It’s a well known fact amongst those who know me best that I’m a bit of a “space cadet” at times; which is often the perfect setting for a songwriter. You need to see the world differently, give yourself chance to read between the lines and quieten yourself in order to hear things other miss.
However the time always comes when you need to pop that thought bubble, exit the dream and begin working hard to build what you’ve been imagining.
Although the ideas for “Fall into Me” were born in a flurry of emotion and lines upon lines of verse; it was actually written around a solid songwriting structure.
It is over a year ago that I joined Taxi Music, an A&R company based in the US and began writing music to brief. It gave me the chance to pitch my music for commercial use and get useful, constructive feedback from industry professionals on how to improve. The whole experience has made me a better, more honest songwriter. It has taught me to be tough, critical of my work in the best sense and to deal with rejection with dignity.
The brief for Fall into Me was essentially this: “A Major Record Label is looking for SINGER/SONGWRITER SONGS to be re-recorded and released by one of their TOP FEMALE ARTISTS. “
They requested that the song be in the stylistic ballpark of the following artist: Lana Del Ray, Sia & First Aid Kit. They wanted dark, moody minor chords, a down tempo feel and a stirring, soaring melody.
This gave me a set of keywords to use as a guide in my songwriting session: singer/songwriter, moody, dark, minor chords, down tempo, stirring, soaring melody, Lana Del Ray, Sia, First Aid Kit.
These were my parameters, and what the client was looking for.
Give yourself limits
Which brings me to my first point. Surprisingly, it’s a good exercise to give yourself restrictions and limits which sounds like a contradiction to the creative soul. However, it is good practise to give yourself keywords to work with. If you set out to write a song in the style of Lana Del Ray, then it will only distract you to look at the work of Jay Z. They are polar opposites and will only water down your songwriting efforts.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’ve end up with a kick-ass reggae dance anthem, the client stated what they wanted, and reggae wasn’t on the list.
It was in this narrowing that I found flexibility and room to mould my ideas. Where I thought I would find restriction, I found freedom. I could discount certain ideas and styles; when forced not to go off on a tangent it freed me up to focus on what was in front of me.
With the parameters in place, it’s time to research and review. You might have a few existing ideas; a melody line, hook, rhythm or lyric. It’s time to build around those ideas by what is essentially “Pinterest for song ideas”. The client gave three artists to reference, so it’s was time to hit YouTube and make notes of the similarities in the three tracks.
Using the keywords, I made note of similar chord progressions, instrumentation, harmony and form. This helped me build around my existing ideas.
Make yourself an oasis
First of all get yourself centred. Find yourself a good, tidy creative space with no distractions. Do everything you can to make yourself as comfortable and confident as you can! Whether that’s a slick of lipstick or looking at your previous work that you’re proud. I have a friend who loves to light candles to get themselves focussed; do all you can to get confident.
Get yourself a cup of tea, plenty of paper, your instrument of choice and a method of recording.
Know your Audience
If you are writing for yourself, locate the best parts of your voice, remembering to reserve the higher, more “sparkly” notes for the chorus and bridge. This will help give the piece momentum. If you’re writing for others then be aware of vocal ranges and whether the piece of music is a stand alone piece or congregational.
Once I’ve figured this out, I sit down and start playing around with some ideas.
You don’t need to have a sophisticated piece of equipment at this stage; your mobile phone, a dictaphone or laptop will do just fine. Make sure you make notes of the key you’re in, the chords and if you read music notate everything.
I’ve learnt the hard way in this regard. You’ll come back to your work the next day, draw a blank on that great idea and panic! What was the key again? I had a KILLER hook and now it’s gone!
Save yourself the self-deprecation and write it down!
Don’t let fear hold you back
Write as often as you can and remember inspiration can strike at any point. Sit at your piano for hours and just enjoy playing. Scribble lyrics on napkins, keep your eyes open and go experience the world live your life! After all, how can you write about what you don’t know.
When it comes to songwriting, it is fear that holds us back the most. It’s a personal and exposing art; your insecurities will try to bait you at every turn. I’ve had and still struggle with these emotions. Do not give in or stop trying.
Remember; this is a skill like any other where only experience, practise and putting yourself out there will make you a better songwriter. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back.
Develop a tough skin; not everyone will get you or like you’re music. But as long as you are working hard and writing music that you are proud of first, and for accolades second, then you are on the right track to creating the right track.