Songwriting advice

Get that song on tape! Errr... disk?
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julius2790
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Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:16 pm

Fellow offset guitar songwriting enthusiasts!

I wanted to try and start a discussion somewhat off topic about songwriting. How are all of you who write your own material coming up with lyrical ideas? I'm able to write various musical ideas without too much trouble. Tying the ideas together into a coherent song is another thing altogether that I think I'm slowly improving on.

My biggest issue by far is coming up with lyrics. I get tons of ideas for cool song titles but I totally struggle with words and most of these song ideas really do seem to want a vocal. I bought Jimmy Webb's book on songwriting and have been trying to learn more about the process...spending time in the morning just free associating ideas. I also tried writing a letter to myself about each song title. Weird but it might help.

How do you all approach writing lyrics? I can come up with phrases but of course they have to work phonetically within the melody (I guess I can usually hear a vocal melody without words on most of the stuff I'm trying to write). Any pointers, methods, or ideas are MUCH appreciated .

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by marqueemoon » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:04 pm

I usually have to have a musical idea in mind first, then write more words than I'll need and edit them down as I write the melody. When something's too wordy it usually becomes obvious once I try to sing it.

I don't spend much time recording and cataloging tiny snippets of ideas. I have a songwriter friend who does this and it sounds really frustrating. I'm ok with forgetting things that are forgettable.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 4:27 pm

marqueemoon wrote: I don't spend much time recording and cataloging tiny snippets of ideas. I have a songwriter friend who does this and it sounds really frustrating. I'm ok with forgetting things that are forgettable.
Yes. Your friend and I have an unfortunate situation together. But I can't just shitcan all these ideas. I'm waiting on them. Some things come out really quickly but others are just sitting around and around for a long time.

How do you get started? When you write more words than necessary how do you get rolling? Is there a general process?

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by Telliot » Sat Aug 26, 2017 4:53 pm

I’m by no means an expert songwriter, but I will give you this advice, which has been key for me (especially during bouts of writer’s block).

Keep a small notebook and pen with you, and try and write a little every day. It doesn’t need to make sense, or be about anything in particular. If you hear or read an interesting sentence or phrase, write it down. If you think of a rhyme that might be useful in the future, write it down. If you have a random thought that speaks to a part of you or to a larger idea, write it down. Don’t be precious about it, don’t be self conscious about it, and don’t ever think it isn’t worth writing down.

Do excercises using books or poems or lyrics from people you like, especially if they tend to use words outside your vernacular. Choose 2 or 3 sources and pick words to write down in as random an order as your brain will allow, and see if it sparks an idea.

Don’t try and rationalize or over analyze any of it — that voice kills creativity. Don’t try these things with a guitar in your lap, because you’ll feel obligated to be in Songwriting Mode, and begin limiting yourself to a certain rhythm or a certain cadence.

When you do have a song you’re writing lyrics for, pull this notebook out and start mining for ideas. You’ll be amazed how those random thoughts will begin materializing into something meaningful.
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 5:44 pm

Thanks very much both of you

I've been keeping a notebook for phrases and they come fairly easily...especially when I'm out in a social situations. It's weird...a friend asked me to sing on one of his songs recently and I came up with what I thought were decent lyrics and a melody withing a very short time. Maybe I'm being too precious about my own stuff.

I don't consider myself much as a songwriter either but I figure if I set the bar impossibly high (for me that would be like Lennon/McCartney, Alex Chilton, Robert Pollard, Brian Wilson) I can slowly fail my way up the ladder rung by rung. Maybe that Jimmy Webb book is hurting me too. He puts such a high premium on lyrics but on a lot of my favorite songs I can barely hear what they're talking about. I think "Surfin' Bird" is pretty amazing.

I will try to be more consistent with the notebook Telliot and we'll see where it leads.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by øøøøøøø » Sun Aug 27, 2017 4:35 am

There is no "right" or "wrong" for this. But here's how I go:

I never start with a "story" in mind. I have a baseline constant bubbling of thought and emotion kicking around the brain. I TRUST MYSELF that these things will eke up from the subconscious when needed. That trust is vital (for me).

