Thursday, January 07, 2010


I was listening to some new stuff on my iPod on the way to and from work today, and there was a song that made me stop and replay it a number of times. It was a very mysterious song that went around in circles back to a few key lines that repeated in various places and making more sense each time, almost a dirge, but slowly I picked out those critical lines, remembered some personal background on that artist, and figured out what it was maybe about. But thinking about it, I was like, wow, that's a really cool way to put a song together.

I've previously noted my biggest failing as a songwriter -- I'm basically a storyteller, not a poet, so I want to tell a story. But a good poem -- and a good song -- are as much about what they *don't* say as what they *do* say. The goal is to leave some ambiguity, some mystery, so that the listener can create their own story. It is as much about engagement with the listener as it is about saying something specific. So anyhow, "The Promised Land" wasn't a good vehicle for trying out that technique because it has a specific story to say, so instead I sat down and did a first rough cut of a new song called "18" tonight. No mp3 yet because parts of the lyrics are still "mumble mumble mumble" because I couldn't think of anything to fit there while I was just blurting out lyrics into the microphone (but I have no shortage of ideas of what to put there so that'll get resolved) plus the chord sequence and melody are going to change because I used one of my basic all-purpose sequences to avoid having the music get in the way of creating the lyrics while I was trying to put that together, but it'll go through the same process as usual -- I'll write down lyrics, try them out again singing them into the microphone, some of them won't "feel" right and I'll change them, wash, rinse, repeat.

As for someone who asks, "where do you get your ideas?", ideas are not something I'm ever particularly short of. In this particular case, it is a song about something that I read in the newspaper combined with something that happened to someone I know. The subject matter of the song I kept hitting the "repeat" button on knocked it loose, though it's an entirely different subject matter. The problem is too many ideas, rather than a shortage of them, and the only reason I don't get back to work and finish that desert novel is because of a time shortage, it's a lot quicker to write a song than a novel.

-- Badtux the Creative Penguin

1 comment:

  1. Ambiguity ! One of my band mates always acuses me of not leaving enough "holes" in my songs.


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