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Chris

Songwriting

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How does everyone go about actually writing their songs?

I've been working on some stuff for a new project over the last wee while and I've managed to accumulate a lot of guitar parts and a notebook full of lyrical ideas but for the most part I've been unable to put the two together. In the past when I've written complete songs for bands the lyrics have come from the melody of the music and I've developed the idea from a line or two that pops into my head while playing, but waiting for that line or two of inspiration isn't a very efficient way of working so I need to develop a more productive technique.

Is it just a case of hammering the square peg lyrics into the round hole of the music? I've tried going over the lyrics while playing some of the music I've got but it just ends up uninteresting and the lyrics are spat out in a mirror image of the musical rhythm.

One idea I had was to record the music and then retreat to more comfortable ground for me and improvise guitar parts over the top, hoping that I'd be able to construct a melody from that which I could match to the lyrics. Is that likely to succeed?

Last night after reading some tips online and remembering something Karine Polwart said about arranging songs for guitar, I just sat down with my notepad and spoke the words out loud. Without a guitar in my hands and just concentrating on the words I gradually built up my voice as I repeated them and tried looking for the rhythm of the song in the verses I'd written. Once I had the rhythm I started singing melodies around it until I had something I was reasonably happy with, at which point I picked up the guitar again and started fitting the chord structure I had previously written into the melody with some very basic strumming. Just trying to lock the two together. Then I introduced the fingerpicked music I'd originally written it and kept singing the melody I'd just written until I felt comfortable. The whole thing had only taken me half an hour and it felt more successful than any previous effort I'd made to get the songs together.

So what does everyone else do to get their songs together?

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I am not an accomplished musician.

Therefore, when I write songs, I tend to hammer out chords on a piano or guitar, and work out the whole songs based around the chord progression.

Afterwords I write the lyrics and the vocal melody at the same time; by this I mean I write lyrics and see if they work phonetically and if not, rewrite them as I'm writing the melody.

Then I usually record this rough demo and fire it off to other band mates who come up for ideas for bass and drum parts. Though it's usually me that still writes both... As for a lead guitar part, this usually comes last and the main riff (if there is one) I tend to come up with and the rest of the guitar part is created by the lead guitarist.

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I tend to muck about on my acoustic until something catches my ears. Then I fire up my trusty 8 track and record bits and pieces whilst planning on structure melody etc. Then I record a version with a structure (but not definitive) and then work on melody and lyrics. Then I record them, mix the whole thing and email it to my fellow Curators. After that, six out of ten go no further, one is pretty much complete and we work on the other two until we're all buzzing. I must have demoed about forty songs when we started the band, eight of which became our first set. You need to be pretty harsh with your quality control, but I think it's worth it. The ten songs that are on our record range from 3 years old to 3 months. To paraphrase the fitba pundits, if it's good enough, it's old enough.

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When I write the basis of a song, usually the rhythm guitar, I'll nearly always record it. I'll play it back a few hours later when it isn't so fresh in my mind, and see what I want to change about it. I'll usually hack it to bits, and build it back up again until I'm fairly pleased with it. That is always subject to change when it is brought to the practice room, with the rest of the band. The tempo and the timing might change, or it might just have a general shift in flow.

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Without a guitar in my hands

This.

There comes a time in every songs life that it needs to be played on some instrument, but the writing process isn't always it.

Sometimes a piece of music will germinate on an instrument, but a song often needs to be removed from it's nursery ground in order to grow naturally.

If you are stuck, take away the guitar. It's just a lump of wood after all.

waiting for that line or two of inspiration

You're making another great point here. If you wait for inspiration you may be waiting forever. Instead of waiting for the inspiration to come to you, actively seek out things that are likely to inspire you.

Art

Books

Music

People

Places

Never tell yourself, "I'm just not feeling inspired right now", but instead ask yourself "What can I do to inspire myself today?"

---------

To answer your question, I almost always carry a dictaphone with me so if I get a song idea I just hum or sing what I have into it and promptly forget about it.

Then when I don't have any song ideas I just refer back to the dictaphone.

From the melody I get a feel of what the song should be about.

OR:

I have an idea for a song (a clever turn of phrase or something) and then I think "What sort of melody should that have".

THEN:

Once I have the basic idea of melody and topic I decided what kind of song to write. Linear storytelling? Metaphorical/Emotional?

Then I either go over it a bunch of times in my head to establish how it will go when I decide to write it. I jot that down or just remember it, including maybe a few key lines, keystones in where the 'narrative' should be and leave it at that.

Then when I feel like I need a song I pick up from where I was and finish it.

