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Getting Your Song Idea Underway

Oct 12, 2007
I had to write up a flow diagram the other day for the process I need to follow to get a song/lyric from idea to completion. You might find it useful;

1./ You are walking down the street thinking about nothing in particular. One thought leads to another and suddenly you are struck by what seems to be a great idea. A concept arrives waiting to be fleshed out. This is often called ' The Muse'. Any bit of inspiration or muse that passes by is worthy of pursuing. It might come from your walk down the street or it might come from an exercise such as object writing. Object writing is the process of writing from your senses about a particular object/thing/person/place or time, within a set time frame of 5 or ten minutes.

2./ If your great idea has not come from object writing then you need to do some; Find a quiet place to set yourself up with pen and notepad, or word processor if you're computer inclined. Set a stopwatch or timer, most mobile phones have one these days, and write for 10 minutes on your subject. For example this afternoon I came up with the concept of "losing altitude". This could be about a relationship running out of steam or taking a dip or going through a period of turbulence, so, the challenge is to get metaphors related to the concept and make them into useable phrases for our song. Here's some example writing;

Losing altitude, we're dropping down, my tummy is left up in the sky somewhere. Losing altitude, who's in control of this plane? I've got my hand on the controls, but you keep wrestling them away. While we're wrestling the plane is going into a dive and we're losing altitude. The ground is spinning up to meet us, I want to jump out of this plane and be free wheeling on a parachute, pulling my own cords, not be your puppet on a string. etc.

Usually you can find a few choice phrases from your stream of consciousness sense based writing that can be valuable to expand on, which is part 3.

3./ Pick key words or themes from your main idea and find rhymes. I am a great fan of the methods of Pat Pattison of Berklee Music college. In his book Writing Better Lyrics Pat advocates that we not just look for perfect rhymes, but also family rhymes, assonant rhymes and near rhymes. So, from our example we might look at the words altitude, dropping, sky, control, plane, dive, losing, spinning, parachute and cords, to find a database of rhymes we can use.

For "altitude" you might try: solitude, latitude, attitude, unscrewed, voodooed, argued, stewed, mood and feud. Now any of those combinations can open up a world of possibilities,but if you stick 'on theme' you might get a coupe of rhyming lines like;

Hey, I know we argued
and you're in a terrible mood
but, I'm reaching for my parachute, 'cos , [ I brought in one of the other key words which happened to be a near rhyme]
baby, we're losing altitude.

Not the greatest prose in the world but a starting point. What about dive? Drive, test-drive, arrive, survive, alive, real-life, jaws of life.

We're in a nose dive
this isn't a test-drive
if we're gonna survive
somebody's gonna have to go and get the jaws of life.

4./ Once you've got a few more ideas flowing try to story board your song and work out if there is a narrative flow. What will each part of the song say? To carry on the example, part one could be; boy and girl are going on holiday they are flying and he thinks that there are problems in the relationship. Part 2 could be the woman's perspective, what she thinks is wrong. Part 3, a bridge, might be them playing out disaster scenarios, and a final verse might be a happy ending as they are coming in to land at their destination, losing altitude, but in a controlled way. Could this journey be a plan to rekindle the romance?

5./ Rewrite the main idea using new lyrical/rhyming ideas within the story board

6./ If you're stuck for a rhythmic idea try to extract it from the working title of the song. Our working title of "losing altitude" could be broken up to represent he following; Loo-zing-al-ti-tude or, ta Tum ta ta Tum. Try ta Tum ta ta Tum at different speeds to see what matches the 'feel' of the song.

7./ Start speaking out loud some of your rough prose and rhyme to see how it might fit against the rhythm and start trying out melodic ideas

8./Hit the "record" button on your tape recorder or computer and get writing, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, until you're done!
About the Author
For more information on home recording and songwriting visit Paul Warren's websites ObjectWriting.com and MyHomeRecordingStudio.com
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