Songwriting (as told by Michael Gungor)

Here is a great post by Michael Gungor on songwriting.
You can read his blog here.


I get asked a lot about how I write songs. Here’s the short of it…

First of all, creating is creating. We are human beings, and we have no ability to create ex-nihilo (out of nothing.) All we can do is order something new from what already exists. We can take words and form a sentence. Take paint and canvas and form a painting. The same is true with songwriting. It starts with some raw elements, and then the creative process is simply forming those raw elements into a song.

So before you can start crafting the song, you need some elements to work with. This is the “inspiration” part. Ideas. These raw ideas can be anything (a word, a phrase, a chord progression or melody…etc) and can come from anywhere. For me, my best songs normally have some raw material that comes from deep soul-ish places and experiences.

I like to collect these ideas whenever they come. For instance, I have hundreds of voice memos in my phone with little snippets of raw material. These happen most often for me in my practice time (little musical ideas that pop out while I’m just playing around on my guitar), but also sometimes strike at odd times like while I’m driving or in the middle of the night. When these ideas strike, I collect them, and record them so I don’t forget them when the time comes to craft.

Once I have some raw material, the actual songwriting process can begin. Again, this raw material can be anything. It can be a chord that feels good. A concept for a song. A single line of a lyric. Whatever it is, it needs to feel right. Then, you just start to craft.

For me, the crafting process is mostly about saying “no.” (see my blog “Creativity and Music from last year)

So when I start to craft, it’s almost like there are two parts of me. One part just starts throwing ideas out with no filter or judgment. Strumming random chords. Singing random melodies with meaningless scat syllables. The other part just listens and searches through the rubbish for something of value.

1st part of me: Strums D chord in a slow 4. Mumbles “then the shmee can see the say right.”
2nd part of me: Ok, not great, but I liked something about the phrasing though.
1st part of me: Strums D in 6/8. Sings a similar melody, “Maybe I can see the daylight.”
2nd part of me: That’s a little better. I liked the word “maybe”, and the word “daylight”, but not the others.
But write that down. What’s next?

And on it goes until there is a song.

Really, there’s no trickery or magic formula to doing this. It’s like making anything. You start with a hammer. A single ingredient. A vision. And then you punch the clock and get to work. Throw out ideas. Listen. Say “no” to the ideas that aren’t exactly what you want them to be. And sometimes you’ll experience the joy of saying yes.


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