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Steve Ison
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IAC Prime Member


Steve Ison

3/6/2008 6:03:14 PM

How Do YOU write a song?
I'm sure there's been threads about this before,but i don't know where they are,so thought i'd start a new one..

For me..A song ALWAYS starts with a tune first-never the words..(unless its the ones i've written from Steve Aprils words(IAC artist who i've collaborated with)-which was a totally new process for me)

I try and write an idea song everyday,so i can keep creatively 'fit' (at least in my own head)

I'll sit down with my acoustic guitar and play around,trying different rythms n chord sequences..
I should add that i can never imagine a song idea of any shape coming at all when i first sit down-and actually don't usually want to do it to begin with..
If i'm lucky that can change in an instant if i hit on a chord change that interests me,then the whole process suddenly comes alive and starts to feel enjoyable and free..

If i'm even more lucky and can keep focussed,there's an emotional energy i get that draws out a certain rythm/melody singing or instantly suggests chord changes to follow...Or maybe even a lyrical line or 2.I'd never usually question the meaning of a lyric at this point,its usually very much to do with the 'feel' and the way certain vowels intuitively/emotionally sound right in particular places....

I'd pretty well always keep those vowel sounds even when (if) i write the lyrics properly.Its strange,i can sense even changing a vowel sound at the end of a line can significantly reduce its power..

If i'm not quite in that space,its more to do with crafting..Then its trying out different vocal lines/chord progressions and seeing when one sounds 'right'.
This is gonna sound weird,but i dunno how else to describe it..Its almost like i'm trying to induce a sense of insanity or total out-of-controlness.I want some rythm of singing/melody-or relating to the chords to come thru that i never could've predicted..

If i can predict it,i can feel it 'irritate' me in some way, then i have to try something new..I get constantly frustrated if i start slipping into certain habitual chord patterns-or familiar vocal lines.
Alot of the creative process for me is trying to escape from the constant trap of my own musical cliches...

That process can take anything from 5 or 10 minutes to 30 minutes.If its taking any longer than that,i'm really NOT in a space to write a song-and the idea will usually be abit forced...

Then i'll sing the idea onto a cassette recorder and forget about it...Wait till the tape is full of ideas(usually about 2 months),then listen back to them all and see which ones resonate the most and that i wanna develop into full songs..Hopefully they'll have a chorus lyric i can launch off already there-its alot more difficult if they don't

Then i'd go for walks constantly playing the song over n over in my head,hearing different production ideas and try and fashion a lyric for it..

I admit i find lyric-writing hard.The whole process is alot slower than coming up with the tune-and i'm tied down to a pre-conceived vocal line that has certain demands of particular vowel sounds etc in certain places that need to be kept to
Trying to keep a poetic sensibility,find sense of real meaning,be true lyrically to the emotional push of the music AND keep it all sounding 'natural' as if the tune and words were conceived at the same time..There's alot of balls to juggle! lol

I enjoy the process much more than i used to tho-just from the practice i've got from an ' each write and perform one song a week' thing i've been doing for a year now with my friend(and IAC artist) Harper Stephens...

Another thing i've noticed for me is how incredibly influenced i am by what i'm listening to at the time.For instance i had a period of listening intensely to loads of Elliott Smith a couple of years ago-and most of the songs off the tape at that time had a very obvious vibe of his,without me consciously trying to do that..

Also the massive influence of really stellar songs..
There's a recent

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The Man With No Band

3/6/2008 6:22:26 PM

I write constantly .... it's something that is a blessing and a plague ... LOL

I can't explain the process because it varies .... I read your post just minutes ago ... picked up my guitar ... and started this little pattern ... then I thought about some of the recent post I have read here and .... a song came out ... less than 15 minutes old and short a verse or two yet .... here's what you inspired Steve ....

A Simple Song

This is just a simple song
It don't mean nothin' at all
I just love to sing and play this old guitar

For all you critics out there
You may as well save your air
Cuz you can't change what I'm feelin inside my heart

but to those of you that feel like singin along
just jump right in cuz there ain't nothin' wrong
with singin a Simple song .. that don't mean nothin' at all

My voice may crackle a bit
My strings are coated with grit
I'm a long way from perfect but I sure do enjoy my art

I made this here Microphone
Out of an old telephone
and it's good enough for me I never did care to much for charts

and to those of you that feel like singin along
just jump right in cuz there ain't nothin' wrong
with singin a Simple song .. that don't mean nothin' at all

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Black Velvet Lace

3/6/2008 6:28:41 PM

Larree next time I read something you write, I'm going to have to remember to finish my drink first.

::Wipes tea off monitor::


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Black Velvet Lace

3/6/2008 6:30:34 PM

And now to answer the question, I wrote 2 songs in the early 80s and that was the extent of it.


