Songlife: My Fragmented Songwriting Process

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014

I believe the art of songwriting is a mixture of control and mystery. Control the things you can, and embrace the mystery of the things you can’t. This is my creative process. Step 1: Capture Fragments Very few of my songs show up in one bolt of inspiration. Most of the time they are fragments. Why do these fragments show up in my mind? I don’t know. That’s the mysterious part of songwriting. The part I can control is capturing them. I record them on my phone in voice notes or SoundCloud, on a Tascam dr40 field recorder, or in a Pro Tools or GarageBand session if I happen to be in the studio or on the way. If I don’t record them, they’re gone forever. It’s like being in one of those machines where dollar bills are flying around and you have to grab them before the wind stops blowing. When lyrics show up, I have to record them. If I stop to write down verse one and I’m holding two verses in my mind, the second verse will vanish. Places Where Fragments Find Me In the van when I am driving alone for long distances (anything over 30 min on an open road). In the morning before 10am anywhere. In the studio when I have been there all day and have forgotten about everything else. In a quiet place when I’m reading fiction. When another writer says something I’ve heard a million times in a new way, it makes me want to think of new ways to say other familiar things. Step 2: Forget Fragments I keep recording fragments and transferring them from the phone to the computer every month. They live in a folder called MUSIC. No, I am not worried about my computer crashing. Step 3: Review Fragments Good ideas a month ago are often crappy ideas a month later. If they survive the first month, then there might be a song in them. I pick one or two favorites and the rest remain in the MUSIC folder. Sometimes I capture a fragment, and it continues to show up after I’ve forgotten about it. Those fragments move to the front of the line. Step 4: Which came first, the lyrics, the beat, or the melody? A fragment can be any of these. My favorite fragment is a strong lyric with a melody. I like having a strong message...

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