Songwriting - A rant

FuzzWatt

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Songwriting always seems to go the same way for me - I start off with a strong riff/chord progression, then I begin trying to link it to other parts, I get seized with indecision, I get upset with myself and the process in general, then I walk away irritated with nothing accomplished.

I've been playing and making music for twenty years. I knew not long after I started that music and arts was not my strong suit. I excelled in math and science as a kid. Things that had order, reason, and a solid sense of right and wrong. When it came to the arts - areas where personal choice, free thinking, and abstract concepts trumped order and reason, I floundered. I've always resented this about myself, and I've tried to change it - to no avail. I'm hardwired the way I am.

I have countless files of riffs and bits I've recorded going back 10 years. I've always planned on turning what I can into a nice little EP, but I just can't. I can't for the life of me complete a single song. I don't suppose it'll ever change.
 

geoff_in_nc

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You sound a lot like me. I went through a short period in college where I wrote a few songs to completion and put them down on a Portastudio. They were mostly all amusing efforts more than solid songs. Otherwise I can't write to save my life. I've come to accept it, though I don't like it.

I often think I'd like to build a bedroom studio, but I know it would be more about collecting equipment than making new music.
 

FuzzWatt

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You sound a lot like me. I went through a short period in college where I wrote a few songs to completion and put them down on a Portastudio. They were mostly all amusing efforts more than solid songs. Otherwise I can't write to save my life. I've come to accept it, though I don't like it.

I often think I'd like to build a bedroom studio, but I know it would be more about collecting equipment than making new music.

Your second paragraph hits home. I've owned more than 36 guitars, a number of basses, synths, pedals, etc. I've owned most of my dream gear. I always told myself "this piece, this is the piece. This is the thing that'll inspire me to really write."

It never made a difference...
 

cometazzi

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This all sounds like me too.

One of the first things I did when I started playing was recording myself. Sometimes it was to have a backing track to practice to, sometimes it was a "what happens if I play this thing on top of that thing?", and sometimes it was because I came up with something unique and my own and I wanted to do something with it. In high school I met a guy who loved rock n roll and was a gifted poet and lyricist. The stuff just fell off of him all day long like water- he had countless banker boxes full of sheets of paper of inspired and driven lyrics that he couldn't not write. We had a great partnership, but the band we put together was ill-fated, and we all went our separate ways.

In my 20s, I still came up with oodles and oodles of riff/chord progression stuff, and would record it on my Yamaha 4-track. Like @geoff_in_nc says, many of them were amusing efforts, some were 'complete'. By 'complete', I mean they were a series of chord changes or riffs that were put together as I intended them- intro, verse, bridge, chorus, etc. All they needed was another gifted poet to come by and turn it into a real song. That never happened. I've attempted to write my own lyrics, and I'm pretty bad at it.

All that ended by my 30s, and I stopped playing guitar for a long while. Nowadays, I occasionally feel inspired to 'come up with my own kewl stuff' but I don't have that mojo anymore. I bang out series of chords and throw some 'typical' filler riffs in between them, but nothing exciting happens. I think the fire has gone out.

Enjoy what you can while you can.
 

Skully

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Everyone is going to have a different methord that works for them. I have several different methods that work for me. It could write the whole thing on guitar before I record or write as I record. Sometimes I finish the writing quickly; sometimes it takes months to be completed. The common denominator is that the riffs, etc., won't come together to create a completed, worthy song unless i start with a concept or a theme or discover one quickly in the process.

As far as gear goes... a new piece of gear almost always inspires a new song. For better or worse, I pretty much have all the gear I need now.
 

blueruins

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I’ve finished many but always had to have an outside motivation. Have you thought about writing with a partner?
I think a lot of the reasons I don’t finish are more to do with the disappointment of not being as good as I wish for. It’s a catch-22 because you can’t get better without failing.
If you’ve gotten that far you can finish a song.
Even the losers get lucky sometimes.
 

BatUtilityBelt

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I'm getting kinda old now so I've been doing it a long time. Having said that, I have a few thoughts, each worth exactly what you're paying for them. As already said, writing takes a personal path - everyone has their own ways.

My most effective method: If I let one phrase out naturally, I should just work on that phrase and not worry about the whole song. I obsess over it, get it down, explore nuances in it, record it, and listen back plenty. It might take minutes or days or weeks, but if I know that one phrase as well as anything I'd listen to from a finished recording, I will soon hear a complementary phrase, maybe a chorus, or maybe another section. I put the second phrase down, and practice transitions and bridges between the two until they are equally familiar and wait for more. Again, this can take time or it can come up fast, but leaving it up to the music to "find itself" lets it come out honestly and fit very well. This is how my best music evolves.

But... working for someone else, you have to match their timeline. So these things can be forced. If I have a deadline, or am not being paid much, I will force the rest of the piece out. You can always just noodle until you find it, or you can rely on past knowledge of chord progressions that always satisfy. When I write like this, the results are less honest and can sound contrived to me, but it also works. I suppose if you do enough forcing this way, your brain might tend toward the first method above easier.

