Thursday, March 11, 2010

The making of a new song (part 2)

Last night, my great friend Bunny, the very talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who played drums and other instruments on my first album, was in my neighborhood and dropped by, and on a spur of the moment whim, I had him perform percussion on this demo. I didn't have any actual drums for him to play, but we pressed a Sparkletts 5-gallon water bottle into service, and it was fine for the purpose.

Some of you may recall last October, when I posted a demo song I was in the process of writing. Well, I don't believe in forcing songs out like squeezing toothpaste through a tube. It's got to flow out if/when it's ready, and in the five months since then, there's only one element that's been added to this song: a melody. Since Bunny was around and I wanted to capture that melody anyway, we rolled some video.

No words? No title? No problem.
One piece of advice I'd give to aspiring songwriters: don't expect everything to always come together at once. Sometimes it does, and you should feel pretty damn appreciative when that happens. But often, you may have a musical idea but are lacking in inspiration for an appropriate lyrical theme. Other times, you might have a killer melody, but haven't quite wrapped your head around the harmonic structure of the tune. In any case, that shouldn't stop you from working on the tune! If you wait until everything is perfect, you might spend a lifetime waiting and get very little music created in the meantime. Right now, I have a good vibe for this tune, but no lyrics yet. They're in there somewhere, but again: I can't force them out.

Record, record, record.
Do not assume that you're going to recall from memory some musical snippet you came up with six months earlier. Record those ideas! By recording and listening to your incomplete compositions, you may be able to refine the song in some way that you wouldn't have done otherwise. Even if the song is perfect as-is from day one, you don't want to run into the very real possibility of forgetting the bridge, or the intro, or whatever. One note: I can indeed notate music well enough to just write it down, but the act of playing and recording it gives me a better reference, and I've been known to lose the little scraps of paper that I've used to write songs. Not good. By taping it, I have a reference point that won't get accidentally thrown in the trash next to yesterday's lunch.

Share your ideas with trusted friends.
While I believe that most songwriting is a lonely activity, it's great to get some early feedback from people you know and like. Especially since Bunny will end up playing drums on this song when we go back into the studio, I wanted to use the opportunity to allow him to become more acquainted with the song so by the time we go to record for real, he'll have the vibe internalized. Also, a guy like Bunny will have no qualms about telling me if a song is or isn't up to par, and it's better to hear this early on than after you've committed to it.

So, that's all for this round. I'll eventually be inspired with a lyrical theme that fits this music, and it's likely that the next step will be testing out the tune live in front of an audience. And when that happens, my dear reader, you will hear about it here as well.