I’ve recently started ‘working on’ songs again, and thought it might be interesting for those readers who have similar vices if I outline what I do.
The startoff point for a song is usually when I’m walking along the street or driving. One reason my output has plummeted since I started working at home is very simply the disappearance of the walk to and from the office. I’ll quite often be mentally or vocally crooning some favourite song when a feeling will prompt me to start singing something new. The feeling is one of trust, that something will come out. Sometimes it has some link to what I was singing before, often it doesn’t. Sometimes I visualise myself at a gig, in front of an audience. I just open my mouth and sing. This tends not to work if it’s just mental – I have to actually mouth something, however quietly. A melody and some lyrical ideas will emerge. Often they sound new and interesting, sometimes not. Emotionally I feel a sense of gratitude (to whom? to what? but I do).
The next stage, when something feels worth keeping, is to try to imprint it. I’ll try to keep it going until I get home, when I will either hum it into a phone or mp3 recorder, or write something down. If I could write music it would be so much easier.
The process so far all happens within a day; often it’s lost by the next day. But if it isn’t, the next stage begins. This involves refining, adding, arranging, and is almost entirely mental. I do it in relaxed moments, travelling time, before going to sleep. The only physical activity at this stage is sometimes to force myself to write some lyrics, developing the original idea. This can mean changing the melody, structure or adding and removing arrangement and instrumentation ideas. This stage can take years, literally. I’m working now on a song for which stage 1 was three years ago (I found the original ‘remember this’ note). I’ve quite a clear idea of what a finished recording would sound like, but I’ve never sung it with an instrument, never worked out the chords, don’t even know what key I’d sing it in.
At this stage and the next, procrastination can set in, when I don’t have any idea what to do with it; also it’s liable to get ‘bumped’ off the agenda by other incoming ideas or songs that I’ve taken to the next stage.
The next stage is a fork in the road – either I’ll take it to live performance, where putting it in front of an audience somehow shows me what the song is – I don’t know any other way to express that, but it’s a quantum leap. Or I’ll take it to the computer and start working on an arrangement in Cubase or FL Studio. It’s usually one or the other. Some songs feel like live songs, others feel more like arrangement songs. An idea I’m considering for a next CD is to take three or four down both tracks simultaneously and put both versions on the CD – I imagine the two versions will come out quite differently.
There we are. I understand it a bit better myself having written it down. Now I know why it takes me years to produce something!
Free to download - Stories My Killer Told Me: Five surreal story-songs from my Edinburgh Fringe show.
- I Am Not The One For You
- The Ever Open Door
- New Eyes
- A Forest Trail in Autumn
- The Portobello Slam
Just let me send you an occasional email!