Songwriting process

I’ve been interested in songwriting process for a long time, although I think it’s only in the past 5 or so years that I’ve thought of it in terms of an actual process. I played in several bands in high school and college and somehow we managed to create songs without really planning the construction of them too much. After having gone through an MFA program, I’ve become a lot more aware of and interested in specific processes that people use. Not least in part to studying some of the process of John Cage

There are a ton of factors in music creation that I’m always wanting to dig deeper into – the creativity vs copy discussion, collaboration, formats, social implications, technology, inspiration vs hard work, etc. But for this post, I kind of want to just focus on process for one person sitting down and creating a song. It’s really common to hear an artist give a soundbite level description of their process. “I get really inspired by the outdoors so I rented a cabin for a week and wrote the album”. Beyond that though, it’s not as common to get down into the weeds of what they do during that writing time.

I found this great website – that tries to get at that part of it by interviewing songwriters specifically about their process. The format is a little limiting in some ways.. The same person does all the interviews, only of artists he likes, and he tends to ask each artist the same handful of questions.. BUT, it’s still a pretty great chunk of information. I think my favorite on there so far is the interview with David Bazan. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, and he seems to have a pretty thoughtful process. I really like his concept of changing the “narrator” of the song to alter the feel.

Through searching around on the topic, I also found some interesting stuff about Sia’a songwriting process. She takes the song factory approach to it, valuing her efficiency and streamlining what she does. She has an album coming out that features mostly songs that she wrote for other artists, who rejected them. There’s an article about it that gives away some details of her process, and also a little bit about the process of the people she writes for, like Beyonce, Rihanna etc.

I also stumbled onto a youtube video of Sia on the Howard Stern show playing her recording of actually coming up with vocal melodies for Rihanna’s Diamonds. This bit is only a small part of the process, but it’s amazing to me to get a glimpse at the actual documentation of a process that’s usually only talked about.

Anyhow, I wanted to make this post as a jumping off point for songwriting concepts. More to come.

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