There are many ways to write a song. Writing a song is not all that difficult, actually. Writing a good song is a little more challenging, but just writing a plan old song is a very simple thing. Small children do it all the time without even thinking about it. Some people have to be inspired to write a song, others can just craft something on a whim. While I’m not completely unable to perform the latter (and have at times), I’m definitely a creature of inspiration when it comes to songwriting.
Like most people, I can be inspired to write by just about anything from news headlines to songs by other artists to films to novels to real-life experiences, and so on. Inspiration can hit anytime, anywhere and that’s the rub. I would estimate that 90 percent of the time I get wildly inspired is time that I’m nowhere near musical instruments. Those of us who like to write songs know that sometimes if you don’t write something down when it comes to you, you’re apt to lose it forever.
I’ll always try to put something down electronically and then e-mail it to myself, should inspiration strike while I’m not home. Sometimes, I’ll just send myself a test message with a bit of lyrics or notes about song. Other times, I’ll take a break at work and go sit in the park with a notebook and pen. Most times, however, I’ll just open up a text file on the computer and type away as the day goes on, sending it to myself at the end of the day. I have a great number of text files floating around with full songs or song ideas. When it’s time to record, I’ll usually look in that folder and pick a few to begin recording.
Many of the songs I’ve written in the last few years have been written sitting at my desk at work. I’ll be in the middle of something and then all of the sudden – BAM! There’s a song knocking at my brain’s front door. I have to quickly stop what I’m doing, open a text file, and write down whatever it is. Maybe it’s just a phrase. Maybe it’s only a song title. Maybe it’s an idea for a concept album. Maybe it’s a good idea for a movie script. It could be anything, but I’ve learned that when the idea comes, I need to get it out of my head and onto something I can read and process later or else I’ll risk losing it. I find I’m OK if I just write down a line or two and come back to it later to finish it up. As long as a fragment is there, my subconscious will bring back the rest somehow. That way, I can get back to work and not have to worry about losing a good (or crappy) idea.
For me, the tricky part about this unorthodox method of songwriting is remembering the melodies that pop into my head as I’m writing the lyrics down. I’ll try to make notes about the songs as I go. I might write something like “Fat groove – mid tempo” or “Funk vibe – party song” or “Slow acoustic” or “Bluesy rock”. Each song is different. Luckily, I have a tendency to attach a musical progression to the lyrics I write so that when I go to record the song at a later date, I can still remember how it goes without having worked it out on an instrument previously. I’ll sing it to myself before I record, and then write down all the chords and changes. This is probably not an ideal way to work, but it’s been pretty successful for me.
Even when I am home, though, sometimes inspiration just isn’t there. I may have as many as four songs currently being worked on at any given time (I usually don’t like to work on more than that at once) but I can’t get myself motivated enough to work on them if the inspiration isn’t there. This is a different kind of inspiration. I call it “Phase Two”. “Phase One” would be the spark that prompts the moment of conception. This second phase is more like the follow up to that first phase. It’s the execution. It’s taking the idea and moving it from the head to the real world and making it tangible. To do this, I absolutely have to be inspired. If it feels like work, I don’t want to do it. If the time is right and no one’s home and I’m feeling musical, I’ll hit those tracks fast and hard.
Inspiration is personal. It’s different for everyone. What inspires me might not inspire you in the least bit. Embrace that which inspires you because there isn’t a much better feeling than when that spark of inspiration hits you and you act upon it.
Do you have a funny story about inspiration? What methods have worked for you? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.