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How to write songs....

Discussion in 'Songs in the key of Gretsch' started by Rob Williams, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Rob Williams

    Rob Williams Country Gent

    Jul 5, 2014
    SE QLD
    I've had some limited success with writing songs I like - but I'd like to do more. Lately I'm just getting no inspiration at all. For those of you that write, how do you do it? Do you have a routine, a start point, or do you have to wait to be inspired?
  2. TSims1

    TSims1 Friend of Fred

    Jun 18, 2013
    Different almost every time, but there must always be a SPARK of some sort for me whether it’s a small hook or a lyrical turn or a conversation or a mood........

    Look for inspiration, it is all around you. :)
    Let it be something small that spurs you on. The song will often take care of itself once you get it rolling. :)
    Ando likes this.
  3. Adl842

    Adl842 Gretschie

    Apr 26, 2014
    I was txting with a friend while I was practing some blues on guitar and she messaged she was eating eggs and hotdogs.
    Now I’m going make a stupid little blues song called Eggs and Hotdogs. Haha
    TSims1 and Rob Williams like this.
  4. Ando

    Ando Synchromatic

    Aug 7, 2013
    We're all different folks with different approaches (most of my tunes are actually written on piano, as chordal inversions are always easy work), but like Tony said, draw on the power of what really cheers your heart and inspires.

    - I for one really like what Johnny Marr has quipped about and apply it frequently on guitar...pop on a capo on a random fret, play in a familiar key with plenty of open strings (D,E, G, A, etc.) both strumming and picking individual strings, and see how the timbre of the chords lead your thoughts toward melody of your own. It's amazing what colors shine through in such a creatively fresh way when a capo livens up well-worn chord progressions.

    - Take a poem you enjoy with a very balanced meter/rhyme and hum random lines until something curiously fits.

    - Like we used to do all the time when I worked in the Kpop industry (and I'm sure others do as well), take chords from a song that really "works", and see what new entirely new melodic flavors you can come up with, in a completely different tempo/key.

    - And play with rhythmic phrasing like it doesn't follow anyone's rules! No need to start a melody on the down beat. Take the Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand as an example: Try a few notes or a lengthy phrase before the downbeat of a 4-chord harmonic phrase (Oh yeah I...), and develop that. Or come after the downbeat (And when I touch you...). And sometimes feel free to let the measure bar not constrict you (hemiola), something Brahms and Mahler used a lot in their symphonies...neato rambling falls into this category as well.

    - Keep a dictaphone or cheapo phone recorder on, 'cause you never know when the angel of music will inspire! You can always delete the "trash", but one of the saddest things in life is to see a beautifully momentary melody sung over chords make a brief visit and disappear forever.

    - Go there, just read what it's about, and feel enpowered to challenge yourself...whatever the pace. We're all simultaneously both beginners and adept masters when faced with an empty page, with so many cools tunes and lyrics just waiting to be (eventually) written.
  5. montereyjack66

    montereyjack66 Country Gent

    Feb 29, 2012
    Do it and do it often. There are songs that you construct, and that is craft. If you are paying attention, in time these will get better and better, and they are absolutely worthwhile for a number of reasons. Then, there are the other kind, which come from above. If you stay open to it at all times, that muscle, or "channel" seems to get stronger. This kind is less about craft and more about the great beyond. Never ignore these. ANd always have your I-phone handy to record these lovelies in an imperfect state. As far as breaking out of a funk. DO something different. Go somewhere unfamiliar. Try writing with somebody else. Give yourself an assignment. Write a decent song (not life altering) in an hour. Have someone else give you a starting subject and then run with it. If you feel your lyrics aren't good enough, just play doo wah diddy. You'll achieve a certain clarity.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
    organic likes this.
  6. stevo

    stevo Country Gent

    May 1, 2012
    Write down every idea and inspiration that comes to you including the music or sounds or emotions that were around you at the time. Don't miss a spark of concept or feeling. The nexus for "lyin' eyes" was a phrase the Frey uttered in a bar "look, she can't even hide here lyin' eyes". Randy Bachman started American Woman from a riff that he started playing during a broken string change at a concert. Burton Cumming said - keep playing that. We've got a song. And they were also thinking of what they were feeling recently on a tour in the US and were harassed for their long hair and told to sign up for the draft by a guy who didn't know they weren't American.

