Hear the Rough Draft...
I Needed to See the Entire Picture
Looking at a song from a step back is important. That way you can see if everything is going to flow well and feel complete. This song didn't feel complete with the chorus lyrics I had originally intended, so I had to recycle the chorus and use it for a bridge and then add a new chorus.
In one of the songwriting books I read, it was suggested that you limit any use of existing cliches. This guards your lyrics from being predictable and meaningless. However, the author went on to explain that many songwriters are cliche creators. So, it's o.k. to have cliche sounding lines in your song, if these are original phrases. I wanted the chorus to sound cliche'ish without using any real cliches.
My client ask me to focus the song to say that the everyday love he gets from his wife is important in his life. The first two lines of the chorus are meant to reinforce the verses. Then the chorus ends with two lines that say that their time together is what these two cherish the most. I kept it in past tense to match the rest of the song, but it might be cool to change to present tense on the chorus.
Here are the new chorus lyrics:
Seeing you was enough for me to love
And I saw you every day in my mind
Being with you has always been my gift
You gave me love and you were kind
The next step is to get approval from my client to go ahead and develop this rough draft into a more polished and well arranged song and start recording.
This medium tempo rock ballad style could end up very expressive once everything is put together. Instrumentation should stay fairly simple, and the song should build up to the chorus from quieter verses.
In the previous post I included some verses written directly from words from a client. I looked over the remainder of what he had given me in order to write the chorus lyrics. He asked that the song's overall theme say that they are "meant to be."
That phrase has too much meaning to just throw "meant to be" in the song call it done. I wanted to give some visual imagery that would describe what "meant to be" feels and looks like. And the chorus needed to fit the verses. Since the couple enjoys being around the ocean, I used water/ocean imagery/metaphor once again for the chorus (already used in a verse).
Here's the chorus:
You know when you have what you want
When you’ve been filled to the brim
When the current tugs and you can’t resist
There’s only one way you can swim
These lyrics compare the tug of falling in love with the massive power of the ocean. This couple had years apart, but the current "brought him home" eventually. They are as "meant to be" as the direction of the currents in the ocean. The first two lines describe the full and content feeling you get when you are in a good loving relationship.
A possible name for the song might be, One Way You Can Swim. Now comes my favorite part, adding music.
Good descriptions = good lyrics
One of the awesome things about writing songs for other people is that I get to hear these awesome stories about how people met, fell in love, struggles they've faced, vulnerabilities, and inspirational events.
For each of the jaded people out there who think true love isn't possible, there seems to be a person out there living in a romance movie storyline. The real life movies play out over years and involve real life struggles such as being apart for long periods of time, mostly because of the realities of life.
Here's a little peek into one of my current projects. I am usually able to get some great stuff right from a person's own words. So, essentially, you are directly inspiring the song. What I usually do is read through what a person writes and highlight all the stuff I think is really important for the song. Then I organize it in little sections that evolve into verses and a chorus.
Here is an example of some of those little pieces and how the song writes itself when people have strong feelings. The parts in bold are word for word from my client:
1. Irresistible urge to talk to her/ out of character for me/I was very shy/Love at first sight for me
2. Always seemed to keep in touch/Long lost love wondering what she was doing and thinking/We never stopped thinking of each other/Time and distance conspired
3. I received a call one night while on patrol/It seemed like no time had passed/Count down the hours when we will be able to see each other again.
Something I saw made me love you
Pulled me out of my shell
I noticed that you were by yourself
And I felt my heart swell
You’ve always stayed in my thoughts
Even miles out in the sea
The stars sang a song about us
And granted a wish for me
We beat the time that stood between
The distance that took so long
You proved with a simple phone call
Fate was always strong
I did an experiment one evening a while back. I took a public domain song's lyrics, and I wrote music for it and recorded it. THEN... I listened to the original writer's music. It was fun to see what similarities and differences came from the same lyrics. The song is an old hymn and you can hear my rough version below before reading on.
Hear My Humble Cry (Blake Flannery version of Pass Me Not)
Now, listen to the original version of Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior Here. I think my version sounds more dark and desperate, which is how I interpreted the lyrics, but there are some similarities. On the "Savior, savior... " melody and timing match closely and sound like a crying out.
I also found out that the length of words and lines in lyrics, as well as the content of the lyrics, steers the direction music will go. Notice, I didn't write music that was extremely different, but it wasn't the same either. The content of lyrics only steers the musical ship in a direction. The exact place that ship lands could be different depending on the day you are writing music, but you'll still end up in the same country. I think I subconsciously write music to match the lyrical content, and the length of lines determines cadence, timing, rhythm, etc.
Musical influences are different for everyone. And the instrument you play is probably your biggest musical influence. That instrument has qualities that limit your creativity to be focused in a certain direction. I used a guitar instead of a piano, a
Personalities can never be the exact same in any two humans, and I believe songwriters write songs as unique as their personalities. If one person writes the lyrics and another writes the music, you are essentially blending personality and experience of both writers. This can create some interesting mixtures. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.
