The Songwriting Process

Hey folks,
The dudes over at just opened up a forum to find out how songwriters do their diddy. They’re putting together a little Ebook to help out songwriters and here’s what I put as my answers. If you want to put in your two cents, go on over to

1.What does your songwriting process look like? What are a few of the more common ways in which you compose a song?

Often for me, there’s an initial idea which goes into songwriting, which can come on the subway or walking in the park—usually a phrase or catchy limerick. All it needs is cadence. Then, I try to figure out the two parts of the song—the lyrics and what i’m trying to get across with the song, and the music to accompany the lyrics. The better the two mesh together, the better the song. If you can play the song without singing the lyrics and it still sounds like it’s saying what you meant to say, then the song is well written.
This process can work itself out within a matter of hours or even months or years. Certain songs take longer to ferment, which might be considered a form of “writer’s block” to some people, but I see it as just a part of the writing process. Just like brewing beer, some songs take longer to write than other songs.
Sitting down with other musicians can also help the songwriting process.
2.Think of your favorite songs. What do they do to or for you? What is it about the song (technically, emotionally, thematically) that moves you?
The best songs are songs that you wish you wrote in the first place. They make you move from the hips in rhythm with the music, try to attempt singing it even while knowing you aren’t the true singer. A song can truly move you when it physically moves you. It has this “swing” to it that from the first listen to the thousandth listen, achieves the same goal—to get you up and dancin’.
3.What are your common frustrations with songwriting? What are the ways in which you get stuck?
Songwriting is a tricky beast to get a handle on. In order to progress as a songwriter, you must constantly challenge your emotions, technical ability and have moments of doubt where you want to give up the craft. It’s moments like this that songwriting becomes a chore. This is when you pick up a paintbrush until further notice.
4.4. How do you overcome the frustration? how do you get un-stuck?
The best way to get over the frustration is to stop writing songs until you want to again. No one is putting a gun to your head saying “you need to write songs” instead of using your creativity in other forms. Sometimes you feel like writing a song because you haven’t written one in a while. This is a bad idea. The lyrics will be “yesterday was gray, I had a bad day” and it will suck. Instead, wait for inspiration to strike, or attempt writing a song on a different instrument or with a group of songwriters that can help give you feedback and inspire your writing in a different way.
5. Do you envision an audience or outside listener when you write? If so, how would you describe that audience? What effect does this have on the writing process?
It’s best to write for yourself. Sometimes I write songs for my family, knowing that they will probably be the first to hear it and the most receptive to it.

6.Songwriters are known for loving most of their “babies” equally. This is why artistic coaches have the mantra “Kill Your Babies!” How can you tell when one of your own song is really good? How can you tell when one is bad or misbehaving?

By favoring certain songs or chord progressions or even styles of music, you can end up boxing yourself in and snuffing out the flame of creativity. It’s important to be proud of your songs from a “I was there and I did that” aspect, and give them their due as far as playing them if you get the chance in front of people to get a reaction, but it’s also equally important to push your own limits creatively as well as musically. You can usually tell if a song is “misbehaving” if you don’t like the way it sounds. This can be an easy fix, or you can just drop it from your setlist if it doesn’t feel relevant to you anymore. Case in point: Radiohead stopped playing “Creep” live because it boxed them into a particular “grunge” scene. They wanted to expand their sound, so they stopped playing it for people. A great song, but irrelevant to the band’s performance after 1994.
7.What do you get out of being a songwriter? Do you imagine you’ll write songs forever?
What does a blade of grass get out of having the sun around? I can’t image not having an outlet like songwriting to express myself. Songwriting is a process of filtration, allowing me to take in the world and express myself so that other people can listen and hopefully be inspired as well. Songwriting forever? Forever is a long, long time. I suppose if I have the chance and feel inspired, forever seems like a long enough time to be a songwriter.
8.What roles do “inspiration” and “perspiration” play in your writing process?
Inspiration is the key to writing a song, perspiration is the doorknob that you turn.
9.Imagine the greatest song you’ve haven’t written yet. Describe it.
I like the idea of multiple harmonies going on, with parts for banjo, mandolin, guitar and organ. The lyrics are based in transcendentalism, like a brisk walk in the woods in late November as the last leaves fall in New England.