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3/6/2008 6:41:24 PM

Well Steve, you just about covered it. I think most songwriters to a degree go through the same process, give or take the special creative charge here or there. You mentioned, you have trouble with lyrics. Try this if you haven't already. let's say you got your chords and melody. Put on the tape recorder and start singing nonsense words or sounds to your semi set melody. Play the tape back at a lower volume. So the words are hidden a bit. You will think your hearing something here or there. Maybe half a phrase or two words, that spark an entire song. For me it will start to write itself after that. Anyways give that a try.

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3/6/2008 7:06:27 PM

Larree... you may be drinking too much fruit punch

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fly on the wall

3/6/2008 7:11:57 PM

"I have written or started writing over 50 songs already this year."

Now if we can get you to finish one, the sky may be the limit. :~D

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3/6/2008 7:16:45 PM

I try not to let the songwriter get in the way of the song. Other than that... and after the intitial creative process has manifested itself... the crafting part begins... that part can be tricky as not to undo what has been done. It's just never finished really... but I kind of like it that way...it becomes another song and it just never ends. However, folks like Larree may need to eat more fruit. lol

Steve, intriguing thread. I've found we can always discuss processes and so forth...but that initial inspiration just seems to come out of air...and what is to be said about air. Silence is the loudest thing I've ever heard and I'm still trying to sort it out song by song. When the language of music has finally revealed itself to me...I think I might stop trying to translate it.

There are those songs that get in your soul and never leave...you've written many of those Steve. Bye

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the kozy king

3/6/2008 7:43:32 PM

I thought you'd never ask :-)

I like Larree because he never writes long blogs (maybe fourteen short ones, but never one that's too long. So I'll keep it brief as possible.

CHOOSE CONCEPT: what are you trying to communicate. Like Dostoyevsky who wrote crime and Punishment twice (different plot and different characters) just to get the concept expressed properly)

CHOOSE STYLE: could be predictable or unpredictable for the concept

CHOOSE IMAGERY: form pictures or story in mind that express the ideas of the concept. Word don't work IMAGERY does.

MELODY, CHORDS, PHRASES, HOOKS, ETC. Take 'em as they come from the unconscious mind, at the beginning, in the middle, and the end, in a dream, while working, playing, blah, blah, blah.

TECHNIQUE: Try to do something you haven't done before

RE-WRITE, RE-WRITE, RE-WRITE: "There are no good song-writers, only good song re-writers."


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Gary Stockton

3/6/2008 7:51:41 PM

What a great write up on your process Steve. What you describe is almost exactly the same for me. It usually is a bit of guitar or chords or something the piques my interest. I have to be in the mood. The house has to be empty, I find it very hard to get in the zone if anyone is here. Dwight Yoakham described his process once in an iterview in Performing Songwriter, he described the vowel sounds as you did, and he said one line will suggest another, like it is a line or phrase that wants to come out, to be pushed out from somewhere beyond. That's what it feels like for me. Sometimes I come up with words I'd never purposely say to myself, they come in an instant, and can be gone if I don't concentrate.

Once I have a general framework or idea to work from, a defined melody or chorus I spend a lot of time going over the words. I keep most of my lyrics online so I can access them, as well as have them written in a journal. I keep a rhyming dictionary handy for when I'm struggling with rhyming. Rhyming isn't as important to me as conveying a sentiment, and sometimes I'll throw the rhyme out the window if what I want to say needs to be said a certain way.

Sometimes due to my hearing loss I hear other singers say things that they did not actually say, and this can be a real blessing sometimes. Here's an example.. Adele has a song on her new album and she sings "When you look at me, I wish you were mine", but what I thought I heard her sing was "When you look at me, I wish I were blind" which is actually a better line in my opinion, more sinister and worth filing away for use when the time is right.

I keep a digital recorder on hand to capture song ideas. I upload them to the PC and file them by month and rename the files with de_scriptive names, and often browse through these files. This little device has been an absolute God send.

One thing I would like to start doing more of is working with programs like Ableton Live, starting with beats and different style basslines or keyboard parts. I feel there is uncharted waters to work. I love the process of songwriting, for me, next to wanking, it's the best thing on earth.

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3/6/2008 7:56:38 PM

"next to wanking, it's the best thing on earth"

What's wanking... can you please describe your process?

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3/6/2008 8:02:28 PM

I have used many methods to write songs but these 2 are the most common, in order.

1. I think of a line that I like, often it's the key line in the chorus, and I may not even write it down but if a tune comes to me for just that line, the rest of the song generally writes itself, fairly quickly.

2. I get an idea, write a set of lyrics and by the time I've written a couple verses I hear the tune already.

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3/6/2008 8:04:14 PM

Larree...are you saying that after all these years of playing and all the sacrifices you've made for your craft that you are going to hang up the towel right here right now on a Steve Ison thread about processes ? C'mon man... I hope you aren't pouring lighter fluid on your guitar playing Freebird over and over while the kids cry in the next room ?

Aw Larree I'm just kidding. Anyway... I think you are too, but just in case you're not, I hope you will strongly reconsider, after all, you do have fans here, you know?

