photo from Istockphoto
A while ago the bass player of my band called me on the phone. He told me he wasn’t quite satisfied with the repertoire for the upcoming festival. He thought it still needed one ass-kicking rock song. I totally agreed. It was not a surprise, since it was part of the discussion for the last two weeks.
The only problem was that we didn’t have enough time to write and rehearse a new song. But I also couldn’t live with it, not having that extra rock song. It just didn’t feel good to leave it at this.
So I said to our bass player “I’m gonna write us a song today, record the demo with drums, guitars and vocals and send it to each of you by tomorrow morning”. By that way we could rehearsal it the same evening and play it at the gig in the same week.
O gosh, did i regret my promise after a few hours. I wrote like my life depended on it. It certainly felt that way. My stress level was enormous, but I learned a great deal out of it. The thing is….because you are limited in your time, you need to make decisions quickly. You are not going to sit around thinking a hundred times over a melody or that one word, “Is it deep enough?”, “Can’t I put it some other way?”, “Doesn’t this riff sound to familiar?”, “Don’t I have to make it more complicated, sophisticated?”. Nope: you don’t have the time!
Instead what you get is a great honest rock song to the bone.
Sometimes it takes me a week to write a song, still wondering if it is good enough. I think the longer it takes, the further you get away from the core of the song. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a good song if it takes you at least a few days, but it’s worth a try to get it done in one day or in a few hours. You will see that when you push yourself to the edge, magic will happen. Maybe you will doubt your ideas at first, but just go with it. Just keep it simple. Go with your first gut feeling.
When I finished the song, I knew there was something good about it, but I still had my doubts. The next day i listened to it again with some fresh ears and I was sure this was it. It felt great! I still needed the approval of my band members. I sent them an MP3 of the demo and hoped for a quick response.
The bass player called me soon afterwards and told me I did a great job. He was really enthusiastic and could already hear the bass parts in his head. The drummer replied the next day and was also very pleased with the song. The more we played the song live in the studio with the band, the more we made it rock like hell. That same week we played the song at the festival and it all made sense. All the songs fell into place. It was awesome!
So here are my suggestions, which I learned over this highly stressful but euforic experience.
-Keep it Simple
Don’t think twice about the melody that pops into your head. Okay, maybe once or twice, but keep it urgent. Don’t take too long. Your first idea is probably the best. Don’t hesitate, just do it!
-Keep your eye on the ball
Don’t let yourself be distracted by people around you or electronic devices (like internet, phones, etc.) Keep the flow going. If you feel trapped or stuck somewhere in the song, just step away for five minutes, do something else and come back quickly. You only need a few minutes to refresh your mind or try it from another angle, but keep going.
-Create in different ways
A great way to create a song is to write the guitar parts first and then create the vocal melody with just a bunch of nonsense lyrics. Just to keep the flow going. For example: “I was crazy as hell when I stepped down the hall, I was eating a shell as I broke down the wall.” When the song is finished you write the real lyrics and try to match them a little with the sound of the nonsense lyrics. Not necessarily, but maybe the nonsense lyrics just sounded good with the vibe of the song. I always try different variations of writing: first lyrics and then chords, chords and lyrics simultaneously or chords and then lyrics. But I found this one to be very inspiring. It enhances the workflow and above all it’s a really fun way of creating.
-It’s a demo not a studiorecording
Again, keep it simple! A simple drum groove or loop is enough. Don’t get caught up in complicated drum fills when you know your drummer makes up his own stuff. Don’t waste your precious time on reverbs, delays and other neat plugins in your sequencer. You are an hour behind schedule before you know it. A really simple bass part is also enough or maybe no bass at all. Your bass player will do a better job. As for the vocals, no effects here either. Maybe just a little reverb, but stop goofing around. Finish the song.
-Choose an easy song structure
The structure of a song doesn’t have to be so difficult, especially when you’re running out of time. A really great structure that works really fast is:
- Verse ( 4 sentences )
- Prechorus ( short, like two sentences )
- Verse ( short, last two sentences of the first verse )
- Prechorus ( short, like two sentences )
- Bridge ( short, 1 or 2 sentences )
- Outro ( maybe )
- 2 Verses
- 1 Verse
Repeat the same verse, prechorus and chorus the second time (maybe just a little tweaking) and work your way through a powerful but melodic bridge.
-Often the strength and origanality of the song lies in the simplicity not in the complexity.
I always tend to write too many lyrics, because i think I will run short whenever I start writing the melody. From this experience I learned that less is more!
-Don’t try this at home
Don’t do what I did. It’s not good for your health or at least don’t do it too often. Learn from it, I have. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t do everything the last minute so you get in trouble. Just pretend you only have a few hours to write the song. You will feel a little stress, but your life won’t depend on it. :-)
Now go and write in peace!