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Songwriter Forum => The Writing Process => Topic started by: jacksimmons on September 28, 2017, 03:14:27 PM

Title: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on September 28, 2017, 03:14:27 PM
This idea is massively inspired by Darren1664's thread - entitled A New Song - My Writing Process - which can be found a little further down the board. All credit for this goes to him. Like him, I've decided to document every part of my writing process from initial conception to final home mix. The resulting song will end up on the album I am currently working on and in my live sets - hopefully!

I hope to shed some light on my process because 1) it sounds like a generally cool, fun way to write a song, 2) it will help me better understand how I construct a song and improve my future song writing and 3) it may help other burgeoning songwriters that are stuck or don't know how to start.

When I first started writing songs, hearing what other people were churning out was incredibly daunting. I will be posting here absolutely every step that goes in to writing and recording one of my songs in order to shed some light on the whole thing. I hope this helps some people with their own writing.

All comments and feedback greatly appreciated.

*****

So first things first, a basic concept. These three recordings were made on my iPhone a few days ago, the first with nonsense lyrics and the second with a set of temporary lyrics. These will be used as a starting point to construct the entire song around. Between the first and second recordings, the melody at the end of the verse has changed.

https://soundcloud.com/blues101/basic-concept

Lyrics:

Pulled in to a lay-by for a cry
Saw you on the back of the Sunday Times
Everybody's looking for a good time
But you do it on my nose


Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Darren1664 on October 04, 2017, 05:17:19 PM
Hey Jack

Fab that you're giving this a go. It will be really interesting to hear your process and hopefully pick up some tips :)

I found it difficult to do and somewhat gave up in the end. I think that having to try and track all the changes became cumbersome for me. I tend to pick up my guitar willy nilly and progress ideas in a haphazard kind of way which, of course, doesn't work so well when I have to remember to hit record on my phone :P. I also found that there is one part of writing a song that I couldn't quite capture and that is what I will call here the simmer phase. Some songs just come out and write themselves. Others seem to need to time to simmer and after a while I come back and find a new direction. My song/thread is currently in this phase. I actually listened to an earlier version of it which I much preferred to its current form so will go back to that I think.

Anyway...

I listened to yours and I am instantly impressed by the difference between the initial idea and the second take. You took a simple-ish idea and with your strong vocal just made it really interesting, you have a great vocal. I'm really drawn in and interested by this so will be keeping tabs.

Thanks for starting this mate

All the best

Darren
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: PaulAds on October 05, 2017, 07:33:57 AM
Great idea, fellas!

I’ll be watching with interest, as something similar has been going through my mind lately...
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Martinswede on October 19, 2017, 08:11:54 AM
Cool!

I like the concept. After reading Darren1664 posts I got more understanding of how I write.
Recording and getting the melodies pinned down seems like a good idea for me to embrace. I easily forget.


Good luck!

Martin
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on March 27, 2019, 08:15:44 PM
I have decided to give this another go, since my last attempt fizzled out and I ended up abandoning the song. This is a song I got the idea for last year and luckily I've recorded every step so far. Some of the audio I'm gonna share is...not intended for public consumption, but I think that is the spirit of this thread. Hopefully you guys find this useful or interesting, or maybe amusing haha. I think of it as like a  How's It Made for one of my songs.

Georgie Wants to Be A Pop Star.

Initial Idea.

As with almost all of my songs, I start with a single lyric that I like, and it's from a conversation between my and my boyfriend. I am prone to fasting and bad dieting - going days or weeks eating very little - and he says it's not healthy. I agree and say: "It's not about living long, it's about looking good." That becomes the first line of the song.

One.

I find a key I like and write the melody for the first line. This time it happens to be the first line of the first verse that I had, but more often than not it is a chorus that comes to me first. Here, the tempo, melody, structure and genre are undecided and will be informed by my experimenting around the initial hook. As can be expected, this results in lots of unused melodies, bad chords etc. Below are the first initial few recordings. By 1.46 on clip one I have settled on a tempo and verse structure that is close to how the song ends up but is still very rough.




