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One method that I find really useful for songwriting these days is to simplify everything that you want to try to communicate down to a single premise. This becomes the seed for your song. Let’s say you want to talk about love. That’s a really broad topic, so what do you want to communicate about love? What do you want the mood of the song to be? What do you want the subject matter to be? When you spend a couple minutes on each of these questions just unloading ideas you’ll realize that you have a huge amount of material.
Go through that material and look for a common thread, and common theme, and try to simplify that down to a phrase or a sentence. It’s exactly what businesses do when they try to describe themselves. They will list out all of the things that they can do, but when they really look at what all they have described there is usually a theme that runs through the heart of everything that they are describing. It’s the same thing we are doing in songwriting.
Grab that seed, and let that be the guiding principle for the creation of that song. You create a focus, and then all the other material you write has to support that focus. It will make your writing clearer and crisper and you will end up with a much more powerful song. (Not every single will be a hit, but you will start to understand how focusing can help you create better songs).
It seems a little bit silly to spill your guts on a page, pick up a small phrase and then try to build a song. But when you know what you are trying to communicate in a simple way it helps you fill out the rest of the details.
So you’ve seen the post about generating some great ideas for new material from the other post where I talked about sense writing. (This is all courtesy of this great book: Writing Better Lyrics [affiliate link]). If you haven’t you can catch up by reading the last post.
Now this is the next level of this event. You’ve picked the object, set the timer, and then written until your hand hurt and your mind couldn’t think of anything else to spit out to your hand. You probably came up with a few little nuggets that you could translate into seeds for new songs.
Grab a group of other creative folks. People that would be down for grabbing a pen and spending ten minutes doing a creative writing exercise. Hang out for a little bit and explain what you are going to do. Then pick the object, set the timer, and write like a maniac. THEN, go around and let everyone share how they attacked the object with their senses. I guarantee when you hear someone else describing how they hear a banana that it will surprise you and give you about ten more ideas of things to write about. Get about 5 people to do this little writing test.
Congratulations, you probably now have about a hundred ideas that you can work from. Now don’t go and blatantly rip off what someone else came up with, but use things that stuck with you as a spring board into a whole other realm of ideas.
Ever have that feeling that you have come to the end of your creative juices’ capabilities? That feeling that you just don’t know that you have any more that you can crank out?
It’s a pretty common thing, I think, with creative people. But I found this exercise in this incredible book: Writing Better Lyrics (affiliate link). It’s one of the first exercises they discuss, but the elephant of possibilities that can be delivered from using it will boggle the mind, and create small pools of drool.
They call it sense writing. Here’s the simple breakdown:
Pick an object
Set a timer for 5-10 minutes
Write about that object
It seems overly simple, but the approach is genius. The author tells you to attack that object with all of your senses. What does is look like, smell like, feel like, taste like, and sound like. And this is for any inanimate object. Try describing what a coffee bean sounds like. It forces you to come up with creative ways of thinking about the object, it also forces you to pull from your memories and experiences. I guarantee that you will have 10-15 ideas for new things you can work on when you get done.
It will be frustrating at first, but then it will get easier and more fun.
Here is a rough edition of one of the songs that I will be recording soon. It’s called “Country Soul”. The premise for me is about still liking to get out and away from everything every once in a while. It’s easier to hear when there are no distractions around.
The late part of last year and early part of this year I had set out on an ambitious little project to collaborate with a friend of mine, the extremely talented Tiffany Thompson. There were some scheduling issues and things ended up getting put on an indefinite hold as life sometimes does. But I went back in and looked at some of the song ideas that I had been working on. This is one of the songs that I was working on.
With all the tornado watches, I figured it was pretty relevant.
The Redemption song
And record player sends the cello dancing
Through the wreckage where tornado kissed the earth
Red dress hold the passion, pain, and promise
Can the fragments of this love be given birth?
And the house that once was, is gone
But the blades of grass are budding on the lawn
Alternative 2nd lines:
But the roots of this life are strong
But the foundation is standing strong
we belong, we are loved, we are strong (Hook Line)
We buy back the kernels from the whirlwind
Plunge our hearts and our hands into the dirt
The summer rains hide the tears and the pain
Love is messy like the stains of toil on our shirts
Again I wanted to show you a song in progress. This is the clip that I have that will be the pre-chorus and chorus section. I am going back now and working on getting the verses structured, and coming up with the progression that will work with the verses.
I think I might take it from the perspective of looking at a life that seems like it is all together, but how it comes apart when you are hit with genuine love. Imagery I have in mind are things like a house of cards, the shell that we present to the world, etc. Something to communicate that we think we know, but then are undone by Love.
Just wanted to introduce you to some incredibly talented musicians and an incredible friends of mine, East Ghost. These guys played their inaugural show last night in Washington, DC. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be there for the event, but thanks to the awesome Joe Portnoy, I was able to experience some of their new material.
I hope you all enjoy the vidoes. Watch ‘em, comment on ‘em and show some love.
Ryan ‘ Bootsy’ Brogan – Lead vocals and Guitar
Robert ‘Starship’ Winship IV – Bass
Jesse Eaves – Drums
Taylor Forry – Keys and BGVs
Hope you all enjoy!
So I sat down last night with my gracious roommate to show him some clips of things that I have been working on. I like to bounce ideas off of him and see what’s catchy and what sticks in his head. I know that if he’s singing it the next day then I am on to something.
