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Thoughts on Songwriting Methods

June 24, 2017

Over the last couple of weeks I've been having chats with various friends about different methods of creating music, sparked by recently listening to the audiobook of Jesse Cannon's fantastic book on creativity: Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices and Habits Used to Make Music You're Happy with​.

 

I became aware of Jesse through an interview on the Unstoppable Recording Machine podcast (his interview on mastering is also worth a listen) and a lot of what he said really stuck with me. I've been in a bit of a creative rut with FURR recently around songwriting, really struggling to get anywhere with lyrics specifically. Of course, the harder I try to work with a blank page with the rest of the band looping and instrumental, the more I get into my own head and find myself incapable of getting anywhere, which winds up the band because we don't progress, which makes me feel worse, which makes it harder the next time I'm looking at a blank page, ad infinitum.

 

Jesse's book talks a lot about the mental state you need to be in for creativity to be able to happen. What I hadn't realised is that I'd been putting myself in pretty much the worst position that I could be in to write good music, expecting a magical flow of inspiration to happen, the stars to align, and the next massive smash hit banger to flow out of me like I'm channeling the gods of rock and roll. Absolute fucking nonsense, of course.

 

Post Jesse's book, I've spent some time rethinking my approach to writing. Rather than waiting for a jam/loop/more fuzz pedals at the same time to magically dump gold into my brain, I've been taking a look at exactly what works for me when writing and what doesn't. I've become convinced that I am not good at just jamming stuff out, and that writing as a group is, for me, not all that effective for great songwriting. I can smash out some alt-rock dumbass riffs with the best of them, but it rarely results in something that I'm really able to connect to with lyrics, compared to when I work from the lyrics backwards into a badass riff.

 

The stuff that really most strongly works for me comes when I'm able to take a step away from music, and especially away from the guitar. I'm frontman for what is essentially a really loud pop band, so everything has to work vocal down for me. Since realising that, I've been focused on capturing a moment of inspiration in a lyric and a melody at the same time on my phone in the rawest form that I can. Then I do my best to figure out what I can hear underneath it and ,crucially, build as much of the structure of the song as I can on my own before I take it to the band.

 

I'm now of the opinion that the strongest stuff we've written has started life as a complete idea, start to finish. We can edit as a group, in fact we're bloody good at it, but when we piece material together from different ideas there's always a cohesiveness that's missing compared to the tracks that someone arrives with nearly done. It's subtle, and other tracks certainly work, but there's definitely something about a song like Think Sharp Kid or Learn Nothing that feels like it has a thread running through it, due to how complete the song was when we started working on it as a group.

 

This certainly makes me wonder about how others arrive at the songs they write. I've joked with Will Cook (Drummer for Classically Handsome Brutes) that math songs are written by dropping stuff on their instruments then learning how to play the result, but I'm always open to trying new methods to better create music that I love. With that in mind, I'd love to hear from anyone about how they write. Just hit me up at my email (jacksbyrne@gmail.com) or find me on Facebook/Twitter on any of the social buttons on this site!

 

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