By the end of the clips, I have stumbled on the main melody for the verse and chorus, I just don't know it yet through all the other stuff. I also have a title character - Georgie.

Two.

I write the chorus melody with the name 'Georgie' in it, probably because I am reading Stephen King's It at the time and the main character's brother is called Georgie. I have decided the song is about me: I want to be a pop star, but I use the name Georgie because a) it isn't as on the nose as using my actual name and b) it sounds nicer and fits nicer with the chorus melody. With that in mind, I write the first set of lyrics:

It's not about living long it's about looking good
It's not about taking drugs it's about skipping food
And hanging out in Salzburg with a sad look on your face
Watching all the wheels go by

Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to be a pop star
Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to find it in his heart
To be a lover 'cause he needs to be a lover
Georgie wants to be a pop star now
Georgie wants to be a pop star now

I have also written a set of chords to serve as a musical break, and an ending with la's I am imagining a big crowd or choir singing to fade out. I now have the basic structure of the verses, the choruses, the middle 8 and the ending, with all the chords and some lyrics. To get to this stage has taken roughly a week. This is quite indicative. If an idea is any good it usually takes about 3-7 days to get here.




Three.

With the melody firmly in place I can complete the lyrics. This can take a long time for me because it is something I chip away at gradually, though sometimes they come quickly. With this particular song I am in no rush to record it. I have just begun work on my 80s album and know it doesn't belong there. With that in mind, it's a few months down the line before I eventually complete the lyrics.


It's not about living long it's about looking good
It's not about taking drugs it's about skipping food
And hanging out in Salzburg with a sad look on your face
Watching all the wheels go by

Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to be a pop star
Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to find it in his heart
To be a lover 'cause he needs to be a lover
Georgie wants to be a pop star now

And on the hottest day in June he looks for somewhere to go
They won the footie and took to the streets in their Volkswagon Carrados
He just stared at his continental and thought about Abbey Road
How the tape reels went round

Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to be a pop star
Georgie's crying 'cause he wants to find it in his heart
To be a lover 'cause he needs to be a lover
Georgie wants to be a pop star now
Georgie wants to be a pop star now

La la la la la la la
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la la x2


I have changed the odd chord here and there and moved the last line of the chorus to the second chorus only.



The song is finished! I do a quick version for myself on my iPhone so I don't forget it, but I don't usually do this. It goes on the back burner for a year or so. Today I have started recording the track for my next album, where I think it belongs. Updates to follow!

Some notes on lyrics: The airport in the first verse was supposed to be Schipol where I have actually been, on a work trip to Belgium as described in the second verse. Schipol sounds horrible sung, so I changed it to Salzburg. I'll always lose the facts to accommodate the song. The line "to be a lover 'cause he needs to be a lover" in the chorus was most probably inspired by It, too - in the recent film someone gets 'loser' scrawled on their cast and they modify it to read lover. Nothing else to it, really.



Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: pompeyjazz on March 27, 2019, 09:10:47 PM
Interesting read Jack. I'm always fascinated as to how others face the writing process. My approach is a bit more slapdash than yours  ;D
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on March 27, 2019, 09:15:55 PM
I think it’s the way it’s written that makes it appear not completely sporadic and unstructured. I’ve managed to apply a vague sort of structure to what is essentially throwing tunes at chords until something sticks. There’s certainly some slapdashery in that first clip...
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on March 27, 2019, 11:58:31 PM
Recording has begun. Tonight I programmed the drum track (which took longer than expected), double tracked acoustic guitars, laid down a rough bass track, and put down a lead vocal. This vocal was done in one quick take and is a guide only. It will get replaced in the next step. I now have the full rhythm section to work with and an idea of what it will sound like when it is complete.


Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on August 09, 2019, 02:23:02 PM
Well it took about five months but yesterday my Dad came down to my new place and we wrote the electric guitar parts and played them in. We also recorded the backing vocals for the end - which are about fifteen tracks of us singing in different positions and voices to create the crowd effect I wanted when I first wrote the outro. Today I mixed these down.