Finally, I do agree it pays off to collaborate with others - it helps you get past your blind spots, and they theirs. That might also help you form habits that continue in solo work.
 

chulaivet1966

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Songwriting always seems to go the same way for me - I start off with a strong riff/chord progression, then I begin trying to link it to other parts, I get seized with indecision, I get upset with myself and the process in general, then I walk away irritated with nothing accomplished.

I've been playing and making music for twenty years. I knew not long after I started that music and arts was not my strong suit. I excelled in math and science as a kid. Things that had order, reason, and a solid sense of right and wrong. When it came to the arts - areas where personal choice, free thinking, and abstract concepts trumped order and reason, I floundered. I've always resented this about myself, and I've tried to change it - to no avail. I'm hardwired the way I am.

I have countless files of riffs and bits I've recorded going back 10 years. I've always planned on turning what I can into a nice little EP, but I just can't. I can't for the life of me complete a single song. I don't suppose it'll ever change.
Howdy FW....

I don't have any answers given what you state above but I wanted to chime in.

I hear you....and have read most responses of those in the same creative pickle.
Song writing is not easy which I've quipped frequently here over the years.
Your left brain logic seems to be impeding the right brain freedom of expression. (unless left-handed like me :))


Yes....there is no "right or wrong" to song writing or the creative arts.
Therefore, you can, rationally, ignore the thoughts of "indecision" which are rendered irrelevant.
No right, no wrong, no consequences, no deadlines, no accountability to anyone in song writing.


Song writing isn't easy for me either.
We begin with and idea/image/phrase and think...."that would be a cool subject to write about."
Now the creative discipline comes into play...."how do I flesh out this story?"
To finish the project is the challenge, requiring focus and imagination which we all have.

Maybe peruse the "Writers' Block" forum and share some of your song writing frustrations and ideas?
I doubt you'd be alone in this context. :)

I didn't help any but wanted to comment and hope this forum helps you find a way to get started.
I always try to encourage the song writing process to everyone.

Have a great eve....
 

lil scotty

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The solution is to start with a melody, then add chords.

Bacharach said, "No one whistles the lyrics", but the fact is no one whistles the chords, either.
I love this advice but have a hard time doing it. I am a guitar player first, so a chord progression first, then a vocal melody, or a few words that hint at that melody. I can honestly say I have never tried to do it your way. I will try it.
 

FuzzWatt

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I love this advice but have a hard time doing it. I am a guitar player first, so a chord progression first, then a vocal melody, or a few words that hint at that melody. I can honestly say I have never tried to do it your way. I will try it.

Years ago when I bought my first synth it was like a lightswitch, specifically regarding melodies. I always had the hardest time coming up with them. For whatever reason, I find them fairly easy to write on a piano/keyboard.

The past couple years I've started with a melody, a good hook, written on my synth. Then I try to build chords and rhythms around it.
 

lil scotty

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As a guitar player who loves to noodle, I have to force myself into songwriting mode: no noodling, just chords. I will get bored with the progression and try to add vocal ideas, humming, a melody. It is a special kind of torture but I look at this way, all the effort most of us have gone through to play an instrument, that same effort is what it takes to write too, only it’s harder because you have to put some of YOU out there. Expressing yourself in words is a *****! Also, watch “Get Back.” It is inspiring and those guys are playing, like kids, having fun. That has to be part of it. (McCartney was clearly doing lots of homework too.)
 

beyer160

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Challenge yourself to finish one song. Just do it, the quicker the better, no matter how bad it it is. And it WILL be bad. It'll probably suck out loud, and you'll be embarrassed by it. That's not the point though. It's about breaking inertia and getting on the board. Writing a crap song isn't the end of the world. Your favorite bands wrote crap songs, and they released some of them.

Now write another one. Try and make that one a little better than the last. You don't have to be good yet, just get into the groove of dragging the damn things over the finish line. Analyze your failures- what didn't you like? How can you avoid those things next time? Very few songwriters came up with timeless classics the first few times out. Like anything else, songwriting is about practice.
 

TheFuzzDog

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Songwriting always seems to go the same way for me - I start off with a strong riff/chord progression, then I begin trying to link it to other parts, I get seized with indecision, I get upset with myself and the process in general, then I walk away irritated with nothing accomplished.

I've been playing and making music for twenty years. I knew not long after I started that music and arts was not my strong suit. I excelled in math and science as a kid. Things that had order, reason, and a solid sense of right and wrong. When it came to the arts - areas where personal choice, free thinking, and abstract concepts trumped order and reason, I floundered. I've always resented this about myself, and I've tried to change it - to no avail. I'm hardwired the way I am.

I have countless files of riffs and bits I've recorded going back 10 years. I've always planned on turning what I can into a nice little EP, but I just can't. I can't for the life of me complete a single song. I don't suppose it'll ever change.