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fly on the wall

3/6/2008 8:16:48 PM

Are you sure you're not talking about taking a dump?

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3/6/2008 8:17:02 PM

Larree, if I was there or you here, I'd give you a big hug and attempt to share my banana with you. See how brave I am?

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3/6/2008 8:21:17 PM

Stop thinking of yourself fly... Larree's in trouble !!! Larree...when life is a nightmare it is time to write a nightmare tune. Just a suggestion.

( Hug )

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3/6/2008 8:27:36 PM

Larree ... the pope is on his way, hold tight ! As for the rest of iac... would anyone else like to share their songwriting process with the rest of the class?

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John Pippus

3/6/2008 8:44:16 PM

I'm going to go and listen to Larree's songs and report back.. Meanwhile thanks Steve et al for pretty much describing this process of songwriting as I've experienced it so far....

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The Man With No Band

3/6/2008 9:23:40 PM

Larree ... You ARE A Song my friend ! ... I'd invite you over to my place for dinner ... if I had a place ... or any food

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Bob Elliott

3/6/2008 9:40:35 PM

Who can say? Some songs come when you dream, and you have to get up and go put them on tape.

I have felt and done those methods you all write about, even Laree's talk of having so many ideas coming at you.

But I wanna talk about where I am for the next writing.

I like the words. Without the words I can't love it anymore. I don't like dead ends in the words. They close ideas. Messages close the head. Ordinary stuff closes my head. I don't like that.

I play on the guitar and I just try to get off the non delectable, and this requires stretching for me, and trying new things, sometimes somewhat difficult things.

Facing these new things. Musically, poetically.

I have found the guitar has more melodic depth to offer when the chords are formed with the bass on the right and the upper notes to the left of the hand. The hand stretches more, and there is a host of ideas here in this way of using my guitar.

I'm not doing a good job explaining, but there is more there for me right now than I can quite take in.

It's about ...getting out of fake and worthless...about something with ...

creativity and love...

I can't answer your question...

I listened to Laree's music while writing this. He's a musician. There's no doubt at all.

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3/6/2008 10:52:18 PM

Larree... you are awesome.
If the devil makes you do these things then maybe the devil ain't so bad.

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Duane Flock

3/6/2008 10:55:50 PM

Most of the time I start with a riff or a hook on my acoustic. I'll work on the progression and the bridge or chorus for a week or two, then usually the lyrics are written to fit the song. Adding the other instruments is a breeze for me.
On a rare occasion I'll write the lyrics first. That's when the process goes fairly quickly. Sometimes I can finish a song in one weekend. But then when I hurry the song, I lose a lot of the quality I need to get anywhere around here.

Right now have around five or six unfinished songs which is very out of the ordinary for me. I like to work on one project at a time. I'm holding out on some of my new songs and trying to get some of my musician friends to play on my tunes. I play several things but I think I'm missing other artists styles and input. I'm also trying to get someone that can sing to do the vocals cause I'm only good for harmonies.
I did some spring cleaning on my artist page and took off over half the songs cause they were only on my stations and no one else's. That alone tells me to step back and look over my process. I will be busy re-writing, and re-tooling!

Oh yeah, I changed my aka to my real name. Oflockit is really kinda dumb.


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Steve Ison

3/7/2008 2:36:31 AM

No need to apologise Larree,i feel for you-sounds like a real hell you're in..Tho maybe you should've posted all this in my 'How To Be A Loser' thread lol..

You sound really fucked up dude..Get to bed! ;)
I really dunno how you deal with all that anger n pain-tho maybe Anjuli's suggestion to write the ultimate nightmare song is one idea..

Musics always been the saving grace for me just 'cos it just allows you to be whatever you want..It allows you to be wherever you are..It embraces the whole you..

Up,down,angry,happy,depressed,ecstatic,funny,serious,loving,hating...Whatever..Its all fine..

Next to the freedom of expression and endless possibilities in music,religion just seems really constricting and to me...

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3/7/2008 3:13:40 AM

Larree, I'm amazed you're able to type and have a meltdown at the same time. It's hard to know when you are serious or not sometimes, but sometimes everyone needs to hear that everything is gonna be alright...and it is Larree, it is. Like Steve said, sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep and after you've recovered from your hangover in the late afternoon, come back to this community that has embraced you and get your love that is here for you. Luckily, you're not a woman, we get possessed every month it's not a big deal. Steve, you speak wise and compassionate words, and even though your thread was a bit hijacked, it's still got some golden tidbits in here about processes and such. Now I'm off to ha ha fly man on his other thread...
(Please feel better Larree) music is a healer and the only church that might just save your soul, there are worst things than to hear symphonies all the time. And remember... as long as cows chew grass...steak is available for consumption (something to look forward to).

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3/7/2008 3:13:40 AM

Larree, I'm amazed you're able to type and have a meltdown at the same time. It's hard to know when you are serious or not sometimes, but sometimes everyone needs to hear that everything is gonna be alright...and it is Larree, it is. Like Steve said, sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep and after you've recovered from your hangover in the late afternoon, come back to this community that has embraced you and get your love that is here for you. Luckily, you're not a woman, we get possessed every month it's not a big deal. Steve, you speak wise and compassionate words, and even though your thread was a bit hijacked, it's still got some golden tidbits in here about processes and such. Now I'm off to ha ha fly man on his other thread...
(Please feel better Larree) music is a healer and the only church that might just save your soul, there are worst things than to hear symphonies all the time. And remember... as long as cows chew grass...steak is available for consumption (something to look forward to).

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Hop On Pop

3/7/2008 4:27:08 AM

"I don't write the songs; I just hold the pen."
-Hank Williams

I think there's a lot of truth to that. The songs that come off best are the ones that do come from somewhere else. The ones that I have to consciously work on, generally are the ones that (for me) become what I consider to be my second-tier songs.

Granted, even the ones that I pluck from the air full-formed get tweaked a little here and there to make them just so. But it's a process that I just can't really describe or understand.

Ole Hank said it best, as he usually did.

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Duane Flock

3/7/2008 6:01:28 AM

Hey Larree!
Grab your trustee acoustic and your hat and come up here to Pier 39. Those bleeding hearts will make you rich, dude! Bring a hand full of your CD's too! Just make sure you can see and you don't stagger off the Pier!
Hey! you could go to downtown S.F. and pick up campaign donations for NOBODY!


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Hugh Hamilton

3/7/2008 6:25:07 AM

The writing is the hardest and the least desirable part for me - in fact, objectionable. I'm glad to see you say you usually don't want to start writing, Steve. I'm my own worst critic, so that part is fairly unpleasant...it's hard to get something "good enough". That's why I usually cop out in a way, and use the "writing as therapy" approach. Lyrically, that means plumbing the actual emotions and letting them flow.

For a long time I tried to be instrumentally restrained. Lately I've just been trying to do what comes naturally. I used to be obsessed with seeking "originality" - now I just gladly acknowledge my absolute debt to the talented folks who have influenced me. I've also tried to stop intending to sound like anybody other than myself.

I could play all day and all night until my friggin' fingers crack and drop off (and sometimes I nearly reach that point). I absolutely LOVE recording, if it's a song I love (regardless of who's tune it is). But I really don't like writing at all. THAT is the part that is that horrible four-letter word to me...w-o-r-k...everything else is just so natural and wonderful...

Larree - get some sleep, amigo.

Thanks for a thread that obviously interests a lot of folks around here, and thanks to all who have revealed a bit of their tactics here...

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Bruce Boyd

3/7/2008 7:13:31 AM

Good to see you're back with your sense of humour Larree!
Writing songs for me has gone in two separate phases. Back in the 80s/90s I used to churn out one or two a week and just jam them with a friend. We recorded a few on cassette multi track and played at a few festivals/folk clubs etc.
But I was also playing other people's stuff in the bands I was in and the songwriting just gradually dropped away altogether after a while.
Then when I shifted away from the city about 5 years ago I started to write again but this time in a more calculated way. I would come up with a "concept" for a CD and then write 40 - 50 min of songs that fitted that criteria.
So my first album was a "soundscape" CD with tunes tailored to certain landmarks.
The second was a "suggestive" blues rock album.
I have enough material for the next three albums and the "concepts" for the two after that.
Writing this way is very slow - on average about a song a month. I have the subject matter for several songs decided before I even start. Then I just start doodling on any old instrument - guitar, keyboard, dulcimer, melodica whatever. Each of them makes me approach things differently. Having got the bones of a melody I then decide which of the subjects it best suits and take it from there. Sometimes it's slow - the longest took 18 years from beginning to end, sometimes it's fast -
This onetook about eight hours from the first grain of an idea to posting on the net.

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John Pippus

3/7/2008 10:22:58 AM

Whoa Larree. Glad you made it through the night. Good thing you had some vintage C.C. to assist you. Listening to your tunes, I'm struck by your passion, intelligence, your voice that quavers like Buddy Holly, your inventive guitar playing - and your collaborations with other musicians. Like someone in this thread mentioned, you ARE a musician. It's not a choice. It's a blessing (and sometimes) a curse, at least when the bills are due. Music and money don't seem to be a natural pairing, not for most anyway.

As I listen to your songs, I can hear that you get inspired from the emotion of anger more than anything. Others find their muse through love, sadness, a need for connection. But anger brings out the creativity in people like Lewis Black or Sam Kinnison or Frank Zappa or some of Neil Young's best work. So obviously it can be turned around into something positive.

You need a steak. I'm going to buy a couple of your downloads right now to get the ball rolling.

Love the video too. It's funny and a catchy song too. I love how you got the family at the bbq to sing along. That costume you're wearing is a freaking howl. Captain Beefheart reincarnated.