I will be returning to this to tweak the middle instrumental because I am not overly happy with the guitar sound. This version is also missing electric guitar for the outro and a fade out, which will bring the final version in at around the two minute forty mark.

Only one or two iterations to go before I arrive at the finished version of this tune.
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Darren1664 on August 31, 2019, 11:42:13 AM
Hey hey

Really interesting to follow this Jack and I'm really liking the end result, hope you get around to finishing (to your standard....sound great to me already :P) soon.

Reading through this did raise a question I have to ask. A while back (a long ol while) I remember you saying you always write the melody first and then everything else around that (I hope I have not mis quoted you there) but I notice that you already have some chords in place while you're searching for the melody, so

How did you stumble on the chords?

Did you play around with various progression to get where you got? and once the melody started to fall into place did you tweak the chords at all?

It's really great to see all the steps in the process, it's like watching a painter paint and we rarely get to see this with music as we normally only ever get the end product

Cheers

Darren
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on August 31, 2019, 09:17:36 PM
Thanks for the interest mate. All props to you for the initial idea.

Regarding your question: I usually come up with a hook or melody line first in my head, sing it out loud to find a comfortable key, then find the chords to fit that melody line. I have a good enough idea of keys and chord structures to know which chords will work where almost instinctively once I know what key I'm in - though I know very little about actual music theory that just comes from writing. In the clips above I have already decided on the key and therefore the starting chord of the song. From that point on I will mumble my way through a melody and play simultaneously, but always allowing the melody to affect the chord changes and never the other way around. So I think the word 'stumble' is very apt haha.

Normally if I am writing a melody the chords come naturally. Sometimes I will tweak chords once the melody is written. For instance in Georgie, the first line of each verse is A-D-E and the second line is A-C#m-E. I added the C#m at a later date for colour. But even this was a decision I made to make the melody line more interesting.
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Darren1664 on September 01, 2019, 11:12:48 AM
That’s really interesting, thanks for sharing

My approach is the exact opposite :P

Being a guitarist first and foremost I always try to find a riff or some chords first that then inspire a melody and eventually lyrics

The only problem I have with my approach is that  often my vocal line will mirror the chords which can be predictable/boring.

I’m going to try on my next song to do as you have described and see what results I get from that! Excited by this...

Thanks for taking the time to answer

Cheers

Darren
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on September 05, 2019, 01:11:30 PM
I hear from a lot of musicians that they always start with some aspect of the music. I do think personally that this creates a box or framework that can be restricting when writing a vocal melody. And at the end of the day, most people listen to songs for the vocals, I think, so I want the vocal melody to be as unrestricted as possible. I started writing songs with absolutely zero musical experience so I think that's how my approached evolved.

It's funny you should say that because I have been thinking for a while now about doing the opposite. Doing something Marr/Morrisseyesque and creating a whole track before even worrying about the vocal melody and then returning to it to write the vocal melody. Would be interesting to compare our results!
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Darren1664 on September 07, 2019, 04:02:42 PM
I like your reasonings Jack, makes a lot of sense! I have started on this but haven't got far yet, still trying to find a vocal melody that catches me. It's very interesting though and it will be interesting, once I have a vocal melody, finding the chords etc

Once I have something to share I will post it here so you can see how well or not well I have done :P I'm interested to hear what come up with also! Fun project this....in the meantime Georgie is a great track, I'm glad it made the SOTM competition

All the best

Darren
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: jacksimmons on September 09, 2019, 01:51:51 PM
Cheers mate I'm glad you like the tune.

I will do the same with whatever I manage to cram together haha
Title: Re: My Writing Process
Post by: Rightly on October 28, 2019, 06:13:50 PM
Interesting topic.

Your explanation to your approach doesn't surprise me, I'd have guessed. 
Certainly seems to work well.

Marr did have some great tunes, he often provided an interesting environment for morrisseys lyrics.  The passion he had/has seems huge. If you can reign in your natural tendency to write melody based songs n try out this other technique I think it'll pay off, at least it'll be an interesting experience.