Songwriting is at its best when you are channeling your emotions into a song. Like a surfer on Venice Beach, you need to be keenly aware of the emotional waves coming in and find the best ones to get out there and ride. Your subconscious is on overdrive when you are upset or elated and it’ll produce some really great material.
My favorite anecdote on this is the recording of Adele’s 21. The album was written shortly after Adele had broken up with her lover, and much of her angst and emotion was channeled into the songs in those initial recording sessions. There was subsequent work on album but in a number of cases Adele stuck to the early recordings for the final cut.
The lesson here: when you are emotional is the best time to get down to work as a songwriter.
A common impulse for people going through something deeply emotional is to listen to music that resonates with that mood. Personally, I think this can be a dangerous area when you are a songwriter because listening to music is a way of venting out an emotion.
If you are heartbroken, listening to sad or angry songs will help you deal with that heartbreak. But much like a balloon, you will be letting the steam of your emotions out, which will rob your own songwriting of the raw emotion that you are feeling. You may also be locking your brain into certain musical patterns, subconsciously limiting your options (to be covered in a later post).
Like dessert, indulge a little but don’t over do it.
So what happens when there’s nothing emotional going on in my life? I find that putting together an instrumental that captures a certain vibe can help stir the waters. Ideally, you will have a catalog of instrumentals that capture different emotions and styles that can be pulled up as needed. Or worst case scenario, start from scratch.
[NB: If you are a songwriter only then make friends with a few producers who can help you out on the instrumental side]
As a songwriter, I am fascinated by what a great instrumental can stir up. To give a personal anecdote, I was producing a dark folk/pop instrumental earlier this year, a cross between Mumford & Sons and Oasis’ Wonderwall, when my mind suddenly went to this dark place in my past involving the death of a family member. The instrumental became a sort of lightning rod and the melody/lyrics flew out easy. It’s probably one of my favorite songs to date although it hasn’t been recorded yet. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the right vocalist.
Sometimes songwriting is hard and other times it’s easy. The key to making it easier is to know when you’re in the zone to produce your best work and really going for it when you’re there.
And that means resisting the temptation to put Adele’s 21 on repeat. It may feel good, but doesn’t writing your own song feel even better?