There are many different avenues I use to complete a song and I thought it might be fun to discuss them. I'd like to hear from Ray and others about their creative process as well. Since I write different styles of music and I don't have a particular workspace I write in but I have a number of different modes. Adding lyric writing to the mix brings up even more variety to the process. Variety may be one of the best attributes to my process. I may not always write what I intend but I can almost always write something. I think it is a good exercise to just keep music flowing even if it isn't what you wanted or even if you toss out what you just wrote. One note on discarding ideas, don't be to quick to toss something out. I have a pile of short clips of music that I haven't used yet. I have complete or nearly complete songs I haven't found a home for. I rarely discard something outright. If an idea makes it to paper or a recorded form I'll use it somewhere eventually.
I have spent a long time honing my skills that I can use to write music. I do sit down as often as I can for regular writing sessions. I have a BA in music and I've played guitar for 20 years. I'd never claim to be the best but I do have a lot of knowledge and skill to call on. I can just jam to a tape recorder and let the music flow but I can also go back later, transcribe what I played, and think "I bet an Augmented 6th chord would sound cool in this part." There is a saying, "If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer you'll treat everything as a nail." I think that is very true of music. There is nothing wrong with a 3-power chord punk song. I might write one myself if I feel like it. But if all I know are power chords I would be very limited. I enjoy learning and growing and applying new skills to my writing. One of my current self education projects is to teach myself more about orchestration. I want to know how to score out songs for concert bands and symphony orchestras. Never stop learning. Lyrics are a bit trickier. I'm not verbally inclined to start with. But when I have written some lyrics I like I do go back and edit, think about the meter and flow of the words, and turn to my thesaurus to be sure that I am saying what I mean in the way I want to say it. In a more mundane sense I write music on paper, into my notation program on my computer, or I record audio. All seem to draw different things out of me and I like to switch up so I don't get into a rut.
That's more the technical side of it. Where to the ideas come from the begin with? Anywhere and everywhere. I'm like a sponge, I am always soaking up information. I read or watch or listen to something and my brain can eventually filter that to my hands on my guitar. I have over 4,000 songs in my iTunes. I think I own over 600 cds. I read a lot of books from Stephen King to Bertrand Russel to Marvel comics. Most of my lyrics are based on something that happened to me or something I heard about. Music is not directly related to what I soak up but I can call on different experiences and different moods to guide to song.
About half the time I start with a stanza or two of lyrics or a riff or two of music. Once I get some music set to the lyrics I can often finish the lyrics and most of the time the music and lyrics will leapfrog each other as I go. I usually have a similar process for instrumental music. I may start with a guitar part, then switch to bass to come up with an accompanying part. As I finish the bass for that section new idea will pop into my head and I'll flow into the next section of bass and go back to guitar after that. It's rare that I stick with one instrument through the end of writing a song. The same leapfrogging happens in Strange Land, only it occurs between people. One of us will bring in a riff or a section or even a skeleton of a whole song and then the others will take that and run with it. The collaboration goes back and forth until we're happy with it. Luckily we don't have huge egos and we're not hurt if something we wrote gets altered or dropped from a song.
My other main process is to have pieces I want to put together but they don't just flow one from the next. I have to write connective tissue to bring all the sections together or play them enough to see if they can just "go" without any intervening music. It can work both ways. Strange Land works this way often. Quite a bit of my solo acoustic music is done this way as well.
No matter how a song is constructed there is a long period of editing and rehearsing. Even though I approach music with an intellectual bent everything still has to feel right. Sometimes parts just don't fit and you have to be willing to let them go. Sometimes songs aren't ready to be finished and you have to wait. As we say in Strange Land, no matter how proggy and 'out there' you get, you still have to "serve the song." Say that either in the voice of a monk or a kung fu master, it works better that way :-)
I have a feeling I'm not the only one that works this way. I'd like to hear from you out there how you work when you write.
Playing on Progulus Internet Radio