On Songwriting

The past two and a half weeks have given me more free time than I’ve had since Little NH was born.  As you can see, I’ve filled a lot of that time up with food preparation.  Thankfully, I have also gotten to indulge in another hobby of mine – making music.

I am an amateur musician, to be sure.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the arc of songwriting for the accomplished musician and the novice is similar.  For me, the process begins with marveling at other musicians doing their thing.  That either leads to me thinking, “I should try something like that” or, “I can’t do that, time to put on another record.”  Most of the time I default to the latter.

But when the right mood hits, the former can be a lot of fun.  As I sit in front of my computer multi-track recorder, with a mess of wires on the floor, some awesome plastic box technology for making music, and instruments I’ve crafted myself, the whole process can be pretty darn exciting – and frustrating.  There’s the initial buzz of capturing a riff, expanding it and then playing something to accompany it.  If it works in a small way and it melds together, it’s incredibly gratifying.  However, that’s the easy part.

Chunks of sound like that are the things real artists describe as “ideas” or as the great Brian Wilson called them, “feels”.  Turning those into something is where the hard work begins.  Sometimes a riff that sounds good in a small dose just doesn’t stretch into anything resembling a song.  Sometimes everything you try to add to it just makes it sound terrible.  So there it sits.  An idea with no real shape.

Sometimes you come back to those ideas.  I’m currently working with a set of stuff, some of which is at least four years old.  Last night, I struck on something that worked.  Something that turned a feel into more of a song.  That’s when you go to bed really happy.

Finally, there’s the issue of lyrics.  I used to fancy myself quite a poet in my formative years.  Looking back, teen angst is good for writing but the end product is just that – teen angst.  Putting thoughtful lyrics together as a middle-aged dad is a real challenge.  I haven’t even attempted to tackle lyric writing in my latest stint as a composer.  That’s a whole different mindset, one that involves a change of scenery.  I’m not sure the ricochet of the daily routine from apartment to metro to office and back again is conducive to good lyric writing.  Nevertheless, there are about four years of experiences that I can channel into words stuck in my gray matter.  It’ll be interesting to see if I can extract it and match it to song.

To be clear, I’m not writing this as a means to self-aggrandize, rather, it’s to show what I see when I listen to a record, or watch a concert.  I’m in awe of artists that can get through these stages and be able to interpret an idea in a finished way on stage.  It truly is a gift and one that I am glad to at least be able to witness and appreciate given the perspective of my meager success at the process and many failures.

If only blog posts were songs.  I’d at least be David Hasselhoff, right?

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