I'd say don't overcomplicate or confuse your process. Move towards a finished article even if it's not exactly "right" or what you want. If the song is good problems will eventually tend to iron themselves out as you problem solve your way through them.

I always think that a mistake is easier to work with than a blank page.

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With CW stuff the most productive way to write starts with Ross and I having a jam at my house.

We usually start with playing all the ideas we've had for guitar/bass parts then jam with something we reckon could go somewhere. Often we'll just jam out a part until it's tight, then we'll have a pretty good idea of where we're going. Often one of us will 'hear' a rhythm that could go well from there, or that one of the parts previously played could work. We try not to get too hung up on concrete rhythms until we get to full band practice.

In the past we've demoed the tracks at the living room stage and fired them to Dallas to get an idea of rough rhythms/flow.

Take the idea to full band practice and get each part reasonably tight and edit any parts that aren't quite working/that could be better (usually consisting of a lot of guitar/drum onomatopoeia, waving, pointing, nodding, descriptive jargon e.g. attack, drive, pummel - then and eventually "YEAH"s).

Go through the last cycles of parts and concentrate on getting the changes tight, then finally we go from the top and forget everything we just did.

Ideally demo the tune again with drums and send to all members to make sure they don't forget, which we are all pretty good at. I usually use the demos to try and come up with vocals using overdubs etc.

Done!

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(usually consisting of a lot of guitar/drum onomatopoeia, waving, pointing, nodding, descriptive jargon e.g. attack, drive, pummel - then and eventually "YEAH"s).

We are embarrassingly good at this. Need to compose some kind of dictionary. :)

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To answer your question, I almost always carry a dictaphone with me so if I get a song idea I just hum or sing what I have into it and promptly forget about it.

That is a surprisingly good idea. I often come up with rhythms when I'm walking and that would be dead handy. Even sometimes I come up with idead in my room, but by them time I get downstairs to play about with them on guitar/bass, they've escaped me.

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Instead of waiting for the inspiration to come to you, actively seek out things that are likely to inspire you.

Art

Books

Music

People

Places

Never tell yourself, "I'm just not feeling inspired right now", but instead ask yourself "What can I do to inspire myself today?"

Cool, I hoped you'd get involved in this thread as from your recent posts it seems you enjoy looking into the structure of lyrics and how they're written. The quote above is exactly what I've been trying to do recently.

I've always been a musician first and never really tried writing lyrics or singing, preferring to leave that to others. For this I'm doing everything so I need to learn a new skill and get the lyrics done. I figure the best thing is to do is force myself to write and I like the idea of picking a subject and seeing if I can flesh out a song based on it. Be it a place, a person or something like a picture. I'd love to do a series of songs based on single photographs sometime.

I'd say don't overcomplicate or confuse your process. Move towards a finished article even if it's not exactly "right" or what you want. If the song is good problems will eventually tend to iron themselves out as you problem solve your way through them.

I always think that a mistake is easier to work with than a blank page.

This is absolutely the way my thoughts have been going. I'm just trying to get the words down and they can always be re-written later on to fit the rhythm better or to be more poetic.

Keep it coming guys, I like the responses so far.

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i usually come up with something that i think sounds ace, write some words and take into practice where we then overcomplicate it and think about it too much till we ditch it and work on something someone else has written. :)

when it's worked, it's been simple stuff. once i've got a theme or an idea to explore lyrically i play with the words and melody as i'm strumming a guitar and wait for it to lock in. once i've got a basic song i can tweak it a bit before bringing it to the band and seeing what they think. there then involves more tweaking around the dynamics till we get bored and end on a loud noise.

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I'd love to do a series of songs based on single photographs sometime.

I think this is a really good idea that would make for a fantastic concept album. It would work beautifully if the person who was listening to the music was able to see the picture as well, either online or (a bit pie-in-the-sky here) in an inlay slip.

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I sometimes write songs based on a very specific person or event but write them in a manner so that it's very open to interpretation listening to the words and doesn't actually reference anything particular.

Good example of someone who also does this is Willy Mason and his song "Where The Humans Eat"- actually about his Mum's cat.

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There is far from a formula for what i try to do, but it often consists in playing a part over and over until its exactly what i want it to be, then lyrics/melody of some sort if the part suits it.

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How many songs do you guys manage to write in a certain time frame?

Obviously it's different for bands who are working together and jamming stuff out to get it finished. But just for the initial lyrics+music rough draft, how many do you bash out in a week?

I'm sure I remember reading an interview with Steven Milne (perhaps he'll join in this thread and clarify this) where he said he usually wrote 4 or 5 songs a week. Which to me seems like an insane level of productivity, especially if you have other things to do in your life.