I was asked if I am still able to enjoy music even though I tend to analyze the music more than an average person. This is an interesting question that I have thought about before. I have never had to answer anyone though.
I'll never know whether I enjoy music more or less than anyone else, but there are a few reasons I think I enjoy music more than the average person. Here's my explanation:
1. I already have a predisposition to be affected by music on an emotional level. One of the main reasons I believe I have spent massive amounts of time playing instruments and writing songs is because I feel music like a drug. I am addicted, and if it was a destructive addiction, I would need an intervention. To prove this here's a poem by me from 2001. Wow, nine years ago!
Blake Flannery 12/2/01
Music to me is an addictive drug
It pulls my mind with a forceful tug
I find my pulse matching rhythms and beats
Sonic waves splash my brain in colorful sheets
2. Listening to Music is Work, but Work is Enjoyable. If you wonder if my brain is "working too hard" as I listen to music, soaking up what I can learn, you're wrong. I actually find enjoyment in thinking about music in a larger context, stealing ideas from masters, and being critical of what I believe to be uncreative crap. In other words, I get the inside jokes that are told in the language of music. I know when I'm trying to be tricked into liking a song, and I know when someone is being a nonconformist.
3. I Want another set of Ears. I enjoy music so much, that I believe music could enhance my mood and my enjoyment of life in general so much that I want an extra set of ears. I would have a soundtrack going for my life at all times, if I could still hear you talk at the same time. I'm listening to music right now. When I am doing something else like writing or doing dishes, I can still "enjoy" music much the way a "non musical" person enjoys music. I don't over analyze. I just enjoy in my subconscious or whatever you call it.
I doubt that songwriting ignorance is bliss. I enjoy my addiction to music, my work-like analyzing of music, and my casual multitasking listening. Whether I enjoy it as much as the next guy or girl may only be quantifiable by the number of hours I listen. I'm a human who is motivated by the rewards of pleasure. The evidence is mounting that I enjoy listening.
For those who are "burned out" from enjoying music. I either pity you for being forced to create until you no longer enjoy or I wonder what your motive for doing music was in the first place. Pride and money seem to be short-lived motivators for us musicians. Unfortunately, most of us won't get those desires fulfilled.
My motivation goes in this order: 1. pure enjoyment, 2. leaving a legacy, 3. money, 4. pride. In case you were wondering.
I like variety of tastes
I am not sure that I hate any music. I think variety and appreciation of different styles of music is good for creativity and novelty.
Tasting music for me is much like tasting food. Some recipes and presentations of foods are very good, while other combinations of ingredients and presentations are horrible.
Music can be seen as a combination of musical ingredients. If I want to taste some blues, then I will likely hear some call and response, 12 bar progression, expressive improvisational solos, and feeling in the vocals. This is one of my favorite musical foods, just like the way I like Mexican food because of the ingredients that usually make up those dishes.
I dislike some specific groups and their own specific styles, but it is more difficult to say I hate an entire genre. A lot has to do with how the music is presented. I can enjoy heavy metal, if it has sweet guitar solos. I can enjoy country music if it tastes authentic. I can enjoy pop music if there is smoke in the singer's voice and spicy dynamic changes. Jazz has it's own distinctive taste, but some Jazz is too difficult to digest. I prefer my Jazz "cool."
I believe that we all have our own tastes for music that don't match any other person's exactly. If I had to choose between no music at all and music that I say that I dislike now, I would probably choose the music I dislike. I think music is a need for me just like food. I need it to survive and be well. I could survive with music I don't like for a while, but I would feel malnourished. So, the music I dislike is the music that does not nourish my souls thirst for expressive, interesting, sensible music.
Writing music that is tasteful for others is another challenge in itself. Having to think of what others might want takes a producer's mind, not just a creative songwriter's mind. In my work here with EngagingMelodies I aspire to choose good ingredients, style, and present tastefully, because I am preparing the meal for someone else.
I have read only two books on songwriting in my life. So, as far as formal education of songwriting, I am lacking. I picked up some things from each of these books, but I don't think either gave me any great skill that I wouldn't have otherwise.
What these books did for me was make me hypersensitive to the songwriting techniques used by those artists I enjoy. As I listen to a song, I analyze how the verses are formulated to go with the chorus. I ask myself why the artist chose certain words, or made things vague. So, the time since reading the books may be more of an education than the time of reading each.
Some books about songwriting are better than others. In this case, Writing Better Lyrics was what I needed most. I am a more natural music writer, but it was difficult for me to make the transition to seriously edit my own lyric writing. What you have to learn to do is cut out the crap, revise, and then cut out even more crap. If there's anything left, then you have a song worth keeping.
One common thing that amateurs like me often do is write lyrics that don't match perfectly with the meter and length of time for each line musically. I am still working on this, and I think mistakes in this way can actually enhance song lyrics. The professionals seem to do this naturally.
Luckily, I have kept both of these books to look over when I need to go back and do some revision. Unfortunately, neither of these books will create inspiration or motivation to write, so they are more like objective feedback than anything else. I have always been the type to jump in without reading, and that's the best way to start a song. Sometimes a song can stand alone unedited, unrefined, and uneducated.
