Sunday, September 23, 2012

Guest blogger John Banrock on the songwriting process.

The Songwriting Process

I love and am fascinated by the songwriting process.   I love discussing it with other songwriters and am always curious to find out about new and different approaches utilized in crafting a song.  Do other songwriters write the music first, the lyrics first, a combination of the two or some other method?  There's always something to be learned.

Many songwriters, like me, don't limit themselves to just one way of writing.  For me, each song ultimately reveals itself in it's own way.  Sometimes I'll sit down to write lyrics with the intention of putting music afterwards.  Other times I'll sit down with my guitar and a pen and sort of write music and lyrics at the same time, coming up with a verse of lyrics first and then writing some music before ultimately going back to write additional verses, choruses, etc. And sometimes I'll just be playing my guitar and will stumble upon the beginnings of a nice chord progression or riff.  If I think it's worthy of becoming a song I'll try to work out all the music and then set down to write lyrics.  Some songs are intentionally written and some are spontaneously born. There always has to be a starting point, though, and each time can be an entirely unique experience.

Another really interesting, and possibly less orthodox, way to write is total improvisation.  Sometimes I just like to throw on the recorder and see what comes out.  I might work out a few chords beforehand then improv all the lyrics, or I might just improv the whole thing (music and words).  It's great because I'm really capturing a particular feeling, a moment in time. Ultimately, of course, I'll have to listen to the recording and write out all the lyrics and music to see if revisions are required (which typically they are).  It's a great way to write though because it's such a departure from the more 'standard' ways and is more akin to stream of consciousness writing.  (I actually love stream of consciousness writing, though generally when I write stream of consciousness the words are not intended for songs, but rather to be presented on their own, if at all). The benefit is that you are capturing a feeling, but the downside is (for me anyway) that you may not be able to spew out the perfect words in that spur of the moment environment (it's a great and interesting challenge though). So the improv songwriting method is very interesting, but generally comes with a lot of revision work afterward.  At some point in the revision process I usually start to wonder if the song is becoming too polished and losing its raw energy and feeling.  Therein lie the difficult decisions, but ultimately the ones that could make or break the song.  I definitely recommend giving this method a try if you haven't given it a chance before.  You don't need high tech recording gear.  Just anything that can record with enough clarity to understand what you are singing and playing.

Ultimately when writing songs I think it's great to try to write in different ways because you never know how each way is going to work and how it will affect the finished product.  Granted, if you've tried every method and have ultimately decided, for example, that you always write the best songs when using a 'lyrics first / music second' approach you may not want to stray from that too often.  For me though, I don't want to be confined by any rules.  I like to try different ways and don't want to limit myself from writing just because a song may start originating from a method that may not be my best or favorite.  And what works for me today might not work for me tomorrow and vice versa.  So even if a method hasn't historically been successful, the passage of time may change all that, so it's at least worth revisiting neglected methodologies from time to time.  Regardless of how a song is written, it is the declaration of it being finished that is often most rewarding.  For me, there's a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I started with nothing, and then with creativity, hard work and dedication ended up with a tangible work of art.  And then, after that brief moment of contentment, it's on to the next song...

- John Banrock

And here's John's stuff: