.) Now, though, I just recognize it as part of the process. The songs will come out when they want to, and in the case of some of my ideas, only when I’ve had enough experience with whatever it is I’m writing about.

So maybe I’ll take a week or a few months to write the lyrics for a song. If I didn’t have any ideas for a tune when I began writing the words, then I have to figure out something for that. I once thought it was impossible for me to write good melodies. Thankfully I now know that’s not true, although it can still be a little rough sometimes. I actually know very little about music theory, so my songwriting technique essentially equates to, “Sing things to myself until something good comes out”. It’s a bit slapdash, I suppose, but it seems to work reasonably well nevertheless.

Now it’s time for the fun bit. In the case of songs written in pieces, I am, of course, not writing the lyrics with the melody in mind. This usually requires tweaking the lyrics somewhere down the line, which isn’t a problem. The part that’s really awkward is getting my brain to properly wrap the tune around each verse in turn so that the song is consistent throughout. I’ve found that this is easier to do when I’m singing with a guitar or other accompaniment.

Which is a nice segue into tomorrow’s post, which will deal with putting chords to a new song.

Leave a Reply