You'll be OK because you see the funny side of anger. And in spite of your bad experiences with certain people in the music biz, you've got a community - real and virtual - that you can draw on. And you write good songs.

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3/7/2008 12:25:15 PM

"---and they just come out. Like any other bodily function. They really do write themselves. I hardly ever rewrite anything. I may need an exorcism. "

Larree pretty much describes the "process" as it hits me except for the exorcism bit!
I've always found it a mystical process -----although some of them (the songs) never get beyond that stage---I've got hundreds like that !

Larree --I respect your music a lot----- you are a truley funny intense showman!
You should be out there doing the American version of "the flight of the Concords"
Raves and songs interspersed---a one man blues bros with a jewish kick!

mmmmm------maybe you need a straight man to be your whipping boy-------someone who can keep a straight face while you do your thing---and just flinches and grimaces -----you'd have to pay him well-----

just some thoughts from your cuzzy-bro here in NZ!!!

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3/7/2008 12:27:10 PM

---and Steve

great thread-----You bring a strong intellect to this site!

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Jo Ellen

3/7/2008 12:53:21 PM

Sometimes the words come and then the melody. Sometimes I'll have a melody in my head that I won't use for years and then it just clicks. Sometimes I write songs that I never do anything with. My favorite songs always come when the emotions are running high.

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Steve Ison

3/7/2008 4:26:19 PM

Thanks everyone for all the replies and so many interesting thoughts on the songwriting process :)

Sam...Woh..Nice one.. Thats fast work! Looking forward to hearing it :)

Lace..I reckon its about time for another then!

John..Yeh,thats a cool suggestion..I do do that kinda thing alot anyways..
Its a great idea (like you say) to find lyrical angles for the songs

Anjuli..I agree.Its impossible to 'write about' the inspiration part of music
(which is really the main thing)..Its your own signature too and like you say,
the process never ends...
A few years ago i used to be envious of my friend Harper Stephens' songs and asked
him for ideas how i could be able to write more like him..
And he just said 'you can't-'cos
you're not me..'
Thanks for the kind words..You have too :)

Terry..I can never really do that that musically-like sort out what i'm gonna do before i do it.
It spoils the fun and suprise-and dosn't work for me..
Tho my Lou Reed song was definitely worked out conceptually lyrically.
I definitely agree about creating images being the most important thing with words.

Gary...Really interesting to hear about your creative process in such depth..Thanks for that...
'When you look at me, I wish I were blind' is a great line too!
I really don't wanna work with beats n programmes from scratch personally,
'cos i know how seductive n addictive they are-but feel that addiction stops you from being free to change rythms,be as open with chord changes etc.It could probarbly make you just feel less like picking up a guitar as well 'cos it might suddenly seem 'boring' without all the extra exciting stimulus....
Its a rocky road.. lol

FT..I'd actually love to be more cued in to picking up lyric lines from conversations,newspapers
-whatever.I know Lennon and Ray Davies used to work alot like that-I've never developed that skill tho..

Bob..Good luck with your new way of looking at things.For me,if the tune or vibe dosn't intterest me,its very
difficult to get into a song-no matter how creative the lyrics.I often don't notice lyrics for a while in songs i love
But i guess you mean it in conjunction with being creative musically too.

The 'fake' thing dosn't bother me IF the music's creative.Alot of people think early Bowie (for instance) is fake-and not 'authentic',
but i really love his music..Music-to me-is all about a creating a sense of drama or mood regardless of supposed authenticity..
Art for arts sake!

Duane..Interesting to hear your process.I used to have lots n lots of unfinished songs around too-but now i try to
finish one before i start another.

Todd..I think the energy's maybe coming from somewhere else,but its still shaped
by us..The chords,styles of playing,voice are all ours.I mean i couldn't compose a proper classical peice for instance,
'cos i don't know enough chords or the really subtle rules of harmony there.The inspiration can only work with whats there..
I know what you mean tho.
It kinda scares me to think of it as 'mediumistic'.I just tried writing a song-idea tonight and as i was really getting into it suddenly
felt really self-conscious wondering if it was 'me' or someone else,which kinda ruined the vibe.
Infact this one medium i saw once said to me that it was
'much harder' to be a channel musically than to learn to be a medium and speak as a voice from beyond.Weird hu?

