Songwriting Diaries Part One: Why songwriting is a bit like like making pizza
Updated: Mar 2
I have learned that songs usually come to me in a space of quiet, often after some sort of stimulation. So walks and concerts are good, because there is some movement followed by a good chunk of quiet. There's also a lack of access to blockers like TV and other intrusive noises and admin. If I have peace and quiet before bed, and do some yoga, I'll often wake up to a song. Yoga is magic- I don't understand why it works so well, but it does.
So make some quiet space and you may be pleasantly surprised by what comes your way.
My quiet yoga place (and very loud socks). I practice with Juliana at Boho Beautiful
She's a lovely Canadian who travels the world with her husband making stunning videos.
It's not just about waiting for inspiration. When I was younger, I hadn't realised just how much creativity lives in the nuts and bolts of things. I remember being fascinated, and slightly outraged, listening to female composer Debbie Wiseman on Desert Island Discs once. She said that she simply went to the piano every morning at quarter to six and got started. The cheek of it! Everyone knows that to make art you need to sit around or do crazy things until something inspires you.
Nope. You can influence things by consciously making that space of quiet, and tuning in to the music (and all the other good things) that come along.
Once you get the hang of it, you can actually start to set some intention about what type of music you'd like to receive. This is very helpful being a professional songwriter, as people do tend to want a song about what they've asked you to honour, not one about random things. If left to my own devices I tend to write mainly about the sea, or birds. I also do a good line in folksongs with no words.
There's a very long caption coming up about the sea. You might want to skip it and read it after the songwriting blog!
The sea. This is Fleetwood, in Lancashire, a lovely spot where my family have worked with the sea for many generations. Alfie Boe is from here, there's a blue plaque to him by the deckchairs in the marine hall. We loved his homecoming gig at the football club in 2018, the whole town came. He was amazing, playing country songs on his guitar and wearing his Fleetwood Town shirt. My Dad is a volunteer with the coastwatch here, a total hero who saves human and doggy lives from the dangerous tides of Morecambe Bay.
Christy Moore and lyricist Kevin Littlewood wrote a beautiful song about the bay, to honour the Chinese cocklers whose lives ended there. Me and my Uncle Dave like to sing it at the warm and earthy open mic night on Thursdays at The Old Well Inn in Barnard Castle. You can share the friendly atmosphere and hear some of the musicians by joining the Barney Musicians Share group.
And back to the songs! Shaping the song in this way is why, if you commission me to write one for you, I'll have a really good chat with you over several cups of tea. I'll enjoy listening to your stories, and all about the people and places that are important to you. I love looking through old photographs and, being a singer, the rhythms of your voice, accent and the unique turns of phrase that make you you.
I let all of those wonderful things percolate in my head, then I simply sit quietly with those sounds and images in my mind, and the main body of the song usually comes to me quite quickly. I like to think of this stage as the pizza base. It's the real soul of the song that everything else can be layered on, and tinkered with if necessary. But the base is where it all starts and that will stay the same throughout the writing process.
Love and Joy, a song inspired by the wedding of two beautiful people, Leo and Alice.
Then it's on to recording a sketch of this base idea (putting it in the oven), developing ideas around it (stirring the rich, flavourful sauce), editing them (choosing the pizza toppings), finishing them (putting the toppings on in the tastiest ratio) and finally, notating it (putting it in the pizza box ready to deliver to you)!
I'll talk about how I do all these things in future blogs, so please look out for them on social media, or subscribe to the blog for an earlybird delivery.
Thank you for reading, you can find out more about song commissions here.
I wish you lots of delicious music, and inspiring pizza!
Ps. If you do go to Fleetwood, pick up a takeaway from one of my Uncle's fish and chip shops Senior's to eat on the beach. He does lots of swanky fishy things and excellent chips. My great uncle was a fish merchant, and when the fishing industry stopped Uncle Ricky diversified. My cousins each run one now. I will stop talking about the seaside now- like so many people at the moment I'm missing my family, and my childhood home, by the sea.