What's the hardest part of songwriting for YOU?

JustABluesGuy

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Sep 2, 2016
Posts
4,184
Location
Somewhere
Yep! That's a constant struggle for me, too.

I write 'em first, then fix 'em till I like 'em. Then they're done. No listening back required. That would just distract me. I keep it simple: pen, paper, guitar.

I find that jiggling the words around is as important as jiggling around the music.

Whew, do I have a book. It's actually open now, which is rare. But once in a while I flip through it to find a song or two to work on memorizing. (See post 1!)
Yeah, as I have been told by others, I just need to do it. When I put in the time I can do many things. Procrastination is my biggest issue. If I worked at it more, I’m sure I could write a decent song or two.

No grand masterpieces or hit songs, but something decent that others would enjoy. Hell, I will be glad enough to write a song that ONLY I really enjoy.

I actually have one (fairly decent) complete blues tune that has words and music, but I have this nagging feeling that most of it is (unconsciously) plagiarized from other blues songs.

I maybe have another 5 songs that are in progress, along with a handful of song ideas, verses, titles and such. Most were about things I was going through at the time, or inspired by current events of that time. I’m not sure I can forcibly bring back the strong feelings that inspired on the songs in the first place.

I do need to start working on songs again. That was my original goal for playing was to be a duffer acoustic singer songwriter. I got busy doing supporting roles for others and ended up playing lead and singing backing vocals for others. While I enjoy a support role and helping to make others shine, I really need to quit neglecting my rhythm playing, lead singing, and of course my song writing.
 

JustABluesGuy

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Sep 2, 2016
Posts
4,184
Location
Somewhere
Lyrics, it's always the lyrics.
For me, it’s easiest to sort of tell a story. That makes it easier for me.

Then I think about bands like REM who never post their obscure lyrics. They let their listeners decide what the song means, and this can be very effective at drawing in the listener. They get to add their own meaning to the song.

It isn’t easy to write storytelling songs that I feel others would connect with, and I’m not very good at just doing nonsense lyrics that are open for interpretation by the listener.

And in the end all of these are really just excuses for my terrible procrastination!
 

kookaburra

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Nov 11, 2012
Posts
2,328
Location
Green Bay, WI, States
Traditionally, lyrics have been tough. I’ve come up with some decent ones, but not nearly enough. Collaboration does help me a lot in the lyrics department!

Also, as a rock music writer, the style has been so rehashed over the decades to a point that I have a tough time coming with anything lately that I’m not sick of by the time I finish it.

Of course, some are still coming up with good music, but they are more talented than me when it comes to a new sound or cleverly rehashing an old idea.

Last, but not least, maybe I’ve just run out of ideas.

I still have songs from years past that I still enjoy playing, so I’m not completely out of steam, but new material has been tough lately!
 

Charlie Bernstein

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Apr 26, 2003
Posts
10,957
Location
Augusta, Maine
. . . No grand masterpieces or hit songs, but something decent that others would enjoy. Hell, I will be glad enough to write a song that ONLY I really enjoy. . . .
Just like Zappa!

He hired the London Philharmonic to play and record one of his tunes. Someone asked him if he really thought it would sell. He said he didn't care. He just wanted to be able to sit at home and listen to it.
 

arlum

Friend of Leo's
Platinum Supporter
Joined
Jun 7, 2018
Posts
2,491
Age
67
Location
O'Fallon, MO
I written over 200 songs in the last 60+ years. Some I gave to local bands. Some I've sent to distant bands in other countries. Some I recorded for family and friends. I've never profited from this gift because that's just the way I look at it. It's a gift I was given and I won't profit from gifts. Yes. I've been thoroughly spoken to about my foolishness in this belief. I've never wavered in this belief and it's to late to worry about it now. That said .....

Songwriting is all about taking something within your mind and making it a reality. I also write short stories and lyrics aren't that much different. You have a goal to accomplish within a limited amount of space. You need a beginning , middle and end. I find it easiest to have a start point and an end point first and then fill in the path taken to get from one to the other. Writers like John Lennon, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams and Harry Nilsson are some of those I've learned from.

Melody is key to everything I write and it's also the hardest part for remaining totally original in composition. Over the course of a lifetime a writer is exposed to thousands of tunes. Some they remember and some they don't give a second thought about. It's the forgotten melodies that, at the time you heard them, didn't create a solid memory that cause the most trouble for a writer. Maybe you forgot them because the lyrics were terrible or the band playing the song did a poor job or you just weren't into that style of music at the time, but, the melody found a secret corner of your brain where it resided until you, assuming a flash of creativity, gave it new life in a new song. During my lifetimes this has happened at least 6 or 7 times and, in each case, though I thought what I'd created was far better and somewhat different from the original, I destroyed them and deleted them from my catalog. I had no idea the influence other writers melodies had on my creativity. I knew Bob Dylan was an inspiration to my lyrical writing but never intended to borrow from "Lay Lady Lay" when I wrote a song I called "The Healer" while stationed in Maine. It was a couple of years before someone pointed out the similarities and it hit me hard to the point that I tore up all the writing and never played it again. A few other songs I deleted bore a resemblance to songs by The Doors, Cat Stevens, Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Justin Hayward. I deleted them all and never looked back. I want my material to be totally original and, coming this late into the game, have found that originality in a new format verses originality in a format that has been around for a hundred years or more requires an honesty within the writer and a willingness to discard even the most astounding creations you've come up with.