This absolutely can change. It will be hard for you, but it’s possible. The first thing to do is throw out (to start) the idea that this is true:
“personal choice, free thinking, and abstract concepts trumped order and reason”.

You want to write a song, not float around in abstractia. A way to get started is to use artificial constraints and work within them. This is going to feel very weird and not artistic. That’s ok. You aren’t trying to write a good song - just a song. And don’t worry about lyrics. This is just an instrumental.


Start by giving yourself a structure for the song. Something like the following:

Intro (4 measures)
Verse 1 (8 measures)
Chorus (8 measures)
Verse 2 (8 measures)
Chorus (8 measures)
Outro (4 measures)

Now write the song. Take three of the riffs and bits you have in the backlog and put them together. Don’t worry if they fit well - the idea here is to get something finished. You literally do not care if it’s good. Spend no more than half an hour on this.

Congratulations! You wrote your first song!

Is it good? Maybe. Chances are it isn’t, but again, that’s not the point. Now put that song away and don’t think about it for two weeks.

Next step - repeat the process. Maybe use the same structure, maybe make up another. Again, the goal is to complete something. Put this one away too.

Keep this up. As you continue to practice this skill, you will start to feel better about your ability to do this. Once you don’t feel completely alien and robotic, you can start trying to make something you’re actually pleased with.

After two weeks, go back to your first efforts and review them. Be prepared to find them unsatisfactory, if not terrible. Don't let that discourage you. Compare them to what you’re working on currently - you will hopefully see that you’ve improved, and may even have ideas about how to make the original efforts better. As your confidence grows, you’ll start to understand that good art involves freedom of choice, order, reason, and abstract concepts.
 

arlum

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When writing a new song I always start with melody or lyrics or both at the same time. Common for me is to write one verse of lyrics, create a melody that fits the subject, write at least two more verses and then develop a chorus' melody and lyrics that works well with the verse melody and lyrics. I've found that if I come upon a " brain blank" where my mind isn't moving through the steps I'll try altering the pace or rhythm structure to see if it spawns ideas. I've written pieces that started out as 4/4 but finalized in 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc.. I then decide on intro and outro, refrain, etc. Next is the guitar or keyboard rhythm followed by the bass line. I always leave the lead(s) for last. I want them to accentuate rather than dominate the feel, emotion and structure of the rest of the piece. I love playing lead guitar but I love my songs more so they have to always come first. I still write out my music notation by hand on 5 line script and place the verse / chorus lyrics below them just like the sheet music I used to purchase was formatted. If a "lead" is particularly dependent on specific technique I'll also create a 6 line TAB for those sections. I never TAB anything else.
 

Ed Driscoll

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Challenge yourself to finish one song. Just do it, the quicker the better, no matter how bad it it is. And it WILL be bad. It'll probably suck out loud, and you'll be embarrassed by it. That's not the point though. It's about breaking inertia and getting on the board. Writing a crap song isn't the end of the world. Your favorite bands wrote crap songs, and they released some of them.

Now write another one. Try and make that one a little better than the last. You don't have to be good yet, just get into the groove of dragging the damn things over the finish line. Analyze your failures- what didn't you like? How can you avoid those things next time? Very few songwriters came up with timeless classics the first few times out. Like anything else, songwriting is about practice.
This is exactly how I started on my cassette four-track in the early-to-mid '80s. Writing that first song, knowing it would suck (and it did), and then analyzing what worked and what didn't, and repeating the process is the key.

In addition to analyzing what worked and what didn't in the song, analyze what was missing from it, and/or how the next one could be different. Did the last song lack heavy guitars? Do some heavy riffs and/or power chords. Was the last song at a fast tempo? Write something slower. Was it guitar-based? Write something that leans more towards keys and synths. Was the last song verse-chorus-bridge? Try writing in an A-A-A or A-B-A structure.
 

Ed Driscoll

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Rikky Rooksby's How to Write Songs on Guitar book, which has been updated a few times since it first came out in 2000 or so has been very useful to me, because he breaks down both the chord sequences that have been used in loads of rock and pop songs, and the lyric themes that have been used in loads of songs. (He mentions as a few of his examples the various styles of love songs, songs about travel and geography, songs about cars (or cars as a metaphor for sex), songs with women's names as their title, etc.)

If you've got an initial chord sequence and a theme for the song in mind (or even just the chorus or title), you're that much ahead of the game in the songwriting process.
 

JeffroJones

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...the arts - areas where personal choice, free thinking, and abstract concepts trumped order and reason...
I will respectfully disagree, FuzzWatt. I've been involved in "The Arts" my whole life, and I have a low opinion of personal choice, free thinking and abstract concepts. Michelangelo, for example, painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel because Pope Julius gave him no choice.

Creativity, not "freedom", is the rod that stirs the drink, and order and reason are perfectly fine ingredients, IMHO.

So, you're good with riffs. Have you considered partnering up with someone who needs a RiffMeister? Nothing wrong with a team!

BTW: Not to take away from FuzzDog's excellent advice 👍


:::
 




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