Hugh..I find i don't wanna do it sometimes to begin with 'cos i've gotta create a different space in myself to make it work,which is an effort.
I've battled loads with that judgmental voice that says something 'isn't good enough' -or the ego that leaps straight on
the spark of a great idea and crushes its freedom instantly, trying to force it- thinking 'woh this is the ONE people'll love!!!'
-'I've gotta get it EXACTLY RIGHT..Don't make any frikkin' MISTAKES!!!'
Just enjoying the process and treating it like playtime has been the biggest lesson for me there.Not being real

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Chris Hance

3/7/2008 4:47:55 PM

There are so many ways to skin a doob,
I dont really follow an exact pattern, but sometimes jamming at the synth reveals a phrase or chord seq,
Then if its good I'll repeat it till its memorised, maybe if I like it after a while if it's worth bothering i'll record, parts??
Other times I'll have a vocal line/chorus, and try it with some chords, or try fitting a melodic line to different chords,
I think that the manu_script is secondary in the process, but if one has no method of recrding, then shorthand the work, or good stuff can go by the wayside through scatterbraindness of musician types...
Heres one from june '89 with left(bass) and right(treble) piano parts, and chords, but the music is written in my own shorthand, and the rhythmic values and some of the bass notes are not true to genuine manu_script, but I can work out the tune from this.....

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3/7/2008 4:56:38 PM


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3/7/2008 5:12:28 PM

....I don't 'write' any of my songs.

I just pick up one of my flutes, close my eyes and play any note without thinking about it and the other notes follow. If I hear a nice riff I'll just go with the flow. Sometimes it's a bit dull and I just stop and leave it for another time. At other times I realise I've found something, flick the switches and record - But I don't always bother to record. Any sound or rhythm can inspire me.

I rarely record more than one take and all the music currently on my Artist's page is like that. I'm convinced that my flutes play themselves. I'll add more instruments or parts later and then fine tune the arrangement/mix.

Sometimes I'm asked to add my flute to other people's songs, and they usually know my playing well enough never to try and direct me too much. In fact, if someone starts to tell me exactly what to play, I usually politely walk away from the project. It has to be spontaneous and I have to be given freedom. I don't read sheet music and don't know Western music theory and I don't want to - Heart not head!

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Bob Elliott

3/7/2008 5:25:59 PM

Regarding fake or no, Steve, it's not about whether it really happened or whatever. That doesn't matter. Writing about things that happened to me is not really important.

It's about if it seems emotionally phony, I guess. Early Bowie doesn't seem emotionally fake to me.

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Bob Elliott

3/7/2008 5:26:01 PM

Regarding fake or no, Steve, it's not about whether it really happened or whatever. That doesn't matter. Writing about things that happened to me is not really important.

It's about if it seems emotionally phony, I guess. Early Bowie doesn't seem emotionally fake to me.

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Bob Elliott

3/7/2008 5:51:27 PM

I'm glad to have had this conversation, because it crystalizes something. Emotionally real is the thing. I'd never quite focused it that way.

So how to write a song? Drifting around and you feel.

Maybe that's why some artists are so much better in their rough drafts. It's emotionally real at that time, and maybe as they try to clean it up and precise it down it no longer is emotionally real, but just an attempt to supersize something.

I now have That Velvet Underground album called Velvet Underground. It has those songs "Beginning to See the Light," and "Candy Says" and all that...you know the one?

To me it has been emotionally stunning. More later.

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3/7/2008 6:00:35 PM

Hi Steve,
I have to say that this is another very fine thread you have going here and really intriguing to hear about all the varying processes that people have when it comes to writing songs...you have pretty much covered my approach in your original post...

for me the tunes usually come first and the lyrics are the grindstone...I am lucky that i have a few co-writers lyrically which really helps if i'm having a particularly bad writing block,so it's a good thing to fall back on...a good friend of mine for instance and it's about time i gave him a name check on here is : Fran Malone who wrote the lyrics to "PORTRAIT"..."GRACE"...and "DREAMLESS"...every now and again he posts me a batch of lyrics to work on and the weird thing about all this is that i seem to be drawn to a particular song and i don't know wether it's the title or just the way the syllable work or that theres a killer line in the chorus but within a very short space of time i've usually come up with a pretty decent tune and i'm jumping around like a mad fool ,thrilled as if it's the first tune i've ever written...it doesn't work for every lyric and i've got tons of them lying around that will never be songs but we seem to have this intuitive thing going on between us,even though sometimes my interpretation is way off the mark to his original train of thought and how he percieved the tune might pan out...anyway he's usually happy and surprised by the end result {either that or he's been lying to me all these years..ha ha..}....

i suppose what i'm really trying to say in my rather long winded manner..is that i agree with whoever said it's all a 'great mystery'..{i think it was Anjuli}...it is a great mystery because most of the time it seems to come out of the ether for me...it's usually quite an emotional process and when i just seem to be collapsing with fatigue and practically hallucinating something comes to me,it all starts to fit into place..that chord sequence i've been searching for,fumbling over...and probably driving the neighbors nuts with, suddenly makes sense and falls into place and it may be complicated and it may be simple but whatever it is it just feels right and its a beautiful,wondrous feeling and its that point of creation that is what it's all about for me at least and it is ultimately indefinable and the great mystery that we are all pretty much alluding to here...in some ways i don't want to analyse it too much for the fear of actually losing it altogether...there's something magical about it,something that should never be understood...remember that first truly great tune you wrote ?..i bet you felt like i did...i bet you were scared you could never match it or repeat it ?...well, i felt like that after i wrote what i considered to be my first great tune and i was literally scared to pick up my guitar for a while until a musician i really respected just told me to forget it...there is no template..just write from your heart,don't contrive it and be true to yourself...the great songs are in your heart...they come out of the ether and into your heart...sorry if i'm waffling..but i feel very passionate about this subject....

