On Songwriting



  • Tatosh GuitarTatosh Guitar Posts: 1,709
    Wow. Great thread. And now me, the one guy who has never written a song in his life, wishes he did. 

    This is the type of stuff that makes me love this forums.
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,493
    Amy, I have some ancillary questions based on some of the examples you mentioned.

    1. What level of skill (and what particular skill is it) is required to effectively paste multiple seemingly-unrelated parts together so that it forms a successful song? 

    2. How much does that success depend on an already-established, loving audience that is usually willing to accept anything from you?  If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

    You mentioned Band on the Run, but along similar lines, you could also mention A Day in the Life, and Live and Let Die from Macca, where he has routinely either pasted disjointed ideas together as in the first two, or inserted one as in LALD.

    The other person who does these kinds of things frequently is Tony Iommi, who will often tacks seemingly unrelated riffs together, and his transitions -- he often just plows right into them. If he's feeling subtle, a drum fill might separate these parts.  

    Now clearly, both McCartney and Iommi have established, willing, receptive audiences (though you could argue Sabbath 1 (before they had that audience) is full of such twists and turns that defy common pop structure.  But Iommi's riffs are often GREAT hooks, and of course, Paul is Paul.  

    So are these songs' success defined merely by mass acceptance? Whether it's a one chord song like Everyday People, or one of these things that feel pasted together. 

    3. Why do they work? Are they good songs for legit compositional reasons, or merely because we get used to them?

    And while we're talking more about traditional pop form, I will use prog as an example to illustrate the point. Because this multi-song part approach is extremely common in prog. And you can say these are "pieces of music" -- suites, closer to classical to concepts than pop song form. And that's valid.  But . . .

    Is, for example, Heart of the Sunrise really "a great song" the very first time you hear it? Or is just mindblowing musicianship? Even the most casual listener will know they've heard something very complex.  And it's neither hooky, nor catchy in the traditional sense.  No one is singing along with stuff like that immediately, and the groove may not be consistent enough to even tap your foot to (hello, Dream Theater).  It takes a willing listener several listens before the multiple parts start feeling familiar enough to get a real feel for where the grooves and the very subtle hooks are.  But over time it becomes ingrained to the point one can know it inside out -- on many levels. 

    Now the Macca and Iommi stuff usually have more groove, hooks, and less twists and turns than most prog, so it's more immediately accessible. But don't the same principles apply? The first time you hear Band on the Run, you're not expecting what you get. But I was pretty sure it was a great song immediately.  But I'm not sure I can articulate why. Hence question 1 above.  

    I once wrote a song (which you sang on and added some ideas to) called So Far to Go, that was basically two separate songs pasted together ala McCartney. Was it a successful marriage of parts from a songwriting standpoint? Or would it require a large, willing audience to validate it? Question 1 above. 

    btw, I still like that old song, though there are some rough spots in that old mix as I was still learning how to mix. 
    I ain't falling for no banana in the tailpipe.
  • inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,591
            Damn. I just write what comes into my head. The hardest part for me is recreating what I hear in my head into something I can share with the rest of the world. For me a moment of inspiration creates something better than any formula for songwriting.
            I've written style specific songs per request for different players, bands, etc. and in those cases I use an open formula creating melody, one instruments part, then the next and the next and finish with the lyrics. This type of writing is much harder for me and I sometimes have to trash three or four tries before I come up with something good.
           For me songs that come out of nowhere and feel trapped inside my head begging for release turn out to be the best of my best. I think of them as gifts that just need to be fleshed out. I don't know where they come from and couldn't really help or explain to someone else how this works. It just happens.
  • Interesting.  Guitar Player just put out an article called 10 Hit makers on Song writing and they are:

    Jimi Hendrix (from a 1970 article)
    Bonnie Raitt,
    Rick Nielsen
    Chris Cronell
    Chrissie Hynde
    Neil Finn
    Duke Erikson
    Robbie Robertson
    Ray Davies
    Keith Richards

    You read all the time how so many can tell you why something shouldn't work and in the case of music, hindsight isn't 20/20.  The article is worth the price of the magazine.    

    "These riffs were built to last a lifetime." Keith Richards B)


    Squier Army
    Schecter Society

  • Dr NickDr Nick Posts: 3,556
    edited July 2018
    I suck at songwriting, partly because although I often get ideas, I pretty much invariably think "that sounds too much like ------" and never take it further. 

    I've written something recently for a youth camp (I'm in charge of the music), but it was specifically written to sound "latin", so I stole the Santana feel, the Tribe of Gypsies style melody lines, bits of Maná, and combined the lot. 
    Totally formulaic. 

    My son is desperate to write, but has no confidence in lyrics and can't find a writing partner. Full of guitar and rhythmic ideas though. 
    (off topic)
    And sad oldie that I am, I've just posted a vid of his drumming, see what you think.
    Post edited by Dr Nick on
  • inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,591
           When I get a song in my head I just know I have to keep I use the same steps today as I did 50 years ago. I grab some staff paper with blank chord diagram boxes above and proceed to write out the first line of lyrics followed by the chord forms followed by the melody notation on the staff. Being able to remember the melody, lyrics and chords allows me all the time I might require to come back later to create any other instrument parts, harmonies, etc.
           If anyone has ever seen those old scraps of paper with hand written lyrics from this or that songwriter with little notes about higher / lower / refrain / repeat hash marks or whatever ....... it may be outdated but if I'm in a restaurant or someones house or a park or whatever and don't have staff paper I write on whatever's available. Napkins, paper cups or  trash paper blowing by the picnic table. If there's no other choice I'll write on the nearest tabletop, wall, floor, window or anything in reach.
           Note* ..... Some hosts don't realize the importance of my endeavor. I don't mean for this to be gender specific but I've found that wive's, (far more than husbands), have a very hard time understanding why I was scribbling on their hard wood dining table while enjoying the third course. I've also learned not to say ...... well if there were more napkins ........

           So no. Ever since recording gear switched from analog tape to digital I just don't try. Apparently I'm digitally challenged. I will admit that if I'm hit with the gift / idea of a killer "out of nowhere" song while I'm playing in my studio I'll kick on my Ditto loop pedal to record a verse of chords followed by a verse of the melody line and then write out the lyrics on anything I can find. Other than that ........ I'm used to just doing it the old way.
  • Nick LaytonNick Layton Posts: 731
    This is a great thread! I largely agree with most of the posts. Of all the things I do as a musician, songwriting is by far the most exciting to me.
  • shaggyshaggy Posts: 853
     I sometimes get inspired by REALLY weird things like....  The sound of rain pelting a window.  etc...
    Oh if only you lived in Scotland...you'd have inspiration coming out of every orifice.
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,493
    edited August 2018
    Been listening to a lot of Paul Gilbert lately due to helping Amy with the guitar parts of his Alchemy profile, and if anyone ever wanted to hear one of the best and clearest examples of a GREAT POP HOOK I've ever heard, check out the chorus of Interaction.  This track is a riff-heavy metal fest. But when it gets to that chorus (Interaction baby), THAT is a hook! It gets stuck in your head IMMEDIATELY, you remember it, and you wait for it and want it again throughout the rest of the song -- like a drug -- to release the tension created by the riff.

    Post edited by Dinosaur David B on
    I ain't falling for no banana in the tailpipe.
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