    But getting the concept down is the beginning. You HAVE to put time into it and struggle with it. Every singer/songwriter I've listened to or read about says that it's hard. Jackson Browne is known to get up every morning and work at it for hours. Who knows how many he's working on at a time. And find some excellent writers to emulate in some way - Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Tom Petty etc. These guys are masters of the lyrics. All of the worked at it.

    Sorry to be long winded. This is a good thread you started - I look forward to more replies.
    Rob Williams likes this.
  7. Les PaltaX

    Les PaltaX Gretschie

    Nov 8, 2017
    I've seen this asked frequently in different music forums and the bottom line is... There is no magical recipe, everyone does it differently. Some start with a riff, others with the lyrics, others with the feeling they want to transmit...
    As someone said, just do it often and you'll find your own style.

    Good luck !!
  8. Henry

    Henry Gretschified

    Apr 9, 2014
    I have no advice but ...

    Paul Simon had 2 major albums, Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints.

    I've read that he wrote the lyrics to the Graceland songs first, then wrote music to fit the lyrics.

    Rhythm was the reverse. He had music ready and then wrote lyrics for the music.

    Graceland is one of my top 10 albums. I haven't heard Rhythm in over 5 years, though i own it. Everything about Graceland just fits.

    I have no method. I tend to have lyric ideas/themes and also come up with riffs or progressions, and try to march them up. However, in my hobby band, the other bamdmate write most of the lyrics, we all work on chord progressions, then we start playing and I come up with intros, melodies etc. to fit the music we have. It's worked pretty well for us.

    Edit: I stand partially corrected. Here is a white re Graceland.

    "My typical style of songwriting in the past has been to sit with a guitar and write a song, finish it, go into the studio, book the musicians, lay out the song and the chords, and then try to make a track. With these musicians, I was doing it the other way around. The tracks preceded the songs. We worked improvisationally. While a group was playing in the studio, I would sing melodies and words — anything that fit the scale they were playing in.“

    —Paul Simon, 1986
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2017
  9. stevo

    stevo Country Gent

    May 1, 2012
    Sometimes, music inspires thoughts and words for me.
  10. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Sorry Vista
    Admin Post
    Jimmy Webb wrote a book about songwriting. I’ve only read a portion of it, but it really helped. The main currency of songwriting is just a simple idea for a song.

    A Light Went On When I Met You

    There’s A Record Breaking Cold-Snap In Your Heart

    My First Car Was My Best Friend

    There’s three ideas, right there. They are necessarily good ideas, but they are ideas nonetheless. If you develop every idea that enters your head, even the mediocre ones, you will hone your skills. Work for 20-40 minutes at a time. If you’re onto something hot, stick with it. If your well is dry, wait an hour and come back to it. If there’s an idea running through your head, even if it’s not related to a song, try to come up with something tangential.

    For example, if you are frustrated by some jerk you met, think about what his home life must be like and there’s an idea. “Even the Dog Doesn’t Greet You at the Door”. Turn it inside out: At Least my Dog Still Loves Me. Turn it 90 Degrees: My Kids Love the Dog More Than They Love Me.

    These are lousy ideas, but they demonstrate just how far you can stretch even the simplest idea.

    For me, I always write the hook first and build from there. It may be a lyrical hook, or possibly a melodic/harmonic hook. Once I have an idea and a hook, a completed song is pretty easy to achieve.
    Rob Williams likes this.
  11. stevo

    stevo Country Gent

    May 1, 2012
    I really like your idea about "turn it 90 degrees, turn it inside out". That's excellent advice, good for reducing cliché-itis which is so prevalent in country songs.

