Secret Blog 46

I just had a thought about songwriting.  Sometimes it’s a waste of time to talk about stuff like this but this might be worth it.

I don’t exactly understand my songwriting technique.  I’m in a foggy state when it happens.  But lately what I seem to be leaning into is melodies.  I like songs that have a continuous flow to them.  It’s like one part of the song turns on and it goes through a whole motion before it resolves and then jumps into another part of the song.  I have been writing songs  lot slower lately because I’ve been trying to blog and develop some story ideas.   So normally my thinking about music is rushed but right now it’s slow and I’m taking occasional glances at it. 

The last song I wrote was a prayer type of song.  I really enjoy writing songs that are just purely prayers and I think I’d like to make a whole album of Psalms-like songs someday.  It got me thinking about how different my songs can be from one to the next.  I mean, if anybody who just listened to the songs and didn’t know me thought I was schizophrenic I’d understand.  The moods and the attitudes change a lot.  At least they seem like they do from my perspective. 

I know that different songwriters have different ways of writing.  Some people only write when they are moved to.  It’s like it overcomes them and then they write a song.  I used to only do that but now I write songs that way only about 20 percent of the time.  My process is much more intellectual these days.  I think about the science of songs more.  Or… I make more conscious references to other music than before.  I used to try to imagine that I was the only songwriter that ever lived and write what songs that guy would write.  These days I seem to enjoy being aware that my music exists in the same world as a lot of other music.  It’s sorta like The Simpsons.  That show rips off so much pop culture but it’s accepted because it’s part of the art of it.  I think that’s interesting.  It’s a way of using your art not just as a form of self expresson but also as commentary on other things you like and are inspired by.

I used to try to write songs with a sense of irony and satire.  It was the style I was going for.  But I stared to realize that half of the audence was catching it and the other half was taking everything literally.  And that can be confusing.  I realized that essentially I write for people my own age who are into creativity or whatever.   But then I’d have kids or older people who would tell me that they liked a song that I guess I had never thought of as a kid or older person song.  Now, I’ve always thought that music has a universal quality to it but my creative philosophy has been aimed more at trying to write songs of smaller and smaller stories.  It’s almost like it seems that to connect with a broad audience you should write broader songs.   But I’ve found that what people really connect to the most are small, intimate stories.  It’s like, the more specific and detailed it is, the easier it is to relate to it.   And I didn’t make that up or anything.  It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. 

Sorry, I’m getting distracted here.  My original thought when I sat down to write this blog had to do with how different my songs are from each other and I think it has to do with trying to write more as a discipline than writing only when I’m inspired.  The reason is that I think a lot of songwriters imagine themselves to have a certain voice and they wait around until they feel mentally “aligned” with that voice.  It’s like they have a certain character when they are in a certain mood and they can only write in that character when they are in a certain mood.  My question to that is, “what about the songs that you’re not writing when you’re not in that mood”? 

Let me try to be clearer.  See, I think that if a person writes more often and gets to know they’re creative process more they’ll find that they can write in many more “characters” and many more “moods”.  I think that only writing when inspired is good (because it is writing) but I think you can restrict yourself and put yourself in a box.  I think the most satisfying experiences I have as a writer and songwriter are when I surprise myself.  I love the process of discovering new corners in the songs.  I love when I think a song is about one thing when I start writing it and then it changes by the time I’m done with it.  I love how I can think I’m writing a first verse but then realize that it’s actually the chorus and what I thought was the chorus is really the bridge.  I love the way the parts build onto each other and I love how you can rearrange the orders of everything and I love how every song can play by it’s own rules and lean into whatever chord or melody or thought it wants to. 

I’ve been reading a lot about how stories work.  I am fascinated with the simple construction of stories.  They are just beginnings, middles and ends.  And I used to just think of beginnings but I’m starting to have a lot of fun thinking up just endings.  And I’m also starting to think that stories aren’t worth taking the time to tell if you don’t know what it’s leading to.   I think endings are very interesting.  I love how they can be so many things.  I love how different things can resolve a story.  I love how an ending is a lot like bringing something full circle.   You bring whatever was started in the beginning and tested in the middle to it’s full conclusion.  And endings are so important.  How a story or song ends is so crucial to what that story is about.   I learned that from Robert McKee, I think.  You can have a great beginning and middle and an awful ending and the whole thing will leave a bad taste in your mouth.  But you can have an aweful beginning and middle and a great ending and people will rave about it.  Because people remember the last part of it most a lot of the time.  I think people who write stories should spend a lot of time studying endings and resolutions and what makes an ending memorable or forgetable.

Okay.  I gotta run.

(How’s that for an ending?)

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