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 certain way of songwriting, but I would be really interested in knowing what other people’s processes are. There are lots of different ways of doing it!
Okay, I know most of you reading probably don’t write music. But I believe that you’re all creative people! So, what is your creative process? Have you ever tried to switch it up just to see if you might produce something different than what you’re usually known to do? What or who is your muse when your stuck for inspiration?
Well, here’s the making of “Leaving for France” while you mull over these questions :) …
Lyrics: Whether I’m collaborating with a lyricist or I’m the one writing the lyrics, I always start 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’s damn hard!
I’ve been lucky that my lyricist collaborators have 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, with my laptop in front of me to type out the chords I’m playing on the guitar and the melody I’m plunking out on the keys.
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 gut has 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 on France, I of course checked out some YouTube videos of French songs to get me in the right mindset.
One of my favourite French songs 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 where I’ll have all the lyrics typed/written out and then 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!
As the song progresses, it’s also important that the story behind it progresses too. Sometimes it’s not actually that obvious with a set of lyrics as to how the story is progressing. Verse 1 can’t be sung the exact same way as Verse 2 even if the words seem to be telling a similar tale. 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: If you do something enough times — write songs, paint pictures, etc, etc — you might tend to get stuck in a rut of producing the same kind of song, the same kind of painting, and so on. Continuing to challenge yourself to try new things is so key to growing as an artist!
My new learning for this song was figuring out how to record the piano part from my keyboard. And never mind that, even just coming up with some piano chords and playing along with the guitar piece was a huge step for me. 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 ;)
So here’s my questions for you once again, dear readers: What is your creative process? Have you ever tried to switch it up just to see if you might produce something different than what you’re usually known to do? What or who is your muse when your stuck for inspiration?