Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Process of Songwriting

Saw a great blog entry today in the NY Times about songwriting. The writer, Andrew Bird, describes his process of writing song while it's still in the pre-song phase. Something he said really vibed with me.
What is becoming more challenging of late is dealing with so many fully formed melodies that are unwilling to change their shape for any word. So writing lyrics becomes like running multiple code-breaking programs in your head until just the right word with just the right number of syllables, tone of vowel and finally some semblance of meaning all snap into place.

I love "multiple code-breaking program" as a description of what goes on in my head when I'm in the middle of writing a song.

Right now, for instance, Jim gave me an idea that might work for the American Idol Songwriting Competition. It was a lyric fragment and title. I wrote it down as quickly as I could, and could hear the music forming in my head.

I let that melody play around and move around until about a hour or two later I ran upstairs and tried to reproduce what I was hearing. This process is not always successful because sometimes what's in the head isn't exactly as good, played out, as it felt in the head.

So, then it becomes a process of refining, stretching, repeating and finding the right chords so that there's a dynamic flow to the melody.
I’ve found that I can be completely satisfied for weeks by the simplest four-bar phrase repeating over and over again. It’s a fragile thing where your perception of it can change it completely. You can reconstruct all the elements the following day, note for note and go by physical memory but the feel can be elusive.

This is me, too. I can listen to a simple phrase over and over for hours and hours, just searching for what it is in the feel of that loop that is reaching inside and grabbing me. Then I try to extend it cuz, well, most people don't like a song that consists of two chords going back and forth.

Anyway, I enjoyed that blog and look forward to following it.


Jackie said...

Steve, isn't it something when someone gives a name to something you've always been doing? The song writing process sounds just amazing.

Bev Sykes said...

It's surprising to me how much like writing songwriting is. You've pretty much described how I write a lot of things, minus the piano, of course :)