I was hanging out with Cagey the other day and happened to mention that I'm "auditioning" for an original band this week in the form of taking two of their songs, writing melodies and lyrics, recording my vocal lines over them and e-mailing them back.
She thought it would make an interesting post if I described my songwriting process. I was pretty sure I'd written such a post before, but a little Lijit search revealed that the one I was thinking of was back in 2005, so it's probably not too soon to revisit the topic!
So here's the songwriting method I've developed for myself:
- Listening to the songs over and over and over again. I have them on a CD in my car and they're loaded into iTunes on my home and work computers. The background music to my life this week has been two tight, instrumental, progressive heavy metal songs.
- Waiting for inspiration. With that much repetition, eventually a proto-melody line, some lyrics, or both will eventually work their way into my brain. These particular songs have not come easy, but I finally have a melody line for one of the choruses and a few words are starting to make their way in. Once I get even one full line of lyrics, I'll know what a song is about so I can proceed from there.
- Charting the song structure. Before I can write lyrics for the entire song, I need to know what parts are there, how many measures each part lasts, how many times each part repeats, etc. I also need to decide what's a solo (no vocals) and what's a bridge (different vocal part/melody). For that matter, I have to decide what's a verse and what's a chorus! I have no formal musical training, so the notes end up being a combination of the ABACAB structure and hash marks that represent either bars or measures, depending on what I'm trying to accomplish.
- Listening to the songs over and over and over again. This time around I have Microsoft Word open on my computer and I'm typing in lyrics as I think of them. There's a lot of stopping and starting. There's also a lot of editing going on, especially because I tend to try to jam in too many words and I always need to strip them back during the review process. I'm singing quietly to myself throughout.
- Singing the songs at full volume. This is a vital step because it's very easy for me to write a song for myself that I can't actually perform for one reason or another. Believe me, I've done it often. At full volume, I can tell where I'm going to have problems with phrasing, certain vowel sounds, transitions, etc. Then I can take steps to fix the song before I waste time trying to record something I can't pull off.
- Recording the vocal tracks. Here's a little secret about me: I hate singing in the studio. The microphone is in a weird position, the vocal booth is stuffy, it's hard to put my lyrics where I can see them and sing at the same time, and I'm always picky about how well I can hear myself versus the backing tracks in the headphones. I drive my husband (the studio engineer/producer) crazy. Still, this is the vital part, so I'll bite the bullet and do what I can to get the songs sung as close to what I had in mind as possible.
- Nitpicking the production. After I'm finished singing, my only role in the finished product is weighing in on the effects that are added and requesting a note correction here and there, which can either mean re-recording a part or having it fixed with software.
Today my goal is to start the third step and make my way through the rest of them to where I can record tomorrow afternoon or evening.
Of course, the band may not like what I come up with. They could meet me and decide that I'm too old, fat, etc., even if they like the songs. Who knows? Either way, it's good practice and a fun creative outlet. Wish me luck!