July 30, 2014
Songwriters… we come in all flavors, varieties, and sizes. I’m of the variety that starts with a riff, builds a harmonic structure, adds a melody, and finally finds out what the song is about when the words come to me. At my best is when I listen to myself and discover what the next part of the riff or harmony or melody is. A similar discovery happens with words that just sort of bubble up. At worst is when I try to construct the riff or harmonies or melodies, to force the words. Those songs should be thrown away.
So I wouldn’t make a very good songwriter for a show or movie. That requires being able to write for a specific emotion or to a specific style. That just doesn’t happen with me. Some of the famous songwriters that create this way are Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. Did you know that “Yesterday” started out as “Scrambled Eggs”?
I often find really good riffs, feel like I have something really promising. I’ve lost some really good songs in the past through the conceit that if it is good enough, I’ll remember it later. I almost lost my song Peace of Mind that way. Now I record them on my phone. Some of them I title with notes to myself, “Work This One”. Others are simply “Something in E minor”. And I’ll often sing the chords instead of words. That way I’ll know what I’m playing when I listen to it later.
Some beginnings I don’t record. They just aren’t good enough, don’t demand that I do anything with them. I go about my day and promptly forget those
Now here is where there is peculiarity. There are songs that are full of promise. But they refuse to go past promise. The riff seems right. The chords seem almost right. The melodies are almost there. But no matter how much I play with them, they just never seem to gel, to get over the next hump. I have one song that I’ve been working on for three years. It refuses to finish. Either it isn’t good enough or I’m not approaching it correctly.
And then there is the flip side of this peculiarity. Despite that I’ve decided that the riff and harmonies aren’t good enough for considerations, the song just keeps coming back. Piece of crap… Will that darn thing get out of my head. These fragments just seem to keep cropping up when I’m working on other things. They are truly a pain. One song I even finished up so I could throw it away, get it out of my head: Happiness. That turned out to be one of my better received and most requested songs. I don’t really know why.
Maybe some songs just won’t leave you alone until you write them. They will interrupt the good songs that you are writing. Why? Maybe this is the crux; they are songs that are alien to the ones that you normally write. For me, I love to write a slow song, one with engaging harmonies, chromatic lines. But songs that are bouncy, quicker, simple; those don’t draw me. But what if that is the song that is demanding my attention?
I have a song like that. It seems to require that I finish it. It has a memorable riff with a good ascending middle line in it. It is up-tempo, with relatively simple chords, nothing startling. Why won’t it get out of my head. I’ve even had one set of words that go with a portion. Strangely those words have been there since the beginning, the opposite from the way I normally write as detailed earlier. This morning as I finished a bit of playing and practicing, three finger scales up the neck to help with better learning the fretboard, it circled around to me. This time some other words appeared, words of joy. Suddenly it seemed to have some direction. New melodies became possible. A change of mind set and expectations? I don’t know. Will it finish? Again, I don’t know.
What I do know is that some songs just demand to be written. If I finish this one I’ll record a rough version and append it to this blog.
Writing music is wrestling, sometimes dancing, with peculiarities.