    FYI - you came real close there to plagiarizing a Warren Zevon song...(just kidding, LOL). "Even a Dog Can Shake Hands". One of my favorites. How likely do you think it is that he "turned it 90 degrees" or "turned it inside out" to come up with that phrase? Very much so I'd say!
  12. tartanphantom

    tartanphantom Country Gent

    Jul 30, 2008
    Murfreesboro, TN
    I'd say that 90% of the time I write the music first... then add lyrics. As far as routine vs. spontaneity, it varies widely. I have written as a forced routine, but I think my best material is more spontaneous.
  13. wabash slim

    wabash slim Friend of Fred

    Feb 10, 2010
    lafayette in
    Be Willie Nelson.
    Rob Williams likes this.
  14. audept

    audept I Bleed Orange

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    Writing songs is like having diarrhea. You never know what's going to come out when.
    wabash slim likes this.
  15. Rob Williams

    Rob Williams Country Gent

    Jul 5, 2014
    SE QLD
    "be Willie Nelson" I can't smoke that much...
    wabash slim likes this.
  16. wabash slim

    wabash slim Friend of Fred

    Feb 10, 2010
    lafayette in
    I just want a ride on his bus.
    Rob Williams likes this.
  17. russmack

    russmack Country Gent

    May 1, 2017
    ballina australia
    Looks like I'll hafta to wait until the day before I die.

    And I've tried.

  18. Gretschman2

    Gretschman2 Country Gent

    Apr 8, 2013
    Enetai, WA
    I've been writing original songs for my family members as of late. Plenty of material for me there for them to remember someday when I'm gone. I've come up with lyrics about the sad state of the world we live in too, but they're too dark and depressing to put to music. Hell, watching the news is depressing enough without singing songs about it. Remember "In The Year 2525" by Zager and Evans? My apologies Rob for not coming up with any good ideas. :confused:
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
  19. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    What kind of music do you play, Rob?

    Musically, most good songs have a walking rhythm. If you're walking down the street, or down a path by yourself, you will start singing or hearing a bassline, you are a musician.

    If you're sitting in the quiet, in the dark, sing any one or two notes. If you sing just a note, you have to respond to it. Try it, you can't just have a note, you have to answer, like a howl.

    I think the music is there just waiting to be played. Maybe it's everything we hear, or maybe we're tapping into something. I sing melodies in the shower, like they were always there, ancient latent melodies.

    Pick up a bass. If you play something on the bass you will hear your guitar part with it.

    Time of day is important to me. Nighttime is the most creative.

    Words, I wrote somewhere before about brainstorming, that's very effective.

    Get used to writing down all the best ideas you have, or things you want to put out there. I've got a note on my iPad with a bunch of ideas and observations, more ideas than songs to put them in. You collect them pretty quickly if you remember to get them down.

    Two things on my list are Babbage vs. The Organ Grinders and the ADE651 Bomb Divining Rod. Writing those songs will present different degrees of difficuty. First, lots of research for both. ADE651, where do you tell that story from? Probably someone using the device who doesn't believe in it, or was just enlightened. Babbage is like a parable, but you will have to quickly set the history and the scene without being clunky. Like you can perfume your house and close the blinds, but the city is still choked with soot, noise and death.

    Yeah, get away from rhyming.

    My teacher said to write a musical, like a concept album. You have a subject, write a story. Tell the story from another perspective. Develop the characters.

    If you have a song you like, write a companion song. I have a few sets of songs, mostly incomplete, the four seasons, the early American Republic. They didn't start out as sets, they were not sets until the second or third song.

    Even though I don't write songs in that style, if I listen to Ozzy Osbourne's Speak of the Devil, I will be able to write something immediately after that. I don't know what it is exactly, there must be something in his music that I don't have an abundance of. I was really sad to read he hated that album, that it was nothing to him, just rehashing old Black Sabbath songs.

    Inspiration, I would like to point out two great songwriters. Joanna Newsom, specifically on the album Milk-eyed Mender. She has the best words. You want to try to get to that level. "We all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words, while across the sky sheet the impossible birds, in a steady illiterate movement homewards."

    And Frank Black/Black Francis. What an output and diversity of subjects. Some of his songs just float around loosely defined, they could be or are about a lot of things. Write abstractly, why does a song have to be about anything. I love the way he does biographies, I love everything he does. He has multiple songs personifying nuclear weapons, and a bunch on aliens and conspiracy.

    I don't seem to have any shortage of ideas, but I also don't complete anything lately, mostly because I've got no outlet. Knowing where you can use a song is a huge motivating factor.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
  20. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    What's the name of that book? Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting?
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017