Give me a guitar and a quiet space, and I’ll play with some chord progressions until something moves me. Often times, it will coincide with a mental image, and I’ll absorb myself in the feelings I attach to that mental image. Sometimes, I don’t even know what it means. When the words start to form, I’m often mystified as to where they are taking me, but gradually they lead me to the big picture…the theme or the story. I let the words just flow freely, without questioning or editing, but trusting that something interesting has been unlocked in my subconscious. If I come to a block, I return to the mental image…who am I in this image? What can I see? What do I feel? Where am I? What is happening? As I mentally explore the image, something new will emerge, and, once again, I’ll just let it flow, freely. Song structure happens very naturally for me, so I don’t need to be thinking about this…it will just happen. Somehow, the verses, chorus and, sometimes, bridge, will just all fill in without a lot of intention on my part. All conscious construction is a retrofit, after the flow of inspiration has passed and once I’m evaluating what has been written.
When songwriting is really working for me, it happens just as easily as what I’ve described. Often times, I only get little pieces that don’t develop beyond that. Or I’ll write a verse and a chorus, get stuck, and not be able to get unstuck. Or when I try to finish a song that is stuck, everything that comes feels wrong or forced. Songwriting is both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world for me. Often times, it is hard until I “break through” and then it becomes easy. Or it starts out really easy and becomes really hard. Regardless of how I get there, a finished song always satisfies like nothing else.
Normally when I write, there is no recording. There are only words on paper with some chords, and a melody in my brain. Usually, once I read the lyrics, the melody easily reemerges from memory, but sometimes I’ll make a very rough recording into something like the voice memo on my phone or a rough, live recording on my computer, just so I don’t forget the melody. I may have additional music in my head…how I imagine the song being arranged, but they stay there, in my head. There is no demo. This songwriting challenge turns all of this on its head, and I’m struggling.
I’ve had a mix of song writing experiences the past couple of weeks. On paper, I have one complete song, one almost complete song, a few snippets of songs. On Garage Band, I have three partial demos….unfortunately, they don’t fit any of the songs on paper. When I’ve gone onto Garage Band to begin making demos for my songs, the process of trying to find the right drums, the right bass, the right sounds, etc, ends up taking me on tangents, as I struggle to find drum beats and sounds that fit, and they end up not working with what I’ve been writing on paper. The result is that I have no finished demos. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but trying to turn this into a lesson.
At least while I’m learning my way around Garage Band, it may need to be my starting point instead of my finishing point. If I can finish the demos I’ve started…write the lyrics and melodies to them, instead of trying to do it the other way around…I might actually be able to complete a song! In the process, I will become more familiar with the program, so that when I do go to add music to my lyrics and melodies, I won’t be experimenting so much with sounds that I get off track, I’ll go in knowing what I’m looking for.
Right now, I’m so frustrated that I was tempted today to throw in the towel. I hate it that at the end of week 2, I have nothing complete. I feel like I’m failing, but the truth is, I’m not. I have accomplished a lot, just nothing that I can put up to be heard. I will still finish this song, even though it will not be eligible for feedback. The good news is, I have four songs to choose from: two of them on paper, needing music and two on Garage Band, needing lyrics and melody. This has been a huge learning curve for me. I feel like a first grader who has been bumped up to junior high, but I’ll figure this out. I am learning, just not quickly enough to keep up.
I also need to be more proactive in setting myself up to be able to focus on music. My small but busy household, with everyone on varying work and school schedules, means that it has been really difficult to consistently find the solitude I need to focus. Something needs to change with this. I don’t have time to wait for ideal moments to arise, I’m on a deadline!
Maybe it would be easier if my first year doing this challenge was one of the previous years, because I get the impression that the demos did not have to be as well done. On the other hand, maybe this is the best way to make me learn. Frustration = Education.