When melodic ides come to me, I just sing nonsense. It's incredibly important to me that the lyric work phonetically. It must SOUND COOL when sung... so I literally start there.

Invariably (I've never had this NOT happen), my nonsense babbling will morph into a word or two. A word will just "sound right" and just "fit" with the melody and the rhythmic cadence. Sometimes that word will turn into two, or three... or even a whole phrase or line.

I treat this--with zero irony--as a gift from the subconscious. I'll grow the song outward from there. I still don't need to know what the song is about at this time. I'm just expanding on what the subconscious has given me. I also won't write anything down yet. I'm going for phonetic beauty... it has to articulate the notes of the melody in the right way.

Why no documenting: Short-term memory is my editor. If it wasn't good enough to be memorable, it gets pruned. If a forgettable idea slips away, I TRUST that a better, memorable one will replace it. Anything written or recorded becomes too firm-feeling; too hard to backtrack if I get stuck or have doubts.

Once I have most of the song (the form, melody, harmony, and some of the lyrics), I might turn on a recorder and just babble my way through the parts where I don't have words. Then I listen back, and some of my babbling will suggest some more words. I still don't have to know what the song is about. It's unfolding before me while I watch.

When I feel I'm circling the drain, I'll sit down w/ a pad (TextEdit!) and write down what I've got. Maybe a concept is starting to shape up, and that will help fill in some blanks. A line will eventually happen that will pique my interest or provoke thought, magnetizing the song around it. I'll get stuck on a line or two, go for a walk or shower, and the answers will usually come.

It's possible that I'm STILL not 100% positive what the song is about. The very final line may totally shift the meaning of the lyric and I have to go back and tweak 5 or 6 words to reflect the new reality, then it's done. I stay open to this. Many times the complete concept is only "unveiled" as the very last words are being written.

Trust in subconscious is my secret weapon. I can't tell you how many times I've just been astonished at the lyrics I "write." I never could've "thought this stuff up" if I set out to do so. But somehow if I TRUST my subconscious, amazing things happen-- creative things, beautiful things.

Sometimes, then, I go back a month later and absolutely hate it and work work work and refine refine refine until i don't hate it anymore. Or sometimes it's a lost cause and I throw it away. Par for the course.

Most likely, you will write some real stinkers at first. Try your level best. You may like them when you finish them but hate them later. You'll find your own process.

Good luck!

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by Harmoncj » Sun Aug 27, 2017 5:31 am

https://webmshare.com/nZeQb" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sun Aug 27, 2017 7:46 am

øøøøøøø wrote:I never start with a "story" in mind. I have a baseline constant bubbling of thought and emotion kicking around the brain. I TRUST MYSELF that these things will eke up from the subconscious when needed. That trust is vital (for me).

When melodic ides come to me, I just sing nonsense. It's incredibly important to me that the lyric work phonetically. It must SOUND COOL when sung... so I literally start there.

Invariably (I've never had this NOT happen), my nonsense babbling will morph into a word or two. A word will just "sound right" and just "fit" with the melody and the rhythmic cadence. Sometimes that word will turn into two, or three... or even a whole phrase or line.

I treat this--with zero irony--as a gift from the subconscious. I'll grow the song outward from there. I still don't need to know what the song is about at this time. I'm just expanding on what the subconscious has given me. I also won't write anything down yet. I'm going for phonetic beauty... it has to articulate the notes of the melody in the right way.

Once I have most of the song (the form, melody, harmony, and some of the lyrics), I might turn on a recorder and just babble my way through the parts where I don't have words. Then I listen back, and some of my babbling will suggest some more words. I still don't have to know what the song is about. It's unfolding before me while I watch.

It's possible that I'm STILL not 100% positive what the song is about. The very final line may totally shift the meaning of the lyric and I have to go back and tweak 5 or 6 words to reflect the new reality, then it's done. I stay open to this. Many times the complete concept is only "unveiled" as the very last words are being written.

Trust in subconscious is my secret weapon. I can't tell you how many times I've just been astonished at the lyrics I "write." I never could've "thought this stuff up" if I set out to do so. But somehow if I TRUST my subconscious, amazing things happen-- creative things, beautiful things.

