Earlier this year my grade 8 classes were given the challenge of writing and performing their own song. First they had to work out how to play guitar, then they had to figure out the structure of standard pop songs and lastly they had to create lyrics that reflected how they wanted to change an aspect of their world. I am determined to inspire some new songwriters out there and this unit was linked to the question”What will your musical legacy be?”. I’ve written before about what I want my legacy to be but forgot to add a point about my own development as a musician.
I’ve always talked about wanting to embrace my natural singing voice (vs. my operatic) and to write my own songs, but haven’t acted on it. I talk to my students about their rock star dreams/ singer-songwriter dreams and how now is the best time to act on it, because after a certain age there’s less chance of making it a full time job (or at least a part-time-extra-money-on-the-side hobby). To get to the point, my 30th birthday is a year and five months away, and in preparation for the big three- zero I’ve set myself the challenge of writing 15 songs, 2/3 of which would be suitable to put on an album.
By writing this here online, I’m making my personal goal public, and thus harder to back out of. I ask you, my audience, to be part of this process. I will put my ideas online and would love for you to give me some feedback (as hard as it will often be to take the criticism).
Here’s a little bit about my process so far…
- 1. Listening to the artists I want to sound a little bit like (click on the links)– The Weepies, Belle and Sebastian, Ben Folds, Inland Sea, Augie March, James Taylor, Tracey Chapman, Gotye … (and a few more)
- 2. Setting up a garageband file to record my meanderings.
- 3. Fiddling around on guitar (even though I’m a useless guitarist) to come up with chord progressions or mimic other artists’ progressions.
- 4. Sifting through sentences I’ve written in letters where I’ve been proud of a particular turn of phrase, so that I can use them in my lyrics.
- 5. Recording thoughts out loud that I’ve always wanted to say to the people in my life. Noticing the rhythm of my speech, the intonation, the spaces, the commonly used words, the not so commonly used words.
- 6. Looking up words in the thesaurus. Reminding myself that I hate it when things rhyme too much in a song.
- 7. Writing out note for note copies/ arrangements of pop songs I like into Sibelius. Noticing the structure and layers.
- 8. Having conversations with fellow musicians/ reading interviews about songwriting for ideas about their process.
- 9. Sleeping, doing housework, thinking.
- 10. Sitting down and actually recording.
This is not the first time I’ve attempted to write songs, but this is the first time I’ve taken it so seriously. Here’s a recording of me aged 19 with my song ‘Up To You’ – I was exploring chords and trying to write proper lyrics. Wish I could go back and totally re-record my voice! I think that what I’m aiming for now is very different. In this recording I’m playing piano, and two guys I went to uni with are playing drums and guitar (Paul? and Josh – I can’t remember their last names). I love Josh’s guitar solo — I gave him my weird chords and he turned it into something special. I remember him saying to me that he didn’t understand why my chord progression worked — he was an excellent and dedicated musician with Kodaly training — and I liked the fact that it didn’t make sense!
If you have any tips and tricks about writing songs or articles along that vein, please share them in the comments.