Lastly ..... Beats, Riffs, Leads and instrumentation. During my first 25 years of songwriting none of these issue existed in my world. I wrote songs. What other people did with them was fine. In the '80s I bought a Fostex 4 Tracker for home recording and suddenly found myself having to make these choices. The later purchase of a Tascam 8 tracker made it all the worse. Up front ..... my songwriting gift does not extend into this area of music production. A song I'd written in 30 minutes could take me multiple days to create a mix I'd be proud of. On top of that .... I wanted the song to sound exactly like I heard it in my head. I had no clue on how to play some of the instruments I was hearing. One song required me to rent an Oboe for a full year just to play a short passage in a song I'd written. Note* Oboes are a double reed instrument and are harder than ***** to learn how to play. It took a year to play what I needed to play but in no way did I master or even come close to being a average student on the Oboe.

If you can keep your focus on the song itself, as I'm back to doing today because of the demise of tape recording and I can't get my head around digital, you'll write far better songs. I'm back to where I used to be and I'm happy again. Write a melody with lyrics and let whoever wants to play or record it do the rest.
 

Blazer

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Dec 2, 2003
Posts
17,759
Age
46
Location
The Netherlands
Lyrics are always the last thing I do. Which is also what makes some of my songs hard for anybody else to sing.

With this song, you can hear me struggle to sing that opening line of “You told me that you didn't believe that I saw your departure coming.” It took me quite some time getting that line right.

I wasn't quite sure which way to go with the rest of the lyrics, until I wrote the line “When the water came over the dam” and I went “Yeah, there's the hook!”
 

Charlie Bernstein

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Apr 26, 2003
Posts
10,957
Location
Augusta, Maine
It's not that they're incompatible in the spirit of the music. The lyrics never fit the phrasing of the music. Modifying one or the other to match up kills the beauty of each.
Aha!

I call it jiggling. You jiggle the words and music till they fall into place and sound good together.

Ever play Boggle? If you haven't, it's a word game with a bunch of little letter cubes you shake around to get into square holes in a tray. You jiggle it till all the letters fall into their squares. Then it's ready to play.

Admittedly, song jiggling takes a little more finesse than song writing. But that's part of the fun of it — like solving puzzles.
 
Last edited:

Charlie Bernstein

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Apr 26, 2003
Posts
10,957
Location
Augusta, Maine
I written over 200 songs in the last 60+ years.
Yup, me, too. And it's not like I spend a lot of time at it. (If it were an actual career . . . .)
Some I gave to local bands. Some I've sent to distant bands in other countries. Some I recorded for family and friends.
I don't send 'em anywhere. I do have a friend who sings some of 'em, and he has a great voice. He's also a terrific songwriter himself. We play at pubs, coffee houses, and festivals together.
I've never profited from this gift because that's just the way I look at it. It's a gift I was given and I won't profit from gifts.
For me it's not a gift. (At all! A gift would be being able to hold down a job.) It's just something I like doing.
Yes. I've been thoroughly spoken to about my foolishness in this belief. I've never wavered in this belief and it's to late to worry about it now. That said .....

Songwriting is all about taking something within your mind and making it a reality. I also write short stories and lyrics aren't that much different.
I've written a lot of short stories, but I finally decided they weren't as good as my songs. I still type out a story now and then, but mostly I work on my music.
You have a goal to accomplish within a limited amount of space. You need a beginning , middle and end.
Yes, I notice that's what a lot of new song writers lack. The door in, the door out.
I find it easiest to have a start point and an end point first and then fill in the path taken to get from one to the other. Writers like John Lennon, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams and Harry Nilsson are some of those I've learned from.
Right! Some people complain that it's impossible to outdo the greats we grew up with. I say I've had the world's best teachers: Jagger/Richards, Hunter/Garcia, Laura Nyro, Gil Scott-Heron, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams, Willie Dixon, Dan Hicks . . . .
Melody is key to everything I write and it's also the hardest part for remaining totally original in composition.
Absolutely.
Over the course of a lifetime a writer is exposed to thousands of tunes. Some they remember and some they don't give a second thought about. It's the forgotten melodies that, at the time you heard them, didn't create a solid memory that cause the most trouble for a writer.
Yep. Look at poor George Harrison and "My Sweet Lord."