As I played through the clips I kept finding more songs that I had forgotten about, and started getting really excited. I sat down and started writing out the names of the songs that I haven’t recorded yet, and realized that I have enough music to put together about 3 EPs . So that’s what I’m gonna do.
The first one that I am going to start recording in JUNE is going to be a lot of the material that I wrote while I was living in Washington, DC. Here are some of the tentative tracks that I am going to record. If there is a track that you think that I should record that isn’t on here, then let me know.
So here is one that was written a while back that I am excited about dusting off and thinking about recording it. Not just this acoustic version, but a “giddyup” version with a full band. It’s always a lot of fun to play live. The lyrics were written with a friend of mine, who is currently doing some incredible things in Thailand.
I love how much this little challenge is making me stretch and just go for things. Normally I would probably sit on the song a while and mill it over until I feel like its good enough to get out your hands. This new little way of doing it is a lot of fun, though. It takes the pressure off of it having to be perfect. I get to share the process with you, and that’s kind of exciting.
I love that you can hear the birds in the background at the end of the song. Spring is here!!! So here it is.. the roughed out version of “Pain in the Garden” on acoustic.
I just wanted to let you all know about a cool opportunity to support an independent artist. My friend, Mike Roy, is putting together his next album and has started a KickStarter Campaign to help him fund it. Mike is an awesome guy and was a mentor to me when I lived in North Carolina. He showed me the ropes of the indie music scene down there and encouraged me to get started with my own music.
I love the fact that the album is the story of he and his wife Eileen.
Go check out the video and then jump in and support his efforts if you can!
So I challenged myself a little bit today. I was happy with the chorus that I came up with yesterday, but I have a tendency to throw things on the back shelf when I’m over the initial excitement. I have a hard time keeping the momentum going with writing and completing the song once I get going. I wanted to avoid having the same thing happen this time so I tried something new.
Using a little stopwatch application I set a timer for 5 minutes. I figured I would break the song down into chunks. I scribbled out some ideas* and then settled on one and started. I did 4 sessions of 5 minutes and this is what I came up with:
Pain in the Garden
Johnny didn’t know
That water rose so fast
Surging from the river
Sweeping out the past
Calling for his Misses
Answer didn’t come
Swept out into darkness
Aching for the sun
You know there was pain in the garden
But we’ll find joy in the morning (x2)
Morning held the answers
Glaring in the sun
Spilled out on the pavement
Every neighbor stunned
His eyes met his lover’s
Johnny found his bride
Whisked her up in laughter
Watched the flood subside
You know there was pain in the garden
But he found joy in the morning (x2)
So I wanted to take you through the creative process of this new song that I am excited about. I want to show you how it started and then how it has developed. That is the great thing about treating everything like an experiment, you can’t make mistakes. You just learn as you practice.
This new track is tentatively titled “Pain in the Garden”. I was driving down the road and heard this drum beat in my head. I was grooving to it in the car, and wanted to remember it. So busted out my phone and pulled up the Voice Notes Recorder and ended up with this little drum clip. Saved it and didn’t think about it anymore.
Then last night I was working on mixing a track for a friend of mine, and I was messing around with the Guitar Rig plugin that I have. I was messing with the settings and found a gritty tone that I liked. Immediately the little drum clip popped in my head, so I pulled out the phone to listen to it again. I pulled up Kontakt and pulled up some drum samples and then started getting a close feel to the track sample. But I found another sample and started heading in that direction.
Once the drums were down, I pulled in the guitar and recorded a little rhythm progression. Vocal sketches came afterward and soon I had an idea for a hook for the song. So this is the chorus of a new song that is in development.
One of the biggest obstacles to moving forward is the reality that most people don’t know where they are trying to get to. Ask them. Seriously.
You’ll usually get some vague answer, like, I want to be a famous actor. That’s great! What does that really mean, though? Are they interested in the acting portion of the job? Or do they just want the perks of being noticed wherever they go, and having people ask them for their autograph?
Now I may be referring to that metaphorical third person in our conversation, but the reality is that this has been one of my biggest hang ups for the past several months. Ah, personal confession. Get your junk out in the open and start making changes. Boom!
When you don’t know where you want to go, you can often find yourself floundering. That’s where the discomfort starts. You know that you want to be doing more, but you’re not quite sure what. As long as you are comfortable, you will keep doing the same thing.
That’s the primary reason that I am doing this 30P Challenge. I need to make a change in the way that I have been doing things. It’s a slow build for me, and I’m starting super small. My goal is just to get comfortable with sharing things in process, rather than try to get it perfect before I show you. I’m loving the challenge of creating a new habit and a new way of doing things. It’s uncomfortable, but I actually feel really good about stepping up and starting to do something different.
So what is one thing that you want to get better at?
Britain has been cranking out some incredible female vocalists. Here are a few that you should at least take a listen to if you haven’t already. Some of them have a different style of music, but each has an extremely unique voice.
Number 1: Adele
I get chills every time I hear this beautiful voice. It’s like Amy Winehouse without the crack.
Number 2: Duffy
She has a crazy unique high voice that I love.
Number 3: Natasha Bedingfield
I have heard this song a bunch. Love it, and I love the british accent.
Number 4: Ellie Goulding
I love the tone and delivery of her vocals. I just dig ‘em.
Number 5: Amy Winehouse
Regardless of how you feel about her personal life, you have to admit that she’s got incredible set of pipes.