I've been giving some thought to this blog, and am still pretty uncertain and unstructured about it's intentions. Yet for today I have decided to write (an ongoing series, hopefully) more about my internal process as a songwriter. The purpose is twofold: First, discussing a topic like this has been frequently requested by friends, family, and other musicians. Second, I think it might serve me and provide some unique insights for me, the writer. And since I am quite clear that nobody does anything unless it serves them in some capacity, there you have it.
Songwriting, for me, can be as easy as falling off a log, and as painful as a root canal. Often in the same day. There are times when I feel "tapped in" to Spirit (Source, God, intention...pick your name) on a more profound level than at other times. When I am fortunate enough to find myself there, the songs seem to write themselves, and I often have trouble moving the pen quickly enough to capture the lyrics that are flowing through. The chord progressions sound new, ideas are quick and fresh, and songs often come through in a form that needs little or no editing afterward.
That is a precious, and rare experience.
More commonly I find myself having to structure songwriting time, rather than waiting for the muse. In these moments I usually proceed in an common fashion -
Chords first. I play and play my guitar, noodling around with various scales or chord progressions until something catches my ear. Then I'll groove on that for awhile and try and listen to where it wants to go. When I can get my head out of the way (which happens less often than I would like), the song often finds it way.
Melody and phrasing next. Once I have a chord progression that sticks with me and feels good, then I start to sing - no real words at first, but sounds and rhythm. Again, when I remember to breathe and stay present, not over-thinking, I often feel/hear a certain pattern to the syllables and the melody line.
Lyrics last. Once I have those pieces, then I know what lyrical phrasing pattern the song is calling for. But then the real work begins for me, because the lyrics are often the part I struggle with the most. I rarely have a concrete idea of what I want to write about or express. So often I am guided by the phrasing section mentioned above. Meaning, a single word, phrase, or line has popped out from who-knows-where, and then I get an idea of what the song might end up being about.
"Wintertime" is a prime example of this. The first lyrics that became concrete in this process were the chorus, "Wait awhile wintertime." I didn't know what it meant or why it was there, but then I set to thinking about what it could possibly mean and crafted the lyrics from there.
Is this a common process for other artists/songwriters? I don't know. Many people I know can craft songs around already written lyrics or poems. This, to me, is as foreign as someone who can paint portraits, throw a 90 mile an hour fastball, or read music. I can't do those things. But I can write songs. And as proud as I am of the first album, the songs I have been writing lately will, I think, blow the first album away.
Thanks for reading.