How to write a song

Ok you got me, I just wrote that title to intrigue you and get you in here. The truth is no one can tell you how to write a song but I thought some folks might be interested as to how the process goes here at camp Charlywood.

I have never sat down to write a song, they just sneak up on me when I’m not looking. Very often when I am falling asleep or waking up I will hear part of a song and I hum it straight into my phone complete with beatboxed drums and guitar effects simulated with my vocals. Movement also seems to stimulate the muse because I also think of a lot of music while walking or cycling, I guess it must be the rhythm of it…

Then I follow the procedure I learnt from m’colleague Will Vaughan AKA Stairs to Korea and do NOT touch any instruments for as long as possible. I just play the song in my head over and over until the next bit becomes clear. The reason that I don’t touch any instruments is this runs the risk of doing what you can already do (on the guitar for example) rather than figuring out how to play what you have composed in your head. Licks are all very well and good for when you are learning the guitar or knocking out a quick solo at a jam session but they carry the risk of being habit forming and this can make everything you play sound derivative (you can even end up being derivative of yourself if you’re not careful, or is that a playing style? I hope you know what I am getting at :-p) So keeping instruments out of the way as long as possible lets the song become the song that it is rather than ending being a variation of something I can already do.

For the first EPs it was just me and Fabian (drums) and everything I couldn’t play but could hear in my head I had to teach myself to play on the guitar (being a bassist originally those two extra string gave me a bit of trouble to start with!) Then Fabian and I would rehearse and change the song until the text presented itself and the best structure somehow got worked out. The first two records are entirely homemade; we recorded the drum track and guide guitar with borrowed mics and a mixing desk and I then mixed it at home adding lead guitar, backing vocals and other decoration to finish it off which meant weeks of sitting alone at home fiddling about on the computer. I also got a couple of talented friends to play other instruments if I wasn’t happy with what I had come up with.

These days it is all a lot less lonely since we have Lina (bass) and Fabian (lead guitar) to work everything through with. I just hum and beatbox what I have to the other band members. We then develop (or sometimes completely change) what I come up with but somehow major creative arguments never arise, we always try it both ways and can agree on what sounds best. We have the songs for the album all ready, see if you can hear the difference once we get her recorded!

Lyrics are without doubt the hardest part and there is always a huge amount of feverish pencil sucking before the final text emerges. I don’t judge people who go for the easy rhymes “baby, maybe, save me” (ok I sometimes wince a little bit at the blackeyed peas) but I have real trouble just knocking out some meaningless nonsense to get the song finished fast. You can read all the lyrics on our bandcamp page and see if all that stationary died in vain. They are very much my words and either come from personal experience or interesting conversations with people I meet.

So there you go, hope that wasn’t too technical for the casual reader, any songwriters who are reading and who want to add their top tips in the comments please feel free!

Charlywood out

Testing it live

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