Sometimes, then, I go back a month later and absolutely hate it and work work work and refine refine refine until i don't hate it anymore. Or sometimes it's a lost cause and I throw it away. Par for the course.

Most likely, you will write some real stinkers at first. Try your level best. You may like them when you finish them but hate them later. You'll find your own process.

Good luck!
Thank you thank you thank you!

This morning I was just playing the chords for this idea and babbling and I came up with "Association cats/Are crawling to my lover's ledge/They populate the vats/In alleys where we took our pledge." I have absolutely no idea where the hell this came from or what it means. But you are right they are bubbling up from somewhere and they do work phonetically within the melody I had. The process feels kind of embarrassing for some reason and I guess I need to get past that. I'm kind of glad I'm not in a band...that would feel really weird to work something like that out in front of other musicians.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by Harmoncj » Sun Aug 27, 2017 7:52 am

øøøøøøø wrote:There is no "right" or "wrong" for this. But here's how I go:

I never start with a "story" in mind. I have a baseline constant bubbling of thought and emotion kicking around the brain. I TRUST MYSELF that these things will eke up from the subconscious when needed. That trust is vital (for me).

When melodic ides come to me, I just sing nonsense. It's incredibly important to me that the lyric work phonetically. It must SOUND COOL when sung... so I literally start there.

Invariably (I've never had this NOT happen), my nonsense babbling will morph into a word or two. A word will just "sound right" and just "fit" with the melody and the rhythmic cadence. Sometimes that word will turn into two, or three... or even a whole phrase or line.

I treat this--with zero irony--as a gift from the subconscious. I'll grow the song outward from there. I still don't need to know what the song is about at this time. I'm just expanding on what the subconscious has given me. I also won't write anything down yet. I'm going for phonetic beauty... it has to articulate the notes of the melody in the right way.

Why no documenting: Short-term memory is my editor. If it wasn't good enough to be memorable, it gets pruned. If a forgettable idea slips away, I TRUST that a better, memorable one will replace it. Anything written or recorded becomes too firm-feeling; too hard to backtrack if I get stuck or have doubts.

Once I have most of the song (the form, melody, harmony, and some of the lyrics), I might turn on a recorder and just babble my way through the parts where I don't have words. Then I listen back, and some of my babbling will suggest some more words. I still don't have to know what the song is about. It's unfolding before me while I watch.

When I feel I'm circling the drain, I'll sit down w/ a pad (TextEdit!) and write down what I've got. Maybe a concept is starting to shape up, and that will help fill in some blanks. A line will eventually happen that will pique my interest or provoke thought, magnetizing the song around it. I'll get stuck on a line or two, go for a walk or shower, and the answers will usually come.

It's possible that I'm STILL not 100% positive what the song is about. The very final line may totally shift the meaning of the lyric and I have to go back and tweak 5 or 6 words to reflect the new reality, then it's done. I stay open to this. Many times the complete concept is only "unveiled" as the very last words are being written.

Trust in subconscious is my secret weapon. I can't tell you how many times I've just been astonished at the lyrics I "write." I never could've "thought this stuff up" if I set out to do so. But somehow if I TRUST my subconscious, amazing things happen-- creative things, beautiful things.

Sometimes, then, I go back a month later and absolutely hate it and work work work and refine refine refine until i don't hate it anymore. Or sometimes it's a lost cause and I throw it away. Par for the course.

Most likely, you will write some real stinkers at first. Try your level best. You may like them when you finish them but hate them later. You'll find your own process.

Good luck!
I read this whole thing and I'll cosign. that looks like a really good outline for a process thanks for sharing!

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sun Aug 27, 2017 7:52 am

Thanks I enjoyed that. This whole process is pulling away some of the mystery about songwriting and that helps quite a bit I guess.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sun Aug 27, 2017 8:00 am

Harmoncj wrote:
øøøøøøø wrote:There is no "right" or "wrong" for this. But here's how I go:

I never start with a "story" in mind. I have a baseline constant bubbling of thought and emotion kicking around the brain. I TRUST MYSELF that these things will eke up from the subconscious when needed. That trust is vital (for me).

