How can the power of music make us move and dance, make us travel in our mind, make us learn, cry and grow, and entertain us in so many ways? The power of music is almost limitless. What would be life without music?
Music is magic. As any magician apprentice knows: with magical powers always comes great responsibility! Ok, I am just kidding… more or less… But I believe that as artists, creators of magic, we have a beautiful mission and that we can help make the world a better place, in so many ways. Music makes the world a better place.
Those who are experienced at songwriting know of this calling. When you have a song inside that NEEDS to go out! I tend to see this stage, not as a blank state or an empty page, like it is often represented, but as having in front of me a block of stone waiting to be carved.
Why is it not a blank state? Because we rarely create songs out of nothing. Just sitting there in front of a blank paper with the intention “now I am going to write a song” is rarely how song ideas usually comes to us. Walking outside, reading a story or some poetry, learning new chords or complicated jazz theory, learning a song of another artist and making your own version… Travelling the world or just going out in your backyard and listen to the birds… These are just some of the numerous ways to find inspiration.
Inspiration comes, you never know when or where and it’s like the magical spark that creates fireworks. But you have to pay attention when it happens. It can be a phrase a stranger says.. it could be anything. In the OUS group I like to observe what are the sources of inspiration people have, they are so diverse and sometimes unexpected!
Your initial inspiration, whatever it is (an idea, a melody, a feeling, some chords you love, a story, a person, a phrase or just a few words…) is your starting point. This starting point is to the songwriter, what the rough stone is to the sculptor.
Starting from an initial inspiration, we carve out a song. How to manifest our inspiration, at first? One of my favorite quote, from Dune, seems very fitting here:
” A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” .
So very true about any endeavour and especially about music!
It is true about the start of a song and also about the way we start working on them. Do we rush to finish a song or do we take our time to start it? In this aspect we are all different and there is no “correct” amount of time one should spend on a song, each song is unique and we never know how long it will take to complete it! The sculptor sometimes spends a very long amount of time to polish his work!
The fastest song I ever wrote took less than 5 minutes. On the other hand, the longest time it took me to complete a song was more than 15 years. Both have a long story… maybe for another blog…
When we have our starting point, our inspiration, the rest of the song usually revolves around it. We don’t have to start with the beginning! Sometimes we can make the chorus first (or even the end!) and then create the rest after, but when there are lyrics in music they almost always become the focal point of the song. The music should usually reflect the feeling inside the lyrics, unless the point is to make a contrast with them. When there are no lyrics, the music can be more abstract. Just like the way an abstract painting differs from figurative art. Both have rhythm and meaning in their own way. Both are fun to create!
I like to see a song or piece of music like a work of architecture. Every brick serves a purpose and there are repetitions, patterns, symmetries, proportions and shapes, all related to the core intention of the piece and all having their own individual meaning in the body of the music. Like cells to a living being. When you have worked with many patterns in music you come to know what patterns creates what effects. The more tricks in your bag you have, the greater your songs can become. That is why I think one of the greatest trick to make better songs is to learn to play songs of other artists (did someone say do some covers?) and especially the songs of the past masters. A great way to improve our lyrics is to read and write poetry.
I feel a song is complete when I cannot possibly take anything off the song. When I cannot take off any word, any note or chord, when each part of it are essential to the whole. Just like a house of cards if you take a chord off, the song falls apart! Before to get there we can try many ideas, and some will be discarded along the way and some will stay in the final version of the piece.
Someone once told me that in music the most important notes are not always those that we play, but sometimes those that we don’t play! This means the silences are very important, they are to music what darkness or emptiness is to color and shape, they are the necessary contrast. But it also meant that all the ideas that we discard, all the notes that we decided not to play, all this is an important part of the song too, an important part of the process it’s creation.
The notes not played and the unspoken words, can sometimes be part of the song, shinning by their absence. Words can be said and others can be understated, same for notes, chords and melodies. If a song is architecture, I would compare this stage to making our pyramid grow into an holographic multi-dimension space that the eyes cannot see. Some dimensions of the songs are bein played in the air and some are only in the mind of the listener, creating a more personal and unique experience for each. What I mean by that is simple: play and say less and leave more to the imagination.
When you have your song all written down and your composition and orchestration all figured out you have finished the composition stage. It is that stage when the sculptor has taken off any unnecessary rock and reveals the final form of the piece.
Then… it’s not exactly finished… many things can still enhance the sculpture or the music, like an stand for the sculpture, a special polish, a frame for a painting or a quality recording for a song with great musicians playing it.
Even after that, it is not necessarily over for a song. A great song will live far beyond it’s recording. It will played and replayed again with different musicians and orchestrations, in different times and moods. It will be mixed and remixed in different ways. Solos will be added and.. people will make covers on their ukulele of their favorite song 😉
Keep on creating new songs and share the magic!