Song Doctor Blog
Read about how to write better songs
Development is about choosing ideas, tune fragments, snatches of lyrics, titles and techniques from your ideas file and figuring out how to use them, how to weld them into new songs, or a decent sized song-like chunk anyway!
Development involves decision. It involves your musical tastes and personal preferences – both artistic and stylistic. To follow one idea, you wind up discarding others. What you decide to do on one day won’t necessarily be what you choose the next. That’s the beauty of a regular practice.
But here’s the exciting part - what you do with the basic ingredients – all those song ideas and triggers that you’ve gathered - will be utterly unique and completely individual. No one else can write a song exactly like you. There is no template!
Development is the process of moving from an idea to a draft or more likely a series of drafts. The more often you do this, the more intuitive it becomes. Remember the end result may appear effortless, simple and elegant – but appearances can deceive!
Things can get pretty messy in development! And they should do – you’re testing new connections, and newsflash – they won’t always work. You should expect plenty of dead ends. So don’t get too attached to your first or any idea. They may not ‘work’ or be the best fit for the song. You have to be able to let things go and come up with a different approach, preferably multiple approaches. Give yourself options.
Assessing what works or not is initially your decision. When you’re in the thick of it, keep recording what you’re doing, saving all drafts on your phone or Save Copy As in your DAW or on your laptop. Write stuff down so you can mix and match. It’s easy to forget small variations that may come into play further down the track. Don't worry if what you produce isn't perfect. You’re building right now. Refinement comes later.
Some of the things you’re looking for: do things stick? Does a piece of music catch your ear or a couple of lines stand out in your journal? Does something hit you in the eye from the list of titles you’ve kept? Run with that and free write as long as you can.
Does the chord progression you’ve started feel really good to you? Can you sing something - anything - over top of it? Can you sing three different things over top of it? Record them and then start adding lyrics.
Can you take the linear melody you’ve started with and try some skips or a leap up or down and see where that goes? Vary the rhythm a little or lot and record that. Can you change a couple of notes? It may not seem like much, but small motifs or groups of notes (2 – 8) are the raw material of great melody.
Lyrically, are you saying what you want to say? Are there five other ways you could do that? One of these will be ‘better’ than the others. So the more the merrier. Are you being the observer in the song or should you be the subject of your story? Try both approaches and record them.
One of my clients recently sent three options per line for a song. One line looked unusual on paper but was very difficult to sing, and hard to make out. Even though he loved what he had written, it didn’t fit with what words actually need to do in a song, which is to be sung. Decision made.
Remember you are also developing several things simultaneously. There’s interplay between rhythm and melody, harmony and melody, melody and lyrics, verse and chorus. Which is partly why pieces like this can come across a bit ‘here’s the magic formula’. Trying to ‘explain songwriting’ as a purely sequential process isn’t the point. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your creative brain doesn’t travel in a straight line! Go for trying as many things as you can.
In one of my own collaborations, we discussed how my first lines weren’t hitting the spot. They were ok. Just ok. But rather than being asked to write them again, my songwriting partner said ‘Write 10 verses’. What a breath of fresh air!
Wishing everyone the best of health during lockdown
Talk more soon