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Personal blog and comfy corner of Lyra Rhodes: musician, cake aficionado, whinger...maybe just a place where I can stuff things (words!), rather than them falling down the back of the sofa

Monday, 24 June 2013

Songwriting - a terminally inadequate approach

I'll never be satisfied.
In the context of living a life with regrets, is "not being able to write songs that are any good" an acceptable one???
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets" - Arthur Miller.
Yeah.
That. Makes. Sense.
I play the guitar, but struggle with not being in the right LIFE position to write songs...always working, dealing with kids, sleeping, finding a house, eating cake (the last bit isn't so bad).
I remember writing one particular song in 40 minutes. Sat at my guitar, leaning over a notebook (old fashioned paper style...you think I type my songs!?) alternating between a pen and a plectrum in my mouth.
And that was good. Life was sweet. The song? Heartfelt, quick, reactionary, immediate, raw. As you'd expect!
I read something about the approach that Elton John takes, to writing music at least. He will often hear or copy something, then change it beyond recognition. I've been trying that recently. It's a common technique. Also, with lyrics, key phrases, sayings, adages, maxims... these are all really really important, so the Interwebs is a useful thing to search them out.
My mum asked me once..."what comes first? the music or the lyrics?", and the fact is, everyone does it differently... some songs they kinda happen together. A lot of music comes to me when I'm falling asleep, and hardly ever to I get out of bed and write it down or record it. Quite often, with a guitar at least, your fingers start to follow a set-pattern, a well-worn and travelled route...and this doesn't lead to anything *new*, so songs can end up sounding the same... My brother once told me many many years ago that "you should play what's in your head, find a way for your fingers to play it". That's so so true. Not always possible, but true. I try. It isn't easy.
I don't know what the answer is. Sometimes I think that really bad things must happen, to give inspiration!!! Other songs I write from memory, drawing on past experiences. Suzanne Vega is very much an observant artist, imagining scenarios for strangers. Lloyd Cole has been married since his 20s, but still writes great angst-ridden songs that whilst not speaking of heartbreak as such, describe the coldness that can exist in a relationship, for instance. I heard that his wife was a touch upset by one of his albums!
So, it's tricky.
I think the best songs, or at least the best ones I imagine, or have created a bit...are those where the songs has an instant and obvious "attitude" or style... and this isn't always easy, when dealing with acoustic guitar focussed music. Because, I write in the context of the whole song - "Are Ya Happy Now" isn't a guitar song, for me it's more about the drums and the synths in the later part - I'm most proud of a 5 second section where the synth strings swell to a climax just before the closing section.
So in conclusion, maybe I need to be more goal-oriented for a while at least, and finish a song, or write a new one and take it to full conclusion and recording. That'll help my feeling of inadequacy...and satisfy my occasional geeky computer recording and mixing side ;-) (the downside being that it means many VERY late nights...*sigh*)

1 comment:

VĂ©ronique said...

My songwriting has changed over the years. Even now I write in various ways. What is more common now for me than was once true is to come up with chords, a melody (more or less), and phrasing. I then try different words and rhymes, not even necessarily about anything, until coherent lyrics start to emerge. I had already been doing that when I read a chapter in David Byrne's How Music Works in which he describes that very method.