When melodic ides come to me, I just sing nonsense. It's incredibly important to me that the lyric work phonetically. It must SOUND COOL when sung... so I literally start there.

Invariably (I've never had this NOT happen), my nonsense babbling will morph into a word or two. A word will just "sound right" and just "fit" with the melody and the rhythmic cadence. Sometimes that word will turn into two, or three... or even a whole phrase or line.

I treat this--with zero irony--as a gift from the subconscious. I'll grow the song outward from there. I still don't need to know what the song is about at this time. I'm just expanding on what the subconscious has given me. I also won't write anything down yet. I'm going for phonetic beauty... it has to articulate the notes of the melody in the right way.

Why no documenting: Short-term memory is my editor. If it wasn't good enough to be memorable, it gets pruned. If a forgettable idea slips away, I TRUST that a better, memorable one will replace it. Anything written or recorded becomes too firm-feeling; too hard to backtrack if I get stuck or have doubts.

Once I have most of the song (the form, melody, harmony, and some of the lyrics), I might turn on a recorder and just babble my way through the parts where I don't have words. Then I listen back, and some of my babbling will suggest some more words. I still don't have to know what the song is about. It's unfolding before me while I watch.

When I feel I'm circling the drain, I'll sit down w/ a pad (TextEdit!) and write down what I've got. Maybe a concept is starting to shape up, and that will help fill in some blanks. A line will eventually happen that will pique my interest or provoke thought, magnetizing the song around it. I'll get stuck on a line or two, go for a walk or shower, and the answers will usually come.

It's possible that I'm STILL not 100% positive what the song is about. The very final line may totally shift the meaning of the lyric and I have to go back and tweak 5 or 6 words to reflect the new reality, then it's done. I stay open to this. Many times the complete concept is only "unveiled" as the very last words are being written.

Trust in subconscious is my secret weapon. I can't tell you how many times I've just been astonished at the lyrics I "write." I never could've "thought this stuff up" if I set out to do so. But somehow if I TRUST my subconscious, amazing things happen-- creative things, beautiful things.

Sometimes, then, I go back a month later and absolutely hate it and work work work and refine refine refine until i don't hate it anymore. Or sometimes it's a lost cause and I throw it away. Par for the course.

Most likely, you will write some real stinkers at first. Try your level best. You may like them when you finish them but hate them later. You'll find your own process.

Good luck!
I read this whole thing and I'll cosign. that looks like a really good outline for a process thanks for sharing!
100%. I think people pay good money for this kind of advice. Very, very, very helpful.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by Telliot » Sun Aug 27, 2017 8:09 am

Brad’s post above is a tried and true method, employed by some of my favorite songwriters, especially Jeff Tweedy. He records himself singing phonetically as he plays and listens back to see if he can translate verbatim what he thinks he hears. The lyrics from Wilco’s “I Might” are a good example of this:
You come on
Sentimental
If the
Solar car's coming
I'm home
The Magna Carta's
On a Slim Jim blood
Brutha!
The sunk soul
With the coal clean toe
Is the mutha!
Yea. That's right
When you gonna find out
I'm all inside
You still might
I use this method as well, along with my trusty notebook I mentioned earlier. It’s all valid, and no one way works every time.
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by Harmoncj » Sun Aug 27, 2017 8:18 am

I'm pretty sure step 2 is to develop a full blown neurosis around whether or not you think of yourself as a hack.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by julius2790 » Sun Aug 27, 2017 8:36 am

Harmoncj wrote:I'm pretty sure step 2 is to develop a full blown neurosis around whether or not you think of yourself as a hack.
Ha ha ha! I just assumed my songwriting heroes are much smarter and more talented. Which they are. But I can't understand getting a huge ego or taking yourself too seriously with this kind of process. If anything a lot of these ideas feel like a gift as opposed to the outgrowth of some kind of talent. I remember reading about David Lynch likening the creation of art to fishing for ideas. Makes a lot of sense to me.

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Re: Songwriting advice

Post by DrQuasar » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:51 pm

https://www.wired.com/2015/12/song-expl ... ff-tweedy/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Basically a description of the same process described above eloquently by Brad.

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