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I used to spit out songs like nothing on earth, now it's not very many at all, i'll maybe finish off a whole song in a month, maybe one or two a month if i'm feeling particularly creative. I write in too many different genres to ever finish off ideas.

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I used to spit out songs like nothing on earth, now it's not very many at all, i'll maybe finish off a whole song in a month, maybe one or two a month if i'm feeling particularly creative. I write in too many different genres to ever finish off ideas.

I have this problem too. One day I'll be listening to something and be inspired to write like that, the next day something else. I'm gonna try and take them on one at a time from now on though. CW is kind of good for this, because we let ourselves get away with pretty much anything.

What we get done is pretty much all dependent on how productive me and Ross are feeling at the living room stage, or whether we'd rather go to costco for lunch.

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One day i'm writing Architects, Misery Signals, techy stuff the next i'm writing ISIS or fall of Troy type stuff. I would love to put it all in one band but i hate bands that jump between genres. I need to be in a particular mood for a band, so if skipping genres all the time i could never just chill and listen to an album unless they did it really well.

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One day i'm writing Architects, Misery Signals, techy stuff the next i'm writing ISIS or fall of Troy type stuff. I would love to put it all in one band but i hate bands that jump between genres. I need to be in a particular mood for a band, so if skipping genres all the time i could never just chill and listen to an album unless they did it really well.

There's skipping genres like those rotters in Attack Attack who just write parts and run them at each other from a great distance and hope they stick, but you could work the genres of the bands you've stated without too much bother. Not saying it's easy, but doable.

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I've tried before and i didn't like what came out:down: Didn't feel natural to mix them, i like just messing about and what comes out on ater the other normally fits and feels the most natural.

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I write a lot of stuff on guitar. With my old band, it used to be me that would come up with stuff, usually writing a song from start to finish and then presenting it to the other guys. With Pensioner it's a lot different, a lot of the stuff has come from jams, or one of us will come up with something and we'll work on it together. This has its benefits, in the sense that you find that your songs don't sound too alike; I like that a lot.

It takes the pressure off you too - I've never been comfortable with being the 'songwriter', I find it stressful and, at times, really depressing if you've been hacking at a guitar for hours and have come up with nothing that takes your ear.

I very rarely write anything in standard tuning; you might argue that a good guitar player can play anything in standard, but I think my creativity expired with standard tuning about 6 years ago. Everything I write in that tuning either sounds ridiculously discordant, or it sounds like it's been done so many times before.

Vocals are different; I normally come up with vocal ideas randomly, usually when I'm not in a position to actually sing them (work, Tesco, etc). I've never really understood where my vocal ideas come from.

I started writing some songs on my own recently, for my own little project. I find it really difficult and it's coming along at a glacial pace.

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I started writing some songs on my own recently, for my own little project. I find it really difficult and it's coming along at a glacial pace.

I know the feeling, hence this thread!

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For the band, recently I've been writing lots of tunes when I'm high, never used to do that, but that just seems to be my most creative time at the moment. I try to never "plan" how a song will go(for lack of a better phrase) as I'm not really for convention song structure due to my main inspirations.

I have a few times hummed a riff onto the recorder on my phone, but due to the ridiculousness of the intended riffs, it's hard to hum it.

Lyrics wise I just start jotting stuff down when need be and I see where it goes, it never tends to be about feelings/experiences, most of the it's some total nonsense. I rarely get ideas for them and jot down on a napkin or something, for me lyrics have a time and place to be written as they're the least important part of the music to me.

I've been doing a lot of solo stuff just now, just as a side project. It's experimental (ala Fantomas), so it's hard to write that stuff at times although once the brain gets going it's simple as you can really do whatever the fuck you like with it. I've tried to lay tracks over, say, 5mins of a film/cartoon, changing tempo/style/mood etc depending on what's going on. It's quite amusing.

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I started writing some songs on my own recently, for my own little project. I find it really difficult and it's coming along at a glacial pace.

When do the songs need to be completed by?

If the answer is "sometime in the future", that could be your problem.

Set clear goals for yourself.

If you set goals and you find you can't stick to them then motivation/self discipline is an added problem for you. Don't beat yourself up over it, us musicians aren't exactly known for our time-keeping skills - unless that time happens to have a drum beat to it.

A trick you might want to try is to motivate yourself by announcing that you'll be putting a new song on line in a week or a fortnight - even if you haven't written one yet. Or better yet, agree to play a gig in a couple of months time from now. Book it. Make a commitment.

Now imagine what it will be like if you turn up to the gig with no material. I guarantee you'll find no difficulty motivating yourself after that.

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