Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How To Become A Frequent Songwriter

     I've been wanting to do a post for a while on songwriting as a lifestyle. As many of you know, my goal is to become a filthy rich, professional songwriter and performer, and though I have full faith in my current material, it's become increasingly clear that I need to spit the shit out more often.
     Now, I've always favored quality over quantity. So, a key here is to figure out what I need to have going on in my head to write quality material, and how to constantly be putting it there. I need to make songwriting a lifestyle.
     So, as far as speeding up the songwriting process goes, my first step is to be aware of what exactly I need to be taking in. I once read an article that blasted the term "writer's block" for being inaccurate, and I fully agree. "Block" implies that the art is there and wants to come out, but that something is preventing it. In most cases, it's actually that there is not enough fuel in one's head for anything to be formed. Confucius say: Shit must go in before shit comes out.

     I've identified 4 main components of songwriting fuel:

     Subconscious palette - This is the knowledge that builds up from years of playing and listening to songs I love. Subconsciously, I pick up recurring lyrical themes, melodic fragments and other bits and pieces that surface as a result of both my cranial and muscle memory. This part of songwriting is extremely important, but unfortunately for many songwriters, this is the only component.
     How to cultivate: Listen to and play as many new and exciting songs as possible.
     Conscious toolbox - I build this by looking at other people's songs and making mental notes such as, "Variation point here", "Melody climbs right here", "AABA chorus form with gradually increasing syllables." On rare, priceless occasions I will apply these observations immediately and get superior results (This is how I wrote "Paper Dolls" and "It's Not Enough"). But most of the time, these little notes end up hitting me like bullets during future writing sessions ("Funhouse Mirror"), if I wind up writing songs where they apply.
     How to cultivate: Analyze other people's songs frequently, especially ones you aspire to write like. Even a short analysis of a chorus's melodic form can help.
     Conscious introspection -  It's about knowing what is going on inside (yourself or someone else) and being able to explain it verbally.
     How to cultivate: Frequent diary writing. Must be really in-depth and reflective. Use thesauruses and strive to be as specific as possible.
     Subconscious introspection - This is the most elusive of the 4 songwriting components. It's that beautiful moment when you just spit out a line while writing, and you realize it's something you've been feeling all along but weren't consciously aware of before. I'm not even sure if there's any way to control how often this happens. Maybe "automatic" or "free" writing. When it happens, I find I am in a vulnerable, non self critical state of mind. I'd say you have to be comfortable letting yourself feel whatever it is you need to feel for this to happen. No repressing emotions! Being too tired to stop yourself doesn't hurt, either. I read somewhere that John Lennon used to write when he was really tired because that was when his "critical lens" was turned off.
     How to cultivate: Find that Zen center where you are not self-critical and are able to just let things come; do "automatic" writing; stay up really late or get up painfully early.

     Much of these components are investments that do not instantly lead to new songs. It takes patience and faith, but I find the more I invest in the songwriting lifestyle, the more I achieve.
     I'd love to hear your thoughts.

- Jill