Trust the process.
Trust the process.
“Smash my ukulele?”
TRUST THE PROCESS. pls. 🙂
So you want to write a song, but no idea of words or chords yet, just good ol’ fashioned FEELINGS. Or maybe a lyric suddenly came to you in the car and you want to explore further. Well, I’m not the expert you’re looking for.. BUT I did want to write about my own process, in the hopes of trying to work it out myself, but also to create a discussion of how others work, in the hopes of inspiring each other a bit.
The Writing Process
Sometimes a lyric will suddenly appear in my brain, or I could be writing stream of consciousness style, or even in my journal. It could be inspired by a lyric from another song, or from something I’ve seen out and about. Generally, because I enjoy country music, it’s about tennessee, whisky and that truck down the road that killed my dawg…
I jest, I jest. They’re usually about heartbreak and love and shit, but I try and make it as story driven as possible. I try to construct a song around one solid lyric, but this can be restrictive as I get annoyed if the song then goes off topic, or if I can’t make the idea stretch over a whole song. I often feel like I’ve wasted the chance of a very good lyric, because I forget that it’s perfectly fine to recycle old material, or even re-hash it when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Some very good advice I received was to write poetry first – you’re not bound by melody or a beat, just pacing and rhyme patterns. Sometimes then I find that when I’m re-reading or editing whatever little poem I’ve written, a melody starts to form in my head, and I can generally go from there.
At this point I’ll grab my uke and start Laaaa-ing, trying to match the chord I’m singing as much as possible. Sometimes my voice will parrot what I’m playing, and the melody changes, which can be a blessing or a curse. A good way to combat this is to rough record your melody first, even if it’s just humming or la-laing into your phone. This way you won’t forget any melodies you may have thought were really good, and replace them with chords you were playing on the uke, by mistake. But if you’re happy to go wherever the music takes you, then it’s all part of the process!
Don’t get me wrong, song writing can sometimes be incredibly frustrating, especially when you feel like you could almost grab the emotion you’re feeling, but you can’t grab the words. I find this happens the most when I’m stressed or under pressure, so before you begin writing, make sure you have a cup of tea, or something nice to drink, that you’re relaxed or clear headed enough to be able to write without getting frustrated if the words don’t come out. If you find that it’s making you too upset, or dredging up bad feeling, you can choose to channel that into your song, or give yourself a break – don’t feel bad about it.
When it comes to creating interesting melodies (ones beyond C, G, Am and F) I don’t know nearly enough about music theory to know which chords go with which nicely, and how those chords are made up, despite my shiny A in Music GCSE! I could learn, but music theory hurts my brain and there’s so little good left, I don’t want to damage it!
One of my favourite resources is Ukulele Go’s Chord Progressions. The site generates chord progressions which already sound pretty, provided by users of the site. If I don’t have all the words or I just feel like I want to write from scratch, I’ll quite often use this as a jumping off board, maybe for the key I want, or if I’m feeling a major or a minor vibe, and then go my own way.
My Unsolicited Advice
Give yourself time! There are loads of artists out there who say they wrote their hit song in ten minutes, or that the words just come to them like a stream of consciousness – but don’t forget you’re hearing the best of the best of what they’ve written – you’re not hearing the couple of hundred songs (really!) that they cast off as being trash. And creative types talk out their arse, they’ve gone through the same heartache, hair wrenching completely blocked off times that you have! But they also have teams of writers, and people to bounce off. If you’re anything like me, it’s just you on the living room floor, trying your hardest to not disturb the neighbours. Like anything creative, it’s a process, and not every try is going to be a success. So don’t be like me and get disheartened if you don’t come out with a hit song after an hour – maybe you have a couple of good rhymes, or a part of a melody you really like. That’s more than you had before!
If you’re feeling confident enough, open mics are a good forum to road test your own material, and get some helpful critique. Check out your local pubs or music venues to see if they’re running any, and you may well find that the same few people turn up each week, and having some familiar faces in the crowd can really help reassure you.
It’s good to remember that no one in the audience wants you to do badly, and you’re the one up there performing! Already you have more cajonies than they do! Daryl Hannah once said something about acting as though the audience is nervous, and you’re there to make them feel calmer. Maybe that helps! I think shows like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have made public ridicule of performers acceptable, but it’s rude and unhelpful. Real live performing is not always like that. I’ve had many a people in a pub not listen to me while performing, or talk over me. And you’d best believe I saw them, heard it, and sang even louder to drown them out.
Try and talk over me doing my best Aguilera, I dare ya.
Unfortunately, due to the world being infested with plague, currently there are no open mics. So make use of Instagram or Facebook live, or record a song and send it to your closest friends if you’re not comfortable posting to your timeline. Ask for feedback, and people will help! This is something I intend to do before I go to record, so I know that I’m not including any duds. Organise a Zoom jam session with your friends! Remember there’s no pleasing everybody, but I think road testing your material live is a good way of not only self editing, but gauging the reaction of your potential audience. It’s a great way of seeing what worked in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.
Once you have a song you’re happy with, email yourself the lyrics so you have a time stamp on them in case in the future, someone claims you copied them! This way you have proof of exactly when you wrote the song.
Record a version of the song, either on your phone audio or video, so that in future you can remember how the song went. I also tell myself the chords at the start of the recording, because I’m not helpful to myself at all and never write them down!
Overall, don’t overthink it. If you’re stuck, a great tip I heard is to write One True Thing. And even if you just write that one sentence, you’ll have a great jumping off point. And remember not all songs are for all to hear, if you’re writing a song for just you, then more power to you!
I don’t know if this has been of help to anyone, it’s mostly things I try to tell myself when I get stuck in a rut with songwriting, and I thought if it helps me, it can definitely help someone else! It would be great to hear from others how they deal with overcoming writers block, their best methods for songwriting and how they get in the mindset.
if you’d like to hear more about my creative process, and my EP project, you can read my other blog articles here!
Don’t smash your ukulele 😛