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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Songwriting When There's No Inspiration Pt. 2

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog setting up a challenge to myself and anyone else that feels like participating. The challenge was writing 7 songs in 7 days and only allowing yourself one hour to write the lyrics, melody and chords AND record it (not professionally of course, just the basic demo.

I suggested some different ways that you could force yourself into some inspiration when the ideas weren’t just coming to you and for each song I wrote I tried one of these different techniques. The recordings that I’m putting up here are by no means final products, or even decent demos, they are just the live recording I got at the end of each hour of songwriting and they’ll need a bit of attention should I end up using them in the future… which I probably will for some of them

Anyway, here are the tracks that I’ve recorded and a bit of description of how the writing process went and what I thought of it.
All of the tracks are available on my Soundcloud here:

Song 1 - Push It Away

This was the first song I wrote for my 7 day challenge. I used the technique of facing myself up against a wall, playing random chords on the guitar and singing random noises until words formed into something coherent. This actually worked a lot better than I thought it would. I came up with the main part of the verse first, with the “I don’t know” line being the only actual words and then came up with the rest of the lines of the first verse. 

I didn’t have any kind of theme in mind for this song, but after I came up with “Can I make it up the stairs”, It kind of fell around the theme of someone stumbling to bed after a big party at their house where everyone else had left. The chorus didn’t really make sense with that that idea, but it worked with the sound I was going for at the time. 

It turned out that I had all the lyrics and main chords finished in about 25 minutes, which I was really surprised with when I saw the time. I then spent another 25 minutes making slight changes with the vocal melody, bridge chords and guitar lead line. The last 10 minutes were spent recording it and that was it. Success.

Song 2 - Slowing Down

This track was written using the technique of listening to a song and waiting until original ideas jumped out. I used a track by the artist Matthew Good called “Sons And Daughters”. As soon as the track started, there came a guitar lead line that sounded to me like a vocal phrase and I subsequently wrote the chorus of my song based on the “words” I heard in the guitar line.

Most of the rest of the vocals came about when I heard a vocal line in the song and I came up with a line that I thought sounded really cool after it, but wasn't actually in the song. I fleshed those ideas out a bit and came up with what ended up being the verses. 

Song 3 - A Better Way

With this track, I used the technique of changing instruments to write a song. This is a great technique as your limited knowledge of the instrument acts as a restriction and you come up with different ideas than you might on your main instrument. 

I used a keyboard, which I have dabbled in and basically taught myself to play but I am still very much a beginner on it. I started out by coming up with the verse riff on the keys and then the melody and lyrics for the verses quickly was interesting to go straight to the Cm chord at the start as I would rarely use that on a guitar riff. Then moving to the Eb is something I'd almost never do without a capo so it was good to get there from the start with the keys. I then had to come up with a chorus, which came about quite easily. 

I actually ended up finishing the writing process of this song in about 20 minutes, which felt great. The tough bit that took up the rest of my time was the recording, mostly because I'm not very good at keys and it took a while to get it to sound the way I wanted. In the end I got a very different sound to what I normally end up with which was a bit refreshing. 

Song 4 - Skin

This track was made while listening to an instrumental track and then coming up with lyrics and a melody based on that. From there I worked on a chord progression based on the melody that i’d come up with. This was particularly interesting because the song that I was listening to had some odd time signatures. 

Although I didn't follow the time signatures in the song, I did end up using some slightly different timings and found myself switching between ¾ and 4/4 quite a bit. I'm not sold on the chorus, although there is something I like about how rushed and frantic it seems to sound when compared with the rest of the track. If I spend more time on this one I think I'd be reviewing the lyrics that are in the chorus to something that flows a little better. Maybe also change the chord progression. 

Song 5 - You And Me 

For this track I used the brainstorm chart idea. This is a bit different to what I've been doing in that the lyrics came before any music at all. As a result, I ended up writing words that didn't seems to flow in a musical sense. I can understand that some people have a better knack for this than I do, but I really wasn't feeling that this technique got me very good results. 

Another thing I noticed was that actually coming up with the lyrics took a lot longer than in the previous songs, which left me very little time to come up with chords and melody, and then record the track. I would definitely be rewriting a lot of the lyrics and reviewing the melody and chord progression of I chose to pursue this track, but as it stands, I think this one will end up going in the bin. 

I think the brainstorm chart idea would work better if you have a subject that you really wanted to write about (or you were getting paid to write about a specific thing), but for me it brought up a mediocre song that took a lot longer, and was less fun to write. Maybe I'll review it again later on. 

Song 6 - The Wall

For this track, I decided to experiment with a loop pedal. There's one that comes with my Acoustic Play that is very basic but I'm sure there's programs that you can download that have more functions. Being new to the looping world, simple was good for me. I have the options to record, play, stop, overdub, and delete the last overdub. That's all I really needed, and it was a quick process of writing very much on the fly while not screwing up the loop too much. 

I did like working this way and it ended up giving me a track that was a bit different in vibe to what I usually make. I'll be looking at playing with my loop pedal quite a bit more in the near future and trying to get to know it better and hopefully writing some great music using it. I definitely recommend using these things if you love just sitting down to make music and seeing what comes out.

Song 7 - Believe

This track I used another track to get my finished product. The idea being, that you use lyrics to a song that you’ve never heard before, make up the chords and melody that you think would fit with those lyrics, and then replace the words with new ones. 

For this one, I used Damien Rice’s song “The Greatest Bastard”. Having never heard the song, I played around with the melody a bit until I came up with something that I thought fit the lyrics and then built the chords around that. I mostly followed the structure of the song that was listed out on the lyrics page and played until I had essentially written the music to these lyrics. Once finished that I played over the chord progressions and hummed out the melody until my own words came to my head and soon enough I had the lyrics for the whole track there.

This was a great and fun way to come up with a song as it changed my subject matter up a bit as I was influenced by what he had written in his own words and how the lines were structured. It was also really interesting looking up the song once I’d finished and hearing how different the original version was to mine (I also recorded a version of the song with his lyrics for future reference.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this challenge and it gave me a new perspective on the writing process and some of my strengths and weaknesses when it came to songwriting. One thing that I really noticed was that ideas came easier to me when I was playing music and coming up with lyrics ideas on the spot rather than just writing lyrics while absent of any kind of music. Some of these techniques worked really well and I think I’ll be using these a lot more in the future.

What processes do you find most effective when writing songs? What do you think of my tracks? Have you learnt anything new from trying any of these techniques? Let me know in the comments below

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