Thanks once again for posting such a brilliant topic...and continued happy songwriting to everyone on here....


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Steve Ison

3/8/2008 6:36:52 AM

Haha..Thanks John..Yeh,where's the golden kayak nomination for THAT? ;)

Red Robin..I must confess i actually thought you were a woman up until a week ago,where you revealed
your gender on a thread..oops..
Glad you feel so in touch with your muse..
You wouldn't want to play on any of my songs lol-as i usually have very clear
ideas about riffs i want on my tracks-even with strings n trumpet etc which i can't play.
I'm lucky that the good friends who've played have been happy to play basically what i want.I always leave
room for them to do something different tho-if i think its a better idea..

Bob..Yeh,i'm glad you feel the same about early Bowie.I wasn't sure if you meant that
'authenticity' stuff strictly in relation to literate(lyrically if not always musically)
blues country etc based Americana to which the word is usually reserved...
Thats actually one of my pet annoyances actually.I really don't believe someone like Bruce Springsteen
(for instance)
is any more 'authentic' than someone like Bowie in the bigger picture.His blue collar -man-of-the-people
thing is just an element of his personality he's expanded and used,in the same way that Bowie's
'character creations' were just facets of his personality he capitalised on..
Bowie's musicality is infinitely freer and more mobile than Springsteens too.

I think the Velvet Underground album might just be my favourite album by them.
So many great songs! and a really intimate vibe.A definite classic..
I agree with you about early demo's often being better than the released offering.
I heard some of Melody Gardots new album(IAC artist who's now signed and being promoted internationally now),
and think her early demo versions of songs are far better than the colder,more polished
one's being released..They've really lost something in translation imo

Brendan..Thanks for the kind words my friend..Appreciated :)
I never realised you had a lyrical collaborator-but he's an excellent lyricist f'sure.
I like the way working from lyrics pushes you in different creative directions you've never thought of.
Working with lyrics from eccentric IAC artist Steve April has definitly developed my musicality.
He even adds 'lalala's in with his lyrics sometimes lol

As Anjuli said,i don't think its possible to understand the 'magical' process,
but i like discussing it anyway.
Have you ever read the late,great Ian MacDonalds book
'Revolution In The Head-The Beatles records and the 60's'?..
He's the most astute,sussed writer on pop music creativity/culture i've ever read-
and was able to brilliantly crystallise so many things i only intuited before..
i.e the tragic gradual loss of vitality,meaning and creative imagination in pop generally
since the late 60s..

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Kevin White

3/8/2008 6:50:25 AM

Some songs flow out so easy ... like a musical conversation.

Some, like a blacksmith, require heating them up white hot and then beat the crap out of it with a large hammer to forge something usable.



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Steve Ison

3/8/2008 7:01:59 AM

Chris..A musician here that can actually write music! I reckon thats pretty rare..
My friend Darshan Davies writes music-and when we're writing songs will keep adjusting the notes on his sheet of paper.
Like you say,its definitely a good tool if no recording device is handy..
My only option(which i've done many times) is to write the notes i'm singing over dummy lyrics with the chords i'm playing above-but as there's no way for me to write the rythm or spaces etc,it sometimes dosn't work tho...and i lose the idea..

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the kozy king

3/8/2008 7:49:18 AM

I never sort out the the whole song in advance (other than the idea I want to communicate). Actually Steve, my process is the same as everybody's -- fart around until something sounds good? There is definitely no set order.

But once things are underway, I am conscious of those basic principles: CONCEPT, STYLE, IMAGERY, MELODY/HARMONY/RHYTHM, TECHNIQUES and RE-WRITES.

If all else fails I give up and go back to the books: practicing chords, scales, etc. until a new inspiration hits.

Maybe, unlike yourself and others here (maybe), the idea I want to communicate is everything. Once I make my point(s) I rapidly lose interest in how good it sounds or how well I played/sang. A weakness for sure. I'm working on that.