Music for me is about feeling, not logic and education. The feeling in music should always come first, because if it's not there you have nothing worth hearing. However, logic and education can make writing more efficient and effective. I still have a way to go with both feeling and education, but I have a humble start.
A Custom Anniversary Song
My next custom gift song is due in December, and it is for an anniversary gift of a woman who is in the Philippines to a man who is in Australia. The lady wants a song that captures some of her blog posts. The first thing I like to do when writing for someone is try to identify a major theme. After reading a couple of her blog posts, and taking notes, I have identified some keywords.
Here are the keywords I collected from her writing:
FAIRY TALES- princess, castle, puffy dresses, shiny tiaras, knight in shining armor
CHANCE ENCOUNTERS- old school mates, gazes, seeing faces, not knowing names, not love at first sight, no formal acquaintance
DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIP- hold hands, hug, heart flutters, butterflies, conversations, questions, long distance, praying, family, friends, love, faith, God, blessed
Then, the overarching theme I found was FATE... and this fate ties together this irrational-like thinking of fairy tales with the real world difficulty of living in a long distance relationship. Fate is what makes even the most difficult time of our lives take on a more important meaning. Fate brings us together over and over, until we are slapped in the face with an unarguable fact that there is meaning and promise to what is happening.
The Plan for this Custom Anniversary Song
I would like to use fate as the ultimate theme in the song, and I will attempt to use the story of Charm and Aaron in order to back up the idea of fate in their lives. Then, because it is an anniversary son, I will attempt to make the entire thing relevent for the rest of their lives. This is the task at hand, so if you have any ideas, suggestions, or want to make any other comment, feel free to give me some more perspective.
Some people think that writer's block is the most difficult part of writing a song, but I beg to differ. From what I understand, writer's block is when you have an idea about what you want to write about and you can't get started. I think the most difficult part comes a little earlier.
The most difficult part for me comes when I can't conceive something worth writing about, or when I don't care enough about what I will write. So, for me, the most difficult part comes when I lack the motivation to feel strongly enough to write. It's more apathy and lack of inspiration than not knowing where to start.
I think this is why I enjoy writing songs for other people so much. I can read a few lines someone writes to me in an e-mail and get a world of empathy going for that person. Then I can channel my own imagined picture of that person's life into a song, because I truly believe the person is interesting and worthy. When I look at my own life, I have trouble glamorizing it to the point where a song flows out of me.
I don't think songs need to be written about ourselves all the time, and I like change of perspective in songwriting. For example, Mark Knopfler wrote a song called, "Boom Like That," which tells the story of Ray Kroc who got McDonald's restaurants to become an establishment of fast food. For Knopfler to do that, he had to empathize with Kroc, know the historical context, and understand Kroc's nature.
So, instead of writing selfish poems about myself my whole life, I want to branch out and write about other people. My writer's block is inspiration and motivation, and the rest comes natural. So, do you have some inspiration to tell me?
What I Listened To When I Was Young
I didn't write my first complete song until I was about 18, but the influences I had started much earlier. I have a dad who liked to jam to the oldies station (50's and 60's rock and doo-wop). I have already written about the oldies songs that make me smile on another site, and I am confident to say that the singable melodies and hooks I heard from the oldies have shaped my thirst for a good melody.
My Family's Influence
My brother liked to listen to The Beach Boys and Paul Simon and my Mom liked to play guitar and sing folk stuff. Mom is pretty creative, and my brother, Darin, has a natural musical ear talent where he can pick out and play anything on the keyboard that he hears in a song. I have to count them as influences because they have each written songs too, although I have become more obsessed about it. My older sister, Denise, although she didn't write songs, won a poetry contest and modeled for me that poetry can be a cool art. somehow I think I ended up a blend of everyone's influence, and I am grateful for my family influencing my songwriting.
I probably have the entire family to thank for getting me through the 1980's without exposing me to horrible music, and allowing me to subconsciously soak up some really great stuff.
When You Lose Your Virgin Ear
The end of what I would call my early songwriting influences was when I started taking piano lessons in second grade. Once formal music lessons start, you start learning a little music theory, and you start to listen to music with a critical ear. You know if someone is singing off key, out of rhythm, or other problems. Now, I have such a critical ear that sometimes I can't just enjoy a song for what it is, and sometimes I wish I could go back to before I learned what I know now.
Piano was my first instrument, and I still feel affection for keys even though I am prone to pick up the guitar more often now. I would consider the instrument that a person plays as an influence on his or her songwriting, because you get used to hearing certain tone, timbre, and dynamics.
What This Means for My Songwriting
The main thing that all this means is that I tend to like folk poetry lyrics, oldies-like melodies, Beach Boys song arrangements, and I value a variety of instruments in my songs. Maybe these are natural tendencies that I picked up as a child while my brain was growing and going through the pruning process. My own family helped my brain decide what musical skills I would likely need as an adult.