I try to spot (and hide) my plagiarisms, but sometimes they slip through.
Maybe you forgot them because the lyrics were terrible or the band playing the song did a poor job or you just weren't into that style of music at the time, but, the melody found a secret corner of your brain where it resided until you, assuming a flash of creativity, gave it new life in a new song. During my lifetimes this has happened at least 6 or 7 times and, in each case, though I thought what I'd created was far better and somewhat different from the original, I destroyed them and deleted them from my catalog. I had no idea the influence other writers melodies had on my creativity.
We're all magpies, stealing good stuff to make our nests. No shame there!
I knew Bob Dylan was an inspiration to my lyrical writing but never intended to borrow from "Lay Lady Lay" when I wrote a song I called "The Healer" while stationed in Maine.
Brunswick? Loring? Kittery?
It was a couple of years before someone pointed out the similarities and it hit me hard to the point that I tore up all the writing and never played it again. A few other songs I deleted bore a resemblance to songs by The Doors, Cat Stevens, Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Justin Hayward. I deleted them all and never looked back. I want my material to be totally original
Good if you can do it! I don't think I've come up with an original idea in my life.
and, coming this late into the game, have found that originality in a new format verses originality in a format that has been around for a hundred years or more requires an honesty within the writer and a willingness to discard even the most astounding creations you've come up with.

Lastly ..... Beats, Riffs, Leads and instrumentation. During my first 25 years of songwriting none of these issue existed in my world. I wrote songs. What other people did with them was fine. In the '80s I bought a Fostex 4 Tracker for home recording and suddenly found myself having to make these choices. The later purchase of a Tascam 8 tracker made it all the worse. Up front ..... my songwriting gift does not extend into this area of music production.
Same here. I stick with guitar, pad, and pen until the song is complete. I don't record 'em until they're done.
A song I'd written in 30 minutes could take me multiple days to create a mix I'd be proud of. On top of that .... I wanted the song to sound exactly like I heard it in my head.
Sounds smart. I swing the other way: record a guitar track (always) and a vocal track (usually), then just improvise whatever other tracks the song seems to want, if any. What's called for is obvious once the vocal and first guitar parts (a.k.a. the song itself) are recorded.

And no one I play with is going to copy any of those added tracks, anyway. Guitarists, keyboardists, bassists, blues harpers — they all do whatever comes naturally. The most I ever do is suggest a style — Floyd Cramer, Mark Knofler, eight-to-the-bar, whatever.

So every song sounds new every time, depending on who's playing.
I had no clue on how to play some of the instruments I was hearing. One song required me to rent an Oboe for a full year just to play a short passage in a song I'd written.
Oboes are the coolest.

Similar story: I found a Casio synth at a rummage sale for $3. Can't play keys, but recorded about five songs with it before I sold it (big mega-markup!), and for a guy who can't play keys, the tracks came out okay:

Keyed up

(Hey, I never said I'm a musician!)
Note* Oboes are a double reed instrument and are harder than ***** to learn how to play. It took a year to play what I needed to play but in no way did I master or even come close to being a average student on the Oboe.
Luckily for the rest of us, we have Yusef Lateef records to listen to!
If you can keep your focus on the song itself, as I'm back to doing today because of the demise of tape recording and I can't get my head around digital, you'll write far better songs. I'm back to where I used to be and I'm happy again. Write a melody with lyrics and let whoever wants to play or record it do the rest.
Yup! As I mentioned above somewhere, I envy those Brill Building folks who could bang out a song and throw it to the wind for someone else to catch and run with it.

Interesting comments. Thanks!
 
Last edited:

JustABluesGuy

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Sep 2, 2016
Posts
4,184
Location
Somewhere
Just like Zappa!

He hired the London Philharmonic to play and record one of his tunes. Someone asked him if he really thought it would sell. He said he didn't care. He just wanted to be able to sit at home and listen to it.
I have always played for my own enjoyment first, and often enjoyed musicians who put out music that wasn’t “commercially” viable.

I’m a fan of both Zappa and Neil Young who often put out albums that were commercially successful, but as something of a lifelong “outlier”, I enjoyed them.

I have found that when I write something that I enjoy others (at least those I play with) will also enjoy it. That’s how I know I am doing something right. When other players are grinning and playing great stuff in response.

Whenever one of my band mates complements a particularly good solo I have done, I always turn it back on them, and remind them that my solo can only be as good as the foundation I am playing against. They make it possible me to play my best.
 

schmee

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 2, 2003
Posts
21,895
Location
northwest
Hard part? Getting over being lazy and not getting it done. I start writing and think "meh". Seems a waste of time sometimes, unless we're gonna play it live or record it. We have originals now that we dont play that much.
Obstacles?
Too much has already been done. It's very hard to find new ground that doesn't sound like something else. Yet I see my blues contemporaries writing / recording songs that have those super typical blues rifs and........ I just can't do it!
 

JustABluesGuy

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Sep 2, 2016
Posts
4,184
Location
Somewhere
Yeah, or just as likely for me the same tune my father wrote 30 or 40 years ago.
It’s hard not to plagiarize, even if unintentionally. There are only so many progressions out there.

I wrote one cool progression that I thought was my own creation, but when I played it for my band the lead singer starts sing the words to the mid 70s song that I had inadvertently copied. It really was just a variation of the “50s progression.”

So, it’s still my song, but I do need to add some lyrics, and maybe change it up a bit.
 




Top