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3/8/2008 4:24:49 PM

There are so many ways to write a tune, and depending on the tune the process can change from one to another. My favorite is the improv stuff, though the outcome might not be as satisfying as the more crafted ones. There was a time when I submerged myself in theory and charts and blah blah blah. It is and was useful ( especially as a sax player ) to learn and utilize the language of theory...especially when you had gigs where you couldn't rehearse and if you didn't have a chart you'd have been lost. But I've found in the process of songwriting that theory is more a hindrance than a help. It is best used as a communication tool between musicians and for a certain purpose of performing a song that has already been written, but nothing beats ear play I don't think. It's great if you can do both, but to me, songs created mathematically neglecting the magical ignorance of it's art form sort of kills it for me. And, I don't tend to enjoy music created that way no matter how impressive it might be there is always a spirit lacking... a soul if you will. I found myself not enjoying music for a time because theory had blocked me from it (for a time). It wasn't until I had unlearned what I had learned did I begin to manifest my spirit again and connect with the magic of music and it's joyful processes. I've just found that musicians can sometimes mire themselves in pure crap due to language and the need to master things...when really, it's just in the doing and the sharing and the creating from your own heart that brings the most satisfaction... and you can never really master someone Else's talent and accomplishments but you have a good chance of accomplishing and mastering your own...unless you want to spend your life trying to be the worlds greatest mimic. To me, utilizing your own instincts and being able to express the destinations where your own imagination can travel is really it ... and yes there is definitely a craft to it...and there is no denying ... we don't exist in a vacuum after all. The storytelling factor whether it emotes chord-ally, or sonically, or lyrically... is all born out of rhythm just as we are and evokes a story and out of that mysterious miasma a song gets born. Long as it comes from the heart the song breaths life and those are the songs I listen for... that heal and move me... and I await inspiration when I write my own... and I find it challenging if it poses a problem to be solved. I can't write a damn thing when I try and force it. It just has to come naturally, I believe anyway. I've dribbled long enough so I'm going to shut up now... thanks for this thread Steve it's been fun and fascinating. -anjuli

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Product Recall

3/8/2008 4:38:56 PM


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3/8/2008 4:56:24 PM

sorry Product Recall...as enlightening and informative as your contribution to this blog is..you forgot one very important & obvious element & that is...THE INTRO.....

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3/8/2008 7:00:32 PM

'and you can never really master someone Else's talent and accomplishments but you have a good chance of accomplishing and mastering your own...unless you want to spend your life trying to be the worlds greatest mimic.'

Anjuli----makes an interesting statement here which shows an inter generational
For 20 or so years I (and many others I suspect)---never even considered writing songs---there was no chance anyone would want to hear them!
So doing 'covers' was pretty much IT-----and sounding as much like the original was the mark of a good muso!
The band that changed my attitude ---and many others in New Zealand was "Split Enz" the First Neil Finn band with his Brother Tim and others---
They started making music that was right off the page----- and copped a lot of flack for a while---but they broke the shackles for me and I suspect many other Kiwi musos!

thanks guys!

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Bruce Boyd

3/8/2008 8:02:08 PM

Like Anjuli did, I still immerse myself in theory. I read books on the history, physics and mathematics of music,sound and harmony. How much of this do I use when I write a song? Practically zilch.
I can read dots for mandolin, tab for guitar and charts for bouzouki - but I only do it when I'm playing someone else's music. I don't write my own music down except the chords above the lyrics when the whole song is done.

Mechanics of writing: It seems that most on this thread start with a musical idea and then write the lyrics, firming the music up as they go. That's the way I do it and I've used these methods over the years:
A blank A3 sheet folded in half with ideas, rhymes etc scribbled on one half and transcribed to the other half as the actual vocal lines develop.
An open Word Document on the computer - for those songs that seem to come quickly I just leave the page open and type in each line as it evolves. That way I can physically be doing something else boring like vacuuming and still have ideas forming in my head.
An old writing pad - the most usual way for me (and I suspect for others) is to have an old pad open at a page full of scratching outs, arrows indicating what comes where and listings of alternative rhymes that you keep going back to like a dog worrying a bone.
(btw I have both a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary that I rarely find to be of any use)

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3/8/2008 11:54:15 PM

"Anjuli----makes an interesting statement here which shows an inter generational
contrast!" Silverwoodstudios

Thanks Silver. Might I further add that I mean no disrespect to those that play cover tunes and do so note for note. One of my favorite cover bands is The Steely Dammed out of San Diego. ( I'm dancing I'm dancing ) I am completely inept to do that anyway... though I've always much more preferred and appreciated covers that were performed in a different way, and with a new perspective to it's original form... Anyway...

My statement is only in context to the songwriting process and practice... and yes, we are generations apart, but music bridges those gaps, in my opinion. There is a place for every kind of musician and they all serve a purpose...where would we be without our virtuosos after all? But in songwriting... as is what Steve's thread is about ... that is what I am responding to.

Much respect, Silver

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3/9/2008 12:54:30 PM

Azt hiszem mi Én mondás van amit Szükségem van egy tolmács

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3/9/2008 1:12:20 PM

Watch your language!

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3/9/2008 1:32:06 PM

thank Anjuli

I totally prefer writing and playing original music!!!

I just think it funny that someone else had to show us it was OK!!!!???

(the hidden shackles of society?)

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3/9/2008 2:31:41 PM

I wonder who showed "someone else" that it was ok ...

Somewhere along the line we made a choice to expose ourselves and risk humiliation ... but it always helps if we see someone else doing it first. No one wants to go up or down alone.. hahaha

You're a cool cat Silver, thanks

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