from head to page and back again

lyricscomposing a song can come about in various ways. usually my method is to have a piece of music, perhaps not too shaped and ready, but usable as a background template for some lyrics. occasionally i have the words ready first and have to find some music to put them to, but my norm is to work on the words with a tune in mind. when working on the tune itself i often mumble at specific points, sometimes a word or phrase. the tune i’m working on at the moment is about two minutes long and has the accompanying words “i fall… into…”, (mumble mumble…) “feeling like i…”, “and i…” …and that’s it! at some point i’m going to have to knead it into shape and make sense of it.

this process can take time. while living in cornwall i stepped out of the house and was struck by the wonderful day outside, all in an instant, spellbound. i was two steps away from the car, but i couldn’t move for about ten seconds while it all washed over me. my mind took a detailed snapshot. i knew there was a song implanted somewhere in my brain and one day i’d be able to coax it out. some months later i found some chords, well, not chords as such, more like some finger positions that i liked the sound of. i knew this music could go with the latent lyrics waiting to get out, but couldn’t force the issue. then one day, while living in dartmouth, i was heading to work in totnes on the school bus, kids screaming, the window all steamed up, head fuzzy with my morning haze, when it hit me. one after another words streamed out of my head forming lines, making sense, becoming clear. i kept repeating them as they formed, growing into lines, into sentences, until halfway to totnes i had two complete verses – essentially the entire song. i then had to memorise them for the rest of the journey, with all the kids yelling and larking around, until i got to the office, where i could write them down. i had no instrument with me, but i knew they’d work and the song was, at last, complete! the song is ‘inside deep thought‘ and took about two years from inception to completion.

once the music and lyrics are formed i have a song and i can sing it over and over to get the intonation as i want, develop the dynamics of the tune and become confident with its delivery. this is not always the case. more recently i’ve felt less inclined to complete songs. why should i? what’s it for? i don’t have a recording contract and i don’t gig, so why bother? still, there’s some satisfaction to be derived from completing a song and having a simple home studio has re-ignited a desire to lay my songs down. especially as i appear to have forgotten some of them! this has lead to a surprise resurgence of inspiration and i’m very happy to have written some new material.

clear light‘ started life with the words “if i feel…” and “if i see…”, nothing more, not even an idea of what it was about. feelings, perhaps? i always knew there was a spot for a rap in the middle and that frightened the life out of me. i don’t rap. so even when i sussed what the theme was about and wrote the verses for the song, i left the rap well alone, which is all very well until it’s time to record…

on the day, having laid down a drum track, bass, the guitar parts and delivered the main vocals, sung out loud for the first time, there was no other option but to ‘do the rap’. i sat outside in the garden with a beer and began writing. oddly enough, the words came quite easily and i muttered them under my breath to check the metre. happy with them, i went back indoors and ran the song a few times to familiarise myself with what i had to do, then pressed record. after a few passes i reckoned i had enough to go on and got down to some mixing. eventually, i put the track up on soundcloud, along with two others i’d recorded. three songs in three days. impressive. until i auditioned them a few times. then it became apparent that the vocals were the weakest link, not simply due to a weak voice, but mainly due to lack of practise. both the verses and the rap suffer from a lack of assuredness. singing them for the first time it’s audible that i’m feeling my way through the tune and discovering live how the words marry with the music. fine for a sketch, but not the standard to deliver to the world.

and so i’ve learnt a valuable lesson and that is to practise and not stop re-recording something until i’m happy with the result. i really enjoyed the recording session, but my time was limited and so i raced forward to get as much done as possible, when i should have achieved less, but of a higher quality. now i’m faced with the task of going back and re-doing the vocals if i want to feel any real satisfaction with the result. even as a demo.

so, i have a new mission for the next track – make it something i can be proud of and don’t stop until i’m satisfied.

in the words of bob dylan: “and i’ll know my song well before i start singing” – a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

check out the results for yourself on my soundcloud page: angels and devils set

p.s. at some point i plan to redo the vocals on ‘clear light‘, ‘be my eyes‘ and any other song that annoys me too much, then replace them on soundcloud.

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