Songwriting

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Photo: Consulting the magic 8-ball on a critical decision with Lenedra.

So the low-down on the down-low is that I’m booking flights for some travel later in May which I’m sure I will talk about when it happens; I saw a seal at the beach the other day (it was in the water, I was on the sand) and could you please cease the barrage of messages checking on whether the rumors generated by the E! True Hollywood Story are correct. You know they are false, false, false and, honestly, I’m offended that you even needed to ask.

Foremost in my thoughts of late has been songwriting. I’ve recently been working on some new songs and I’m always surprised by how much that process teaches me. The more I write the more I find that, for me at least, it’s a balancing act between allowing the spark of creativity to generate something new and the persistence that’s required in bringing that vision into its full expression. I say it feels like a balancing act because too great a focus on those spontaneous sparks of creativity produces pages of words and melodies but nothing that could ever be called a song. And getting too caught up in the process of bringing those ideas together into a coherent piece of music can stifle the energy of a song.

Talking with other songwriters, I find that everyone’s process is different. For me, there will be times where music and ideas come freely and I’ll rush to record them, developing them as far as I am able at the time. It often segues into a process of trying to fit the raw energy of the song into a format that works. Something that wants to be expressed needs to be translated into a song, and it’s the translation that takes the time and persistence: the initial impressions happen so innocently that it’s easy to dismiss and not even pursue them, so I find it necessary to balance that flow of impressions with exploring and experimenting with the ones that grab me.

But it’s also easy to become stubborn and get stuck in the mode of fleshing out a song without allowing any new ideas into the mix. It happened recently on a new song, “Whisper from the dark,” that really came to life only this morning. I thought I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to express so I just kept writing and writing, certain that I would find the fit that felt right. But it wasn’t happening: no matter how close I came to getting it, it always fell short. So I had done all I could for the time being and I let it rest.

But this morning some new ideas hit me: a slightly different take on what I was wanting to bring through in the song surfaced and it felt right. I sat down with my good old red guitar (pictured below) and pen and am really excited by what came out. Allowing some space for the song to grow meant that something new could come through – something bigger than the direction that I was heading in before. And now I’m enjoying bringing these new ideas into their full expression.

Which is another opportunity that songwriting, or I assume any creative endeavor, offers: it can, at times, reveal something that was previously hidden. By staying open and following the natural direction of the song, piece of art, conversation, journal entry or whatever it may be (or blog, as well, I’m finding), we’re led to a new understanding or a new perspective. “Whisper from the dark” is now growing into something I hadn’t expected and a feeling that I was only vaguely aware of before is now fully coming to life in the song.

There’s so much that can be said about the creative process, and each person I talk to has his or her own take on it. Everyone’s different. In 2004 I was lucky enough to meet Joe Mardin, a wonderful guy and acclaimed producer based in New York, who at different times during that year very generously gave me feedback on songs that I would occasionally email to him. It took me some time to grasp the essence of his advice, but one day the simplest comment he made brought it all together and it clicked. It shifted my whole view of songwriting. But this blog is getting a little lengthy so maybe I’ll leave that experience for another time. And if anyone has anything to say about songwriting or any creative process or life in 2007 please feel free to share it. Happy May Day.

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Above: Just chillin’

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Above: In the flesh

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