Songwriter Diaries part 2- How to get your songs out of your head, and into the world!
Songs can, and do, appear any time, anywhere. As a professional songwriter, I'm always prepared for songwriting with my brilliant portable recording device- my mobile phone!
Your mobile phone- a brilliant portable recording device
A simple 30 second video is enough for me to make a sketch. I have lots of videos of the floor, the kettle (tea breaks are very important for composers) and the inside of my car (my portable composing office and quiet space). It really doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing, this isn't for Youtube! It's only the audio that matters, it’s just a tool for you to use in your songwriting.
I like my tools in brand colours :)
The first recording of a composition is very instinctive. When I have my songwriter hat on, I give no thought to the quality of my singing voice or polishing of any kind- it's just about getting the idea down. This is a composer skill that can quickly be improved with practice. When I first started songwriting, there was a big difference in the quality of my voice between the unrecorded song and the recorded composition. This is because I got shy of performing in front of myself (who I've known for a while) and my phone (an inanimate object). I'm over it now!
My songwriting voice frequently sounds like a tiny, slightly hoarse, fairy.
(A tiny fairy)
This is because I’m often in bed about to go to sleep when I have an idea for a song and start composing- so I’m lying down and trying to be quiet, neither of which are ideal for vocal tone (ask any singing teacher!)
It's a work in progress. Perfection is not the goal. The songwriting process is like a funnel- if you try to narrow down your composition too soon, you risk your idea being squashed, through an uncomfortably small tube. As a songwriter, your job is to keep the essence of your idea alive. And don't worry if what you record is entirely different from the composition in your head or what you sang in the shower (an essential passtime for songwriters!) Water really works for me when I’m composing- I’m like a composer version of the magic eggs in Harry Potter. Put me in water and music will come out!
Shower time is creative time!
Like writing prose or poetry, new things often come out when you perform the physical action of putting pen to paper, or in this case when you are recording your singing or playing. If it's meant to be, the original melody will weave its way back into your songwriting eventually, or it may turn up in an entirely different composition in two year’s time and utterly confound you! Like when you finally remember a lovely detail of a really good night out, or where your keys might be!
Here's my keys! Get it?!
The 'pressure' of recording during the songwriting process (even though it's only to your largely non judgemental phone) sharpens your songwriter mind, forcing you to make split second decisions on instinct. This is why I don't notate compositions at this point, or I'd have a geeky composer party and start looking at note shapes and try to make patterns that my inner composing voice has no interest in!
I love patterns!
I use my voice to write with, not just because I'm a singer songwriter, but because it requires no translation. Though you may not sing every day (2 questions- how do you get through the day, and what on earth do you do in the shower?!), most people do talk every day (if only to the dog- yes, this is very much a lockdown blog!).
Me and my lovely assistant, Jay.
So, the chances are you're already a skilled vocalist, and unless you are very fluent in an instrument, singing or humming are good choices for a songwriter. Humming is a very good composer vehicle, as there's less commitment- no one judges a hum! You can then go in with an 'ooo' or an 'ahh’ once you get into your songwriting flow.
Vowel sounds are good tools for songwriters to use. Personally, I often like a bit of consonant to take the edge off - ‘baaa’ and ‘faaa’ are favourite songwriting sounds. This is also the only situation where I enjoy a dipthong (don’t worry, it’s not rude!) and I may use a 'bi-eee' or a 'row-oo' from time to time. Anything goes here- you are the composer and you want to be more bel-can-o rather then bel-can't-o at this point (thanks- I really do appreciate your mild amusement!) All is fair in love and composing.
These guys know their vowel sounds!
I quite like minimal words in songs, I'm with Mendelsson on that one (a composer who wrote lots of songs without words). That's why as a singer I perform so much choral music, there are hardly any words, and when there are they are usually the same ones and you just say them over and over again!
However, as a professional songwriter, when people commission me to write about their wedding and other special occasions, words are very important. So I often hook words onto the sounds I compose. It actually makes perfect sense for a singer to choose words for their pretty vowel sounds, and if you're not a singer, the singer who performs your composition will thank you. If you need a singer for your compositions, I’m here for you!
Singing? Yes please! This is me performing with Dr Jose Garcia Miralles, he's a real guitar hero- check out my Instagram to learn more about his brilliant work.
After the first recording of your composition is done, you need to record it again- straight away. Timing is critical, because remember- as a songwriter, you want to capture the essence of the melody you have composed, not what your rational brain thinks it should sound like. So you’ve got to be quick, because your rational brain can be very swift to pour water on wonderful things (like a soggy cheetah!)
Beware the soggy cheetah!
At this second stage in the songwriting process, I allow my voice to improvise around the main theme of the composition. I don’t push it in any particular direction, I just let my inner composer voice go where it wants to go.
I've got used to my songwriting voice now. I fully accept that sprites engineer it between it coming out of my head, out of my mouth and back in through my ear (because how else could the two sound so different?!) The difference is now, as a professional singer, I can consciously shape my voice, so that I actually prefer the one that comes back into my ear. Singing is magic! (there's also a lot of science - which I can share with you in a singing lesson).
We love science!