I Write The Songs

After a recent conversation that I had about various songwriting tendencies and strategies, I thought it would be a fun topic to throw up a quick blog about.

Music, like most art forms, is a subjective medium for both the creator and the critic. I think one of the most beautiful things about music in general is that there is never really a right or wrong. There is only what appeals to each individual. For every "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan, there is a "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas that garners as much (if not more) commercial success and fanatical popularity. (My Humps was just voted the worst song ever in a recent poll that I ran across, although 'I'd venture to guess that Fergie's financial advisor might disagree.)

In the days before I ever started writing my own songs, I used to believe that songwriting was a craft with very rigid and discernible boundaries that the writers needed to conform to. I thought there was a correct way to do it, and I just assumed that every songwriter somehow just "got" it. As a young lad, I couldn't have imagined that all the classic songs that I loved listening to began as anything other than the veritable perfection that I perceived in the finished products. In my mind, Stairway to Heaven could only have spontaneously manifested in it's entirety as the epic song that I knew. Nirvana's entire catalog must have been completely conceived in Kurt Cobain's mind exactly the way it sounded on the CD's I bought. Hendrix just sat down to write a song one day, and out comes Little Wing straight into the tape machine... right?

The first time that I specifically remember this mystical facade of songcraft being shattered, was during my rabid consumption of everything the band Sublime released during (and immediately after the end of) the bands original incarnation.
I was a big fan of Sublime, and I knew every song inside out.
As singer/guitarist/songwriter Bradley Nowell died shortly before their self-titled album catapulted the band from relative So-Cal obscurity into mainstream popularity, his bandmates/label released and re-released a good handful of songs after his death. Most of these were outtakes, demos, acoustic versions, and old or unfinished songs.
As I checked all this "new" stuff out, I heard familiar things. A line from a song I already knew in the middle of a song I had never heard before, a vocal melody that I knew but was comprised of different lyrics, and sometimes entire song structures that seemed to have been completely cannibalized by the songwriter himself.
It's one of those times in life that I think of now as a bit of a "light bulb moment". Those times when something clouded in mystery suddenly becomes just a little more transparent.
After this curtain was lifted in my mind, it made writing songs into an intriguing creative process rather than a single unreachable "Ahh Ha!" moment of definitive conception. Today, I'm still somewhat of a novice when it comes to having any particular songwriting technique. I have no idea what works the best for me. Sometimes I'll start with a guitar part and try to build a song around it, other times I'll have an entire song's worth of lyrics before anything else, and then there are the times that I just can't stop humming a melody to myself all day and I have to get it out of my head somehow. But no matter how it starts, it's almost a given that I'll never feel like a song is set in stone (As the old saying goes, "art is never truly finished, it is all just a matter of when it was abandoned"). The majority of my songs have alternate versions, and I'm often working on at least two versions of the same song at the same time. My song "So Fine" is a great example of how fluid the process can be, in that I had a vastly different version of it nearly finished for the album before spontaneously scrapping it. It was light, bouncy, and acoustic guitar and piano driven. But it just didn't feel right to me. So I kept the drums and the lyrics, and just started over and out came the song that has now been heard by tens of fans all over the world.

As I'm coming to terms with my incessant tweaking and sometimes quite dramatic changes to the songs I'm working on, I'm planning to experiment with letting fans in on the process in some new fun and interactive ways. Something like posting two different versions of the same song and letting you choose which one I move forward with for the next album. Sometimes the trees block my view of the proverbial forest, so who better to give me insight on a song than the ones who I hope will like it in the end?

Anyway, that's it for now. There's a pillow calling my name. 

Not literally. I mean, holy shit. If I really thought I heard a pillow calling my name, I'd be calling for a freakin' ambulance right now instead of continuing to peck away at the keyboard with my three typing-fingers. Until next time,

Mike                 

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