Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Song for the studio - Part 2.

The writing session

I wrote before about creating a new song with my brother for us record at our upcoming studio session. I wanted to write a short post to document the writing session and describe the process in a little more detail.

A guitar, pencil and pad, a few chords and a dash of time. All you need to write a song...

It's been a long while since I had written a new song as I mostly concentrate my efforts on producing tunes for others these days, and in the week running up the the writing session I felt I should be trying to note down some ideas, but as hard as I tried I found myself coming up blank!

Generally as a writing pair my brother is the lyricist and I create the music, but these lines are not definitive and we will both contribute to the song as a whole. We haven't had a chance to write directly together for many years so I was a little nervous approaching this session whether we would still click quickly into place and start to feed from each others ideas.

Getting started

The session started as all good writing sessions should, with a cup of coffee and a chat. Colin (my brother) had brought along his song book and ideas file and we spent some time getting into the zone by reviewing old songs we had written or worked on together and also skimming through some of the half finished ideas he had in there.

One song caught our attention, originally entitled 'Better late than never' it consisted of a verse, verse middle and a few lines for the chorus. Essentially the song was about rediscovering an old song and realising that it never really got the time it deserved, we both felt that this was an interesting concept especially considering the context of what we were doing. Colin couldn't remember the melody or chord sequence associated with the song but that didn't matter as it gave us a blank staring point, and the few lyrics we had would make a great jumping in point.

So we had our starting point.

Working quickly

Now was the time to work quickly and to get the idea moving while inspiration was still fresh. In my experience about 80% of the song gets written in the first 40 minutes of a writing session, because if the idea is exciting to you it will begin to suggest  its own direction and you simply hold on for the ride. We quickly settled on chord sequences and melodies for the various section of the song, and began to flesh out the lyrics often with lines we both agreed were simply placeholders to be revisited later. As I said it is key at this stage to let the song flow and not get too hung up on details - These can be worked out later.

Although I feel sure that this song will end up centred around the guitar, when I'm writing I prefer to work out chords and melodies on the piano. As this is my stronger instrument and allows me to be more inventive and creative when working out chord changes and I can better visualise how a melody needs to move. My limited guitar playing ability always leads me to the same few chord choices which can be a problem.

Along the way the song gained a new chorus and title based on the line 'Play it again'. We wrote a new second verse and a bridge, while also editing and rewriting parts of the original song's first verse.

Job done - for now..

We spent around 4 hours in total writing the song, and by the end we had a finished piece - all be it one still with a way to go both lyrically and structurally. I feel that it needs as short break possibly after the first chorus, and a proper intro is called for too.

But time our was up. Our wives had returned with the kids and it was time to call it a day.

One last job remained, and that was to record a quick one take 'scratch demo' of the song for us to both go away and listen to so we could refine the thing towards being 'ready'. So if your interested, here is that very recording. Rough round the edges and full of plenty of mistakes, but it's our version 1.0

Final thoughts

I was a little worried going into this that we would not be able to come up with the goods on the day, but deep down I knew it should work as long as we could keep our egos at bay were just be open to comment and suggestion from each other.

It was a hugely enjoyable session which produced a song that neither of us would have written alone, which is great as it means we both feel attached to it and totally on board with the idea.

However, the biggest thing I've taken away for the process is that there is no such thing as writers block in music - all you need to do is make something, anything - if is good then great - Job done. If it's just 'OK' then you, or maybe someone you know can probably improve it, change it and mould it into something better. If just plain stinks then you at least have made something and it might spark other ideas to move forward with!

So I will leave you with this thought (which I think I originally heard in some form or other from Merlin Mann)

Make a version 1.0 - it can always be improved in version 1.5!!


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