“[Elton John] wrote a song called the “The Union” that is so beautiful and haunting at the same time.
He appeared to write it in a matter of minutes - is that really possible, a gift? Can you or do you write this way? So often we hear the end result of people’s work, but never see it made.”
- from an email I received
Songwriting is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets - the more efficient your process becomes. I don’t have a single process but the more songs you right, the better you’re going to be. This is an area where formal training helps - learning to identify ‘roadblocks’ in your process and removing them. Having as few barriers as possible to getting the initial inspiration out of your head and onto the paper (or tape or hard drive.) A popular place to get stuck is second verse lyrics (“second verse hell.”) How to solve? Try using the lyrics you’ve written as your second verse, now work backwards and write a first verse that supports it. The point is that the longer you write and the more you write, the more little process tricks you pick up, and the more organic the process becomes - just like driving. Your mind internalizes what you’re doing. I wouldn’t say it’s a gift as much as a refined experience.
I don’t always write quickly, but it really depends. Most of The Alchemist was written over the course of 3 days. I wrote the first song in about forty minutes, and kind of let it sit for a while. After getting approval from Alan and Christian about moving forward, I felt a lot of pressure to make sure the rest would be ‘as good’ - I didn’t want a weak cop out ending. I wrote “Forget You” and then got really stuck on the story. After making a lot of changes and refinements to the characters, I wrote the last tracks. While those songs were each written in less than an hour each, the process of creating the story and the characters took a lot longer and many revisions.
I don’t remember the process details for a lot of my songs but I can recall some:
This Time Tomorrow took bloody ages. About 2 weeks of working in blocks of a few hours. Too many words. Changed the ending once.
Teach Me to Fly was actually rewritten over 10 times. I changed the story 3 times and it is now completely different than the original versions.
Caroline was written on a napkin in class in about 5 minutes, but you can tell. There’s not much to it. Hey Molly, If I Say, John Says, Abby Never, were all written in the shower (not the same shower.) Rock Song was written in about 20 minutes on a guitar. So it really depends.
That’s not a great answer. A slightly better answer is that writing quickly is a side-effect of writing often, but it shouldn’t be the primary goal. Don’t sit down to write a quick song. Sit down to write a good song, even if it takes you months.
Not bad, mate! m
A cover of the first verse and chorus of “Hey Molly” by Mike Lombardo.
God, I love this song. And it allows me to play something more than just block chords. At least for the beginning and end. :P
Hope you enjoy!
Listen with headphones!
Also, I apologize for the seventh that doesn’t resolve down at the end. That’s going to bother someone, I’m sure.
Referencing the claps at the beginning and end of the Wishbone theme song for my production notes of It Would Be Nice.
I also cited the disc art of the first Backstreet Boys album when we were designing The Alchemist.
A polar bear walks into a bar, sits down and order a “Bicardi and………………………………………… cola”
Bartender asks, whats with the huge pause???
Polar Bear says “These? Born with’em….”
I would say that a large part of my approach to the ‘internet music’ machine is heavily inspired by Jonathan. Unfortunately, there is really no way to stop someone from downloading your music without paying for it. If they really want it bad enough, they will find a way to get it.
Rather than use force to demand payment, my philosophy is to create the kind of relationship with listeners where they WANT to support you because they want you to succeed, and they have a personal stake in your successes. That approach has become much easier in the last few years due to the internet. It’s still a bit early to see how it scales, but recently we’re seen good indications (Radiohead, Louis CK using ‘pay what you want’ models).
Another thing that is normal now but was really pioneered by people like Jonathan is the stream-for-free approach. Go to his website, listen to his songs, buy the ones you like. Bandcamp has really pushed this to the forefront, but Jonathan was on the leading edge of it. This isn’t something I’ve discussed with him personally, because there’s no sense in asking him about something he has to talk about every time he gives an interview.
My notes from a new bit I’m working on.
People ask if I write lyrics all at once or make revisions. I usually get them about 90% done on the first go and then make a few small tweaks. This one is not exactly where it needs to be yet. You’ll also notice my unconventional notation methods - just enough so I can remember what I’m working on.
These aren’t consecutive sections, rather three chorus-like bits that will eventually have verses in between.
Who made all the lights shine around me
made the molecules dance in the air
made the walls crumble down
and let good things come out of the blue?
well I knew
it was you
who made all of me question my chances
made me stand with a halt and a glare
stopped the traffic inside
told the things that I hide to show through
it was you
when I tried to be bordered and silent
when I’d count on a wing and a prayer
who took me to task
on the things they all asked were they true
but you knew.
it was you