I’ve had some requests for a look into my songwriting process. I’ll start off with this- There is no right or wrong way to write a song. In fact, people who don’t think of themselves as songwriters can write a song. I got an email just a few days ago from someone that illustrates this point. He said, “I know this is going to sound strange, but I wrote a song while listening to your music (and I am not a songwriter…).”
I take this as a huge compliment, and it brings me to one of the ways I write songs- pure inspiration. Sometimes I hear a story, or an existing song, or something so strikingly beautiful in nature that it stirs up a strong emotion in me. If it’s strong enough, that feeling comes out as a melody, usually linked with an immediate single lyric phrase or two. After the initial inspiration fades, I’m left with a start to a song that I have to sit with and think about over time. It may take months. Or years. The last thing I finish is the lyrics, and there is only one case in which I wrote an entire song start to finish. That song is “Long Dark Hallelujah”.
Less often, I come at songs with what seems like a more traditional approach where the lyrical idea for the song is mapped out in story form. Say, I’m going to start writing a song about my grandmother who just turned ninety-two last Wednesday and how she’s been driving a car up until six months ago scaring the crap out of everyone. (This is really the first story that popped into my head just now, and it happens to be true.)
Anyway, If I decide to go a story inspired route, it’s usually a combination of true and imagined events. I was fourteen when I wrote my first song. It wasn’t very good, but that’s when I began to fall in love with the power of melody, so I kept doing it. To this day, the melody is the first thing that jumps out at me when I listen to a song, and I suppose that all makes sense to me now. The lyrics are definitely harder to come by. The magical moments are really magical, and other times I’m banging my head against a wall trying to find the right words. I guess there’s a reason they call it the songwriting “process”, and I’ve come to love it more and more as time goes on.