Hey cafe goers!
I finally got a new song up! Feels really great to have another creation out there.
So, thought I would write today about songwriting … literally, about how I write a song. I’ve definitely established a process that I feel comfortable with, but I’m really interested in knowing what other people’s creative approaches are as well!
In the meantime, here’s the making of “Leaving for France” …
Lyrics: Whether I’m collaborating with a lyricist or I’m the lyric writer, I feel most comfortable starting with the words. I really admire people who can take an instrumental track and find words to put over the music. I’ve tried it and it ain’t easy!
I’ve been lucky that my lyricist collaborators have all been open to me changing up their lyrics if needed. Sometimes reading words on a page isn’t the same thing as singing them. So that could mean parsing some of the phrases, moving words around in a line for better flow, or suggesting alternative words.
But really, I don’t mess around with the lyrics too much. I always view it as the lyricist’s story and it’s my job as a musician to bring that story to life in the best way possible. So I want to keep his/her vision of their story intact as much as I can.
Chords & Melody: I usually figure out both of these simultaneously. What this looks like is me sitting with my guitar next to my keyboard, playing whatever comes to mind and typing out the chords and vocal melody on my laptop.
When it comes to the music, I just go by whatever sounds “right” to my ears. There’s a lot of theory that could help one out in songwriting — and I’ve been learning it slowly — but so far, my instincts have been doing most of the work.
Inspiration: Sometimes, writing music can be so frustrating!! You want to produce something great, but what comes out initially leaves you totally uninspired. When that happens, it’s time for some intervention! For this particular song, I of course checked out some YouTube videos of French songs to get me in the right mindset.
One of my faves is “Les Feuilles Mortes” which is known as “Autumn Leaves” in English. Well, I was totally floored by this rendition of “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy. It’s not in French and it’s not like the song sounds like “Leaving For France” — but her artistic integrity and beautiful phrasing are what really inspired me to do better for my own song.
Song Interpretation: At some point I’ll do a song interpretation exercise to take the songwriting from a more technical to artistic level. First, I have to figure out who I am as the “character” singing this song. When was I in France and why? Where am I now? What happened right before my first line that provoked me to sing about these amazing memories about the vineyards and such?
So, in my story I’ve been working as a waitress in New York for the last couple of years. I picked New York because in my mind, it’s as city as you get and quite a huge contrast from the image I have of France. I just got home from a really long shift at the restaurant. Took off my coat, changed into something comfortable, tied my hair up and poured myself a glass of red wine.
I climbed out my window to sit on the stairwell outside (hm, not sure why I was climbing out a window …). Not the best view, just grey concrete all around — but there is a huge, glowing moon in the dark sky to greet me. Took that first sip of wine as I gazed at it hanging overhead, and felt that wave of calm wash over. [Musical intro plays]. I started to remember about those beautiful summer nights in France … [“France i-i-in summer …”]. And off we go into the song! Yup, the story gets that specific!
Keep in mind, I’ve never actually been to France. But it’s my job as the singer to make the listener believe that not only have I been there, I am in LOVE with this country. Vive la France!
As the song continues, the listener should hear and feel that it’s actually progressing — both lyrically and musically. Verse 1 shouldn’t evoke the exact same feelings and way of singing as Verse 2. (If it is, a change in the lyric might be called for). Even Chorus 2 should be sung with a different purpose than Chorus 1, despite having the exact same words. Otherwise, it all just sounds the same. It’s like reading a book where nothing happens — there’s no climax. Boo!
So doing this interpretation exercise really helps in that you have to make conscious decisions about how the singer’s emotions and thoughts are changing throughout the song, and in turn, make decisions on how to sing certain parts of the song, bring in harmonies or not, blah, blah, blah. But it’s not blah, blah, blah — it’s the fun part!
Harmonies: I also believe that harmonies really need to have a purpose in a song. They can’t just be there to fill up space or “sound nice.” They should be another voice or voices that are contributing to the story in some way. So it goes back to what I talked about in the song interpretation section. You get the picture. Moving on …
Recording & Mixing: Definitely my weak point. I just don’t know how to do it well yet, and it really is an art in itself. So I’m not totally happy with how the actual sound of the recording came out, but I just didn’t have the time to spend on perfecting it.
The New Learning: Continuing to challenge yourself to try new things in songwriting is so key to growing as an artist and keeping the passion alive! My new learning for this song was coming up with some piano chords and recording the piano piece from my keyboard to the computer. Just a few months ago, I didn’t have enough confidence to think I could do it. Now, the doors have opened to future songs that don’t just have to feature the guitar — and that can lead to some really different songwriting!
Alright, if you got this far … thanks and congrats! Now it’s your turn ;)
Here’s my questions for you, dear readers: What is your creative process? What or who is your muse when your stuck for inspiration?