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Approach to Songwriting

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by stephanie, Jul 8, 2001.


  1. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Hi Steve,

    Hope the gigs are going well. :)

    Anyway, I was reading through an old thread of mine here (http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=19991) about song length and you went into the process of how to write a tune and all.

    So I was interested in what your approach to songwriting is? Specifically things like: Do you go for 'the feel' first? Do you write out with a layout in mind?...stuff like that.

    As I've mentioned, I'm almost done with that first song of mine. (Actually I am done, it just needs to be written down on some paper). It just got me thinking: I spent about 3 months working on one song that's only about 2 minutes and haven't really so much as written/recorded any ideas for other songs in that period of time. This seems rather long to finish a song, maybe only b/c I haven't written anything else.

    I'm afraid I'm going about songwriting wrong. It took a long time to get this one down. This song started with 2 notes that popped in my head that sounded nice together and I just took it from there. Still don't even know what chords I'm playing. LOL. :D (I think that's b/c there seems to be a lot of just me playing the notes of the scale and me playing around with thirds...well...and octaves too. :)).

    Another thing is I'm afraid I'm leaving out 'feeling' in my songwriting. And I can't even figure out why b/c feeling is all important to me...Is there a possibility that I'm letting too much technical stuff get in the way? (I found myself analyzing my composition, making sure things were 'technically' right). I want to be able to write the kind of music that I 'can get lost in', you know what I mean?

    Well, any advice, as always, is appreciated. Hope others here will give their approach to songwriting as well...especially if you are solo. :)

    Thanks, :)

    ~Stephanie
     
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Steph,

    I'm currently in the middle of a rather inspiring tour, so any thoughts I have at the moment on the song-writing process are all jumbled up with the stuff relating to the free improvising that Michael, Rick and myself are doing (if you haven't already, please go and have a read of the Solo Bass Looping Festival Tour Diary as posted on the www.talkbass.com front page).

    Bottom line is, there are no set rules - any approach is fair game, and how you feel about it is all that really matters. However, it's fairly rare that one sits down with an instrument and just comes up with stuff that has no precedent in ones playing, so it's cool to have parameters within which to work. I often start with a bunch of words - musical terms, emotion words, abstract words. I don't write them down, but you can - think 'chordal' 'melodic' 'random' 'comedy' 'sad' 'angry' 'spikey' 'funky' 'ambient'... whatever - just take that word or those words are a starting point. As we discussed in the non-musical influences thread, you've got to have stuff outside of music that helps to shape what you do, or you are indeed stuck with scales and chords and arpeggios and all that stuff that makes it harder to think it terms of feelings if that's what's at the front of you mind.

    The trick is to make the connection between the two. If you listen to the tracks from my album, many of them are largely in one key - the opening tune 'The Inner Game' is 99% in G Major - there are a couple of outside notes at the end, just for fun, but it's a diatonic tune. That's not really what I was thinking of when I played it, but I'm familiar enough with diatonic harmony to be able to play what I was hearing without having to fumble around looking for the chords outside the key - I knew as the tune was progressing that it was going to stay in one key.

    At the moment I'm really into extremes - music of great simplicity and music of great tension and power - we've done a few things in the improv trio sets on this tour that have linked the two rather effectively.

    Free improv is a whole other area, and I'll post some stuff about that, when we finish the tour, and have time to sit down and think through what on earth we've been doing for the last few nights. But the really cool thing has been that we haven't repeated any material, we haven't revisited any themes from previous shows, and the whole vibe of each show has been different - one night was a lot of ambient funk and drum 'n' bass stuff, another was really out and dark, last night contained a lot of nice melodic mellow stuff, with some tribal pounding as well... We are recording a lot of the shows, so hopefully will have an album's worth of material by the end of it...

    have fun - set your self realistic boundaries and enjoy! :oops:)

    Thanks to all the TB people who've come up to say hi on the tour - it's been great to meet you!

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  3. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Steve, and glad to hear all that's going on with the tour! :)

    As for the songwriting, the thing was that I was so afraid that I was too bottled up in technique and theory (quite addicted to learning all that I can I must say. LOL) that I wasn't allowing myself room for free thought, feelings, and, yes, improvisation (which I've had some difficulty with in improvising walking bass lines).

    But I'm realizing now, not to worry about it. Tonight a whole new idea for a song popped into my head. Well, I was just 'fiddling' around with my bass in-between practicing my lesson. (Now there's something: I was practicing an etude and it was just one note that I played and I drifted off into something else! :D). I came up with a nice little phrase.

    Does it seem sometimes that the best ideas come when you're not thinking about them?

    Cheers,

    ~Stephanie
     
  4. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    The tour was great, thanks Steph - hopefully there'll be some music from it available soon...

    Part of the zen of composition (not wanting to sound to arty, but still...) is that it's very difficult to engineer great songs - that's not to stay that there isn't a craft to it, and that you can't hone your skills, but that intangible element that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up doesn't come in a bottle. There are some bands who seem to manage it consistently - Del Amitri write the best middle 8s of any band since the Beatles (IMHO) - most of their song build to this great climax in the middle 8, and I'm sure there's a formula to it, I just haven't worked it out yet, but there's still something magical about what happens...

    For me, it works like you say, when I'm not really thinking about it too hard, or when I'm thinking about something else. My own two favourite tunes of mine are both linked with bereavement, so maybe that's where I draw my best inspiration from. I hope not - I don't want to end up waiting for people close to me to die before I come up with music that I like, but it does seem that way at the moment.

    Free improv, like we've been doing in the trio on this tour, is another great way of coming up with ideas, as you're only in control of your part of the sound, so you're sort of wrestling with the sound that's already there... I'll write more about free improv when I get back to the UK - I fly out of LA this evening, land 3pm UK time on Thursday and have a gig Thursday night - can anyone say 'Jetlag'??????

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  5. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    The tour was great, thanks Steph - hopefully there'll be some music from it available soon...

    Part of the zen of composition (not wanting to sound to arty, but still...) is that it's very difficult to engineer great songs - that's not to stay that there isn't a craft to it, and that you can't hone your skills, but that intangible element that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up doesn't come in a bottle. There are some bands who seem to manage it consistently - Del Amitri write the best middle 8s of any band since the Beatles (IMHO) - most of their song build to this great climax in the middle 8, and I'm sure there's a formula to it, I just haven't worked it out yet, but there's still something magical about what happens...

    For me, it works like you say, when I'm not really thinking about it too hard, or when I'm thinking about something else. My own two favourite tunes of mine are both linked with bereavement, so maybe that's where I draw my best inspiration from. I hope not - I don't want to end up waiting for people close to me to die before I come up with music that I like, but it does seem that way at the moment.

    Free improv, like we've been doing in the trio on this tour, is another great way of coming up with ideas, as you're only in control of your part of the sound, so you're sort of wrestling with the sound that's already there... I'll write more about free improv when I get back to the UK - I fly out of LA this evening, land 3pm UK time on Thursday and have a gig Thursday night - can anyone say 'Jetlag'??????

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk