Whatever type of song I eventually end up producing, the one thing that takes up the most thought process will be the lyrics.
There are songs I’ve written where the words have just fallen into place and can be written in an hour or two; whereas others will have me going back to it for days, weeks – even months before I consider it anywhere near finished. Most of the people who listen to my music usually mention the words at some point, and how I put them all together.
I am what you may call a story-teller songwriter. I’m not a fan of music with repetitive lines of…well – a few words thrown together and repeated for a minute or two over a heavily produced dance beat. Don’t get me wrong – I love ‘good’ dance music, I just value a bit of variety & creativity in the songwriting department.
A common question I’m asked is ‘what order’ I write a song in – lyrics or music first? The simple answer is ‘whatever inspires me first’. I normally start off with either an opening line which intrigues me enough to want to continue writing in the hope of creating a full song, or by finding an interesting chord structure which will enable me to build the song structure around it. My favourite way is to just sit playing with my guitar until something begins to take shape and inspiration strikes. However, it’s not always this straightforward.
I’m not aware of any songwriter or author of any kind who hasn’t experienced writer’s block at one time or another. The feeling of wanting to produce something when there’s just ‘nothing there’ to work with. There’s few things as bad for songwriters as an empty page or a flashing cursor on a white screen – and nothing else. Equally as bad is being half way through a project and suddenly the creative momentum is halted for no apparent reason. Your mind has decided to ‘go to lunch’.
I’ve spoken to lots of people – both authors and fellow-songwriters on how they overcome the dilemma of writer’s block. The two things I discovered is that a) It’s common, and b) It’s usually just a waiting game until it lifts.
For me personally, understanding where my lyrics stem from has helped a great deal in allowing me to oil the creative cogs of the songwriting machine that dwells within me. Every songwriter is naturally different depending on the songs they write, and will no doubt have their own way of dealing with the times when tumble-weeds decide to come rolling through their mind when all they want to do is write music, stories – even websites!.
A Different Way of Writing – a Different Way of Thinking .
I mentioned earlier that I’d written many songs in a ‘story-teller’ type fashion.This ‘style’ presents a range of challenges within itself. A storybook/novel will have a hundred or so pages, with characters, a main theme, and sub plot – all explained throughout, thus giving the reader ample time to get into the story and hopefully visualise all that is required for a great read. A songwriter will have a few paragraphs and roughly four minutes to do exactly the same thing – with music.
I used to write ‘exactly’ how I saw things. If it was a sunny day – I’d write about a sunny day. If I was going somewhere – I’d write about going to that place. This brings up another question…’Do I write from personal experience’? It’s a great question, and even those closest to me who have heard my music aren’t sure.
To answer this long-standing question, and hopefully lay it to rest I will say this.
“Being a songwriter gives you the power to alter reality”. You can certainly write about personal experience and things you have seen or done, but you can also change the ‘who’, ‘what’, and overall ‘situation’ of everything you experience. This is where the fun really begins; and from my own experience – reduces the risk of mental block occurring. All it takes is a bit of imagination and a reasonable grasp of what sounds right.
I know of singers who get their inspiration from newspapers, television, loved ones or some event in their life. I’ve pretty much covered these categories in my own writing, with perhaps just a slightly different slant on some of the details to suit the ‘mood’ of the overall song.
Like the majority of things in life – songwriting is something which can take a bit of practice to get right – if there even is a right or wrong way of doing it. Be prepared to throw away ideas that don’t work – it happens even after locking yourself away for days and writing like something possessed. Over time you’ll begin to get your own personal style which will inevitably have ‘your’ stamp firmly placed on anything you write down the line.