I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is with this installment of “Songcraft” and offer a peak into my own songwriting process.
For better or worse, over the years I’ve come to find that when writing music for myself (as opposed to other artists or projects), I’m not a disciplined, “Write something every morning” kind of writer. Instead, I generally find myself reaching for the guitar or sitting at the piano when I feel in the mood to play, if not necessarily in the mood to “write."
With instrument in hand, I inevitably find myself sort of absentmindedly playing through chord progressions. Sometimes nothing more happens and I go about my day. Other times, mysteriously, a new pattern I like appears under my fingers. Much has been said about where this likable pattern may have come from — divine channeling? The happenstance of physics in a random universe? — but honestly I try not to think about it too much beyond feeling humbled and grateful.
Once my chord pattern is in place (It might be a potential chorus or verse), I usually find myself singing random or nonsensical words over the top of said chords in search of a melody that interests me. For some reason, these nonsensical phrases begin, over time, to imply a rhyme scheme. I don’t usually have any proper lyrics, per say, at this point, but I begin to realize the positions where keeper words should attempt to rhyme.
Once I have chords, melody and an implied rhyme scheme in place for one section of the tune, I’ll then repeat the above process ‘till I have all the sections I need to begin assembling a proper song.
With the bulk of the inspirational part behind me, this is where the perspiration drill begins. It’s now that I’ll start assembling my parts into a cohesive song structure. This usually means playing the song sections over and over in various configurations (still with nonsensical lyrics) until I stumble upon a particular structure that feels right for the tune. As I’ve discussed in other posts, there are many classic song structures in the realm of popular song that “just work." Having studied a number of these tried and true patterns, I find, has given me a leg up and makes my structuring process less painful.
Assuming I now have a decent (if not set in stone) song structure in place, I’ll begin work on the lyrics proper. At this point, obviously, there’s a bit of reverse engineering taking place. I’ll listen to the chords or melody line and see what kind of mood they’re offering - playful, sad, etc - then take my lyrical cue from there, crafting final lyrics that conform to my predetermined rhyme schemes and melodies while hopeful saying something interesting/entertaining in the process.
In terms of a lyrical style, these days I find myself, more often than not, trying to couch the angst of serious subject matters or everyday life within humorous or slightly snarky narratives. It’s not always my plan of attack, sometimes I’ll play it straight, but lately I find talking about semi-serious subjects in a somewhat humorous way makes the heavier meals (at least to my sensibilities) a little easier to swallow and in some ways more poignant.
Now all that said, I’d be lying if I claimed that’s the way I write all the time. It’s just the way I happen to write most of the time. Often a lyrical phrase might kick off the whole process in reverse or I might be washing a pile of dirty dishes, absentmindedly humming a cappella when a new melody arrives. And, in essence, that’s the main appeal of the songwriting process for me. I find that mix of mystery and method endlessly enjoyable.
What’s your songwriting process like? Leave us a comment!
Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.