Do you find that you have very little time to write music?
You’re single, divorced, married with three kids, working two jobs, busy cooking, cleaning, thinking about existentialism, looking for work, looking for ‘spare time’, looking for …. inspiration?
How do you carve out some time to write that music?
Songwriting On The Go – yepper, could be an answer!
The thing is this: we all have schedules, and I think the days of having the free time to write and record music to us ordinary denizens is rarified these days. As even the pros get crunched by the music business machine to try to crank out some songage, so when do you write your stuff?
I’m thinking the Brilliant Idea For A Song comes less in a flash, and more in bits and pieces – the muse hits when it hits: could be a little, could be a lot.
Currently, I seem to have hit a streak in writing and prepping new and old songs for my next EP/CD – ideas seem to jump out of the shadows, into my head, thru the pen, and onto the paper. This is good, I like it, I’ll take ‘em anyway I can get ‘em these days. But for lesser moments, I’ve honed the ol’ Songwriting On The Go Technique over the years.
Of course, lemme tell ya how I started…..
1978: I’m working a janitor job at a local Des Moines hospital, and seriously thinking about heading to electronics school to start the journey of many years to obtain a few sheepskins of higher learning. While I’ve done janitorial work previously, well, poop, I’m 20 years old, just getting into the local music scene as a player, so I would rather ROCK than mop floors, clean bedpans, and take arms from cadavers in Pathology down to the incinerator (yes, I did that once….). In my back pocket is a notebook that I use to jot down song lyrics in between jobs (I still have the notebook). This little notebook gets me thru the strum-and-dang of the day, gives me a lot of ease. Looking at the stuff I wrote at 20 – well, pretty typical: VERY self-absorbed, myopic, limited…..but hey, what’s the dif from any fresh, post-teen writings today?
If it was youthful energy, lack of focus, multi – tasking, or all of the above, that was my first step into songwriting ‘on the go’. This is nothing new, though – writers and artists have been jotting stuff down on whatever medium is handy at the time to capture the idea. The romantic notion of sitting at a typewriter(yep, ancient history), in a lone apartment room, ala Bob Dylan, cranking out brilliant lyrical verse after verse wasn’t even on my radar at the time. I’ve ALWAYS had stuff to do, so on-the-go writing seemed to fit even for the early days.
Now, it’s the ONLY way to go for me, as it is what it is!
I figure you show be able to write without excuses – it could be your hobby, job, or vocation. Maybe, as stated, I had a vague, limited, romantic notion of creating the perfect time and place for inspiration for art in my youth – the kind of setting that would span great works of monumental meaning.
Well, as Flakey Foont asked,”What does it all MEAN, Mr. Natural?” in said early R. Crumb comic: “It don’t mean SHEE – IT!” was the immortal response (pretty much a summer-upper, I think…).
Really – do the math, put in the time. I’ve been writing for eons, and I just now feel that I’m getting started with lyrics and songs that can actually approach being worthy, in my view. Don’t know what I was thinking early on, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance to continue in this adventure!
Even with songwriting on the go, where you grab time to jot down ideas everywhere and anywhere – at some point, you’ll need to stop, sit down, and edit your stuff. Currently, I’m working on demos for a new CD – I’m going to re-record songs from an EP/CD from last year, and add new ones that I’ve been working on since last fall. This will be the first time in a long time where I’m closely scrutinizing the thematic content of the songs and how they fit together into an album context (yes, and I use the word ‘album’ because I’m referring not to old-school vinyl, but the real-world meaning of the word album as a cohesive collection). So, in between domestic stuff and life, I’m working on the Statement. Sounds all high-fa-lootin’, don’t it? Well, remember the day when a collection of songs could actually having a running thread to tell some sort of story, portray a mood, or send a message (even if it was just about sex, drugs, and constant Dionysian debauchery?).
Yeah, me, too – along with a few others! Even if you’re ‘songwriting on the go’, that don’t mean yer tuneage has to be on the go also…..
There is the potent force of kaizen, a Japanese method of achieving success thru small and steady steps (apparently, this has worked for them in the automotive industry, along with the Koreans – hey, someone is always taking notes, taking their time, and looking to do things different, better, best). By doing a little bit each day towards your goals, you can achieve results thru a different avenue. This can apply to songwriting as you make your way thru life. The image of the frustrated writer sitting at the typewriter/computer keyboard, or with mounds of crumpled paper lying around him/her like little snow-peaked mountains of mental roadblocks is history – you can take a different path to achieve results with your songwriting. I highly recommend Dr. Robert Maurer’s book “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” – in fact, I’m re-reading it.
It’s a small, easy to read and follow d.i.y. type book on old, proven methods to help with getting results other than ramming your head into a brick wall, especially with songwriting constantly to rhyme ‘moon’ with ’spoon’ with ‘pontoon’, and then….some other word!
I’ve gotten to where I jot down sketches of ideas for lyrics and music, giving myself less than a half an hour. It rarely comes together all at once for me, which is fine. And I’m finding that even if I record a demo to hear most of the parts and vocals that I want to lay down on the big rig digital work station, I’ll exercise my option to change everything at some point. Case in point: wrote lyrics to a song late last year using the trials of Katrina as a metaphor for the current executive/CEO payment scandal. Wrote in dropped D tuning on the guitar, laid it down with a sped up rock drum track from my old Boss Dr. Groove drum machine, even de-tuned the bass. Well, first off, wrong key for my vocals, plus the whole feel of the demo was a little too hard rock like. So, I got the idea to tuned my acoustic guitar down to D-G-C-F-A-D, play the same chords (on ACOUSTIC only), slow the tempo, and see what happens. It’s a different feel completely – the lower tunings fills it out harmonically, the key (now C) fits my voice better, and there’s still an air of ‘heaviness’, as we rock codgers like to say, about the tune. But this was an ‘on-the-go’ decision, after I had made the demo and given it to my wife for her back-up vocal workout. Now, I’ll probably just go ahead and start tracking the song with the new changes.
Small steps, big results!
As I’ve stated, I feel like I’m just getting handle on writing songs. It’s experience, details, trying to tell some sort of cohesive story, and using the proper musicianship to convey the meaning. Songwriting on the go is a way to an end – you take little steps each time you sit down to create to build along and get the results down the road. All this stuff adds up, and hopefully adds to something that going to be satisfying to you after it’s all said and done!