As a songwriter, I can personally vow that one of the most fulfilling moments in creating music is when you complete a killer song that you genuinely enjoy but sometimes this fulfillment and joy comes at a price. The frustration, indecisiveness and agony that comes with muscling through an uncomfortable writer’s block can resemble the feelings of being physically ill. Try as you may to formulate your own rituals and techniques to bypass having to experience the discomfort, it’s the one undesirable aspect that comes with the territory of being a song writer.
Before I started writing songs, I dabbled deeply into writing screenplays and from an early age I discovered that as a writer, nothing was more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper. It’s somewhat a mixed feeling though because despite the intimidation of staring at an empty void, it’s also what gives rise to the core concept of art. Creativity. A blank void presents an opportunity to create an entire world of endless possibilities which may take place in the form of storytelling, visual arts or music.
At the heart of my creative process is emotion. I deeply believe that that’s the prime purpose of music. It’s a drug that tugs at our most primitive trait to empathize with each other’s feelings and so before I start any song the first question I ask myself is “what do I want to them to feel in this song?”. The minute I arrive at an answer I delve into research to figure out how to bring across this emotion, that I want people to relate to, using sound. So I round up a group of songs, often times among different genres, study which genre evokes this feeling best, how the structure of the song helps to achieve this and what elements the composer/producer used to tie the entire thing together. After I’m settled on the genre I want to use then one of the most intuitive part of the process is finding the right melody that is able to effectively represent the emotion. Overthinking this part of the process is counterproductive because if I do I might end up copying melody from one of the songs I studied or I may come up with something that feels forced and doesn’t sit right. The best way for me to go through this phase is to surrender the task away from my conscious thought process and make room for my subconscious mind to cook something up that fits like a glove. Sometimes this can take minutes other times it can take weeks but regardless the most important thing is to trust the process.
After I have the melody then there are two routes I can take towards completing the song. I can either write the production first (instrumentation) or I can choose to start with the lyrics instead. Which one I start with depends on the song that I’m going after and whether or not I already have any lyrics or composition in mind. When writing the lyrics of a song the first thing I decide on is the rhyme scheme and how I want the melody to flow throughout the different sections. After that its just a matter of coming up with different words and phrases which best expresses the emotion I’m going for and putting them all together. The most beautiful feeling is when a song flows effortlessly from start to finish and you get it done in a matter of minutes. However on the opposite side of that, sometimes the dreaded writer’s block kicks in and you have no choice but to step back and take a breather before attacking once again with a fresh mind. This can drag out the entire process to takes weeks depending on the severity. When writing the production for a song the first thing I pin down is the key, tempo, what instrumentation I want to use, how many instruments I want to use and what notes each of those instruments/synths will be playing throughout each section of the song.
At the end of it all requires the final step of the process. After all those steps and going through that entire process “Did I write a killer song?”. Sometimes the answer might be yes but often times it’s a no. If it’s a no then I question whether or not I can make that song into a banger by revisiting the process and making a few changes throughout. Sometimes it works other times I have to just throw it in the scrap pile of unsung experiments. Another predicament that sometimes happens is writing a song and production that looks good on paper but after taking it into the studio and breathing life into it I realize that it’s just as mediocre as the other songs that didn’t make it through to production.
This process involves a lot of back and forth, creating and destroying, writing and erasing and sometimes the very process that fuels creativity creates a perfect storm for an inability to decide whether or not your creative process birthed something good. Who knows maybe it truly does suck but at the end of the day it always brings me comfort knowing that even if it’s the worst song ever, I created something from a blank sheet of paper, it’s mine and it’s all part of the creative process.