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A New Method for Writing Songs
by John Tunney
2003 John Tunney. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.

My moment of inspiration came in 1999 in a night club. I was in the rest room of the club where people were talking, and I could hear the music from one of the dance floors very faintly in the background. I tried to listen to the tune and at first, I thought the song was a song I'd never heard before - but it sounded good! To my surprise, within the next few moments I recognized the song as "Saturday Night" by Whigfield - a UK number 1 from several years previously. The melody I now had in my head was different from that of the actual song. I figured if I could repeat the conditions at the club in my own home, I would have a clever way of creating inspiration.

I experimented at home with an approach to reproduce similar conditions and I was delighted to find that it worked! I had found a way to 'can inspiration'.

The Method

To recreate the conditions of 'distortion' that were present in the club due to the noise of people chatting, I use a normal desk fan. I sit in front of my stereo and place the fan a foot or so behind me on full power.

Recreating the faintness of the music is simply achieved by playing music with the volume set at a very low level. However, there are three different approaches I use as regards to volume:

1) I start by playing a track on zero volume and fluctuate the volume at a very low level, trying to ensure that I don't recognize the track playing.

2) I start at zero volume but occasionally have split second 'bursts' of volume at a level that would be high enough to recognize the track, but recognition does not occur as I return the volume to zero immediately.

3) I play the track at a consistently low level without fluctuating the volume.

I use these three different approaches in combination. I've found the first two seem to be the most productive.

I've found the method more effective if you don't allow recognition of the track to occur. If you do accidentally recognize the track all is not lost as you can still get ideas, but for some reason, these are usually less interesting or too similar to the original track.

Also, I find it helps to 'skip about' on the track - forwards and backwards. This helps to ensure that recognition does not occur.

What To Do With What You Hear.

You should find that you pick up strands of melody. What to do with these? My personal preference is to wait until I hear a melody that sounds interesting and promising rather than record absolutely everything (I don't usually have to wait long!). When I hear a promising melody I then have a choice of recording it literally as I hear it or allow myself a little creativity by embellishing and developing it slightly.

VARIATIONS

Distortion:
Surprisingly, setting the fan to different power levels can provide some new 'freshness' when I've been using the method for some duration. Alternatively I'm sure replacing the fan with a TV set on an un-tuned channel would provide a similar means for distortion, with different levels of distortion possible by changing the TV volume.

Speakers:
I use the method with a speaker about two feet in front of me and approximately a meter above my head. As I also have a speaker at the other end of the room I can experiment with balance for slightly different effects. I've also turned off the speakers and relied on the output from a pair of headphones placed on a chair in front of me! This seems to work too. I'm not sure there is any one method more effective than another but these variations can help to restore some freshness when you've been working for some time.

It is worth noting that if the method is operated using volume fluctuations alone it doesn't work - some distortion seems to be essential.

My Writing Approach

I have three 'runs' when I'm writing:

Run 1) I play a CD track and apply the method. Any promising melodies I hear I sing into my Dictaphone. Sometimes I develop the melody a little, sometimes I just get as many ideas on tape as possible.

Run 2) I listen through the ideas on the tape created in Run 1 and I work the best ones into structured songs using my keyboard.(You'll obviously find that some melodies that seemed promising on first hearing are not as promising when heard again).

Run 3) I wait until I've 'forgotten' the song and then come back to listen to Run 2. I often find at this point that I get new ideas for development of the song, or nice extra touches.

Variations are possible of course. Sometimes I use the keyboard when I am on Run 1 and end up virtually completing a song there and then. However, I still come back to it for Run 3. It's a matter of personal preference. Experimentation will show you which approach is most suitable.

What Music To Use As Your 'Inspiration-track'?

There are four possibilities here.

1) Use existing music from CD's etc.

Some people may have fears here about plagiarism. I do not actually see that this could be a problem unless too much of the inspiration-track is accidentally 'lifted'. I've found that when using the method somehow melodies are created that are completely different from those of the inspiration-track. For most of the songs I've written I couldn't begin to tell you what the inspiration-track was.

2) Use the melodic ideas created on Run 1.

This I have found to be a very productive way of working. Working like this should end any fears of accidental plagiarism as the new melodies heard will, once again, be different from the melodies created on Run 1.3) Use completed songs created on Runs 2 and 3

3) Use completed songs created on Runs 2 and 3

I have found this method to be the most effective method of all. I've found that virtually everything I hear is original and is melodically interesting.

4) Use songs or ideas completed by 'conventional' methods ( IE grafting!)

My Hopes

I look forward to telling as many people as possible about this method and finding out if they themselves become as productive and fulfilled as I have been.

In reality I expect some people to thrive on the method as I have, and some to be less comfortable and productive with it. Some may view the method as I do - as the central method of their songwriting weaponry - while others may consider it to be just another tool in their toolbox of writing approaches.

I suspect there may be two different talents in songwriting: one for inspiration and one for crafting songs. If inspiration is on-tap for writers then talented crafters may be found who have previously struggled for inspiration.

What would appeal to me is finding out if people who were in the situation I was in some years ago - desperate to write songs but struggling desperately for inspiration - find they have a way to create inspiration easily, and can thus concentrate on crafting the songs.

Feedback

As I'm in the initial stages of promoting the idea (this is its first airing) I would like to hear all feedback and suggestions. I'm contactable by clicking here.

Feedback Questions

How did you get on with the method?

Did you experience any problems?

How does this method produce results different from those of your usual methods for gaining inspiration?

Did you experiment with any of the variations?

Which ones, and what results did you achieve?

Did you experiment with any other variations?

Any further thoughts on improving the method?

What to call the method?

(So far I have been thinking of calling this method 'half-sampling' or 'halving' for short. Any possible alternative names are welcomed.)

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Good luck!


I've always been interested in new ideas. My interest in creativity has gone hand in hand with my interest in songwriting. At a young age I liked to think there was a 'secret room' of songwriters who were using an arcane system to churn out great songs. In 1986 I started songwriting and by 1989 I had become determined to find/create a 'system' for writing songs. In ten years I had tried many different approaches and wrote about ten interesting jingles and songs. Then, in 1999 I had the 'Eureka' moment I'd been waiting for, and I found a simple method to find inspiration for songs. I became extremely productive overnight writing hundreds of songs and jingles. Now I'm determined to find out if the method will work for others too. Incidentally, I'm now also working on a project to see if I can find a similarly productive method for writing fiction!
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