Songwriting: A Fickle Beast

June 23, 2015

Writing music is an addiction for me. Not only does it provide an outlet for venting the love and rage I feel about the world, but it also gives me shelter from it. I am an imagination refugee, an inspiration junkie. 


In spite of this propensity to always create, the inspiration part can be a fickle beasts. I never know when that “ah ha” moment might happen and sometimes it comes at the worst time. For years I’ve carried around a small digital recording device to attempt to capture ideas when they come. I can be in the grocery store, driving in my car or in the shower and out of nowhere an idea hits me like a ton of lead. I could perceive the trace of a melody in a car driving by or in the rustling of leaves. A song on the radio might spark a new idea. Sometimes a whole song will just pop into my head without warning. I wonder why a song idea that I didn’t think was worth my time one day will then sound like the most amazing idea I’ve ever had when I hear it a few months later. These mysteries of where song ideas come from and why are inexplicable to me. Confounding really. 


Eventually I realized that I couldn’t just rely on inspiration alone. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for a while and I can get freaked out, depressed even. To battle this I’ve developed the discipline of rolling my sleeves up and writing with or without inspiration. I’ll sit down at a piano and randomly play chords which can turn into something I want to work on. I spend a lot of time in my own head and pouring over scraps of ideas I have jotted down on little pieces of paper. I will get a surge of inspiration at some point along the way and the act of writing a song becomes a kind of meditation for me.


People often ask me what I start with first, the lyrics, chords or melody. Most of the time I start with chords and melody in tandem. It’s a little like doing a puzzle, but typically the lyrics are last for me and flow best once the melody and chords have been fleshed out. I might find a lyric or phrase that I wrote down a while back that has the perfect amount of syllables for a melody I’m working on. Sometimes a lyric that I love will inspire a melody line that then informs the chords. Every song is developed a little differently. 


In MoeTar, Moorea and I work on a lot of the lyrics and final melody work together. She is my Editor In Chief. We often need to change a word or syllable so everything flows well. Sometimes a melody line is too jagged or awkward and needs some changes. Ultimately Moorea will be singing the song so she has to resonate with it, be able to interpret it and get across the lyrical meaning. Luckily we work really well together. 


Manifesting what I hear in my head can be very challenging. I usually end up with more than a few drafts of a song before I am completely satisfied. When I like an idea enough to roll with it, I will work it out in the composition software Sibelius.  Once that process is as done as I’m going to get it, I then move the song into Logic and record a home demo with Moorea. This  serves as the proof of concept aspect of the writing process for me. I need to hear it played before I can really know if it’s done or still needs some tweaks.  


All in all I don’t have a single formula for songwriting and I use a myriad of tools and methods. I can’t ever predict when I will have a light bulb moment. I do know that while inspiration comes and goes, the work it takes to bring something to fruition will always be there. The prospect of what is waiting just around the corner if I’m persistent enough will compel me to press on. I guess as far as addictions go it could be worse.

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