taming the chaos

Songwriting, songwriters, etc

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mophilly
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taming the chaos

Post by mophilly » Tue Mar 30, 2021 2:54 pm

I have hundred of files with ideas for lyrics and songs. Some are nearly complete, with audio recordings to go with them, but many are merely snippets. A couplet or two, an idea and some lines. The problem is sorting and finding the right pages as I work the craft.

I heard once that Jack London would write 500 words a day, mostly after the household was in bed. While crafting of a story, he would hang sheets of paper with sections of prose on a couple clothes lines strung up in his office. He would run these back and forth to find the page he wanted. Sort of like a dry cleaners hanger trolley but for pages of prose.

What do you use to sort, scan, and otherwise keep your ideas in the forefront of your mind?

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by RPaul » Tue Mar 30, 2021 10:13 pm

mophilly wrote:
Tue Mar 30, 2021 2:54 pm
I have hundred of files with ideas for lyrics and songs. Some are nearly complete, with audio recordings to go with them, but many are merely snippets. A couplet or two, an idea and some lines. The problem is sorting and finding the right pages as I work the craft.

I heard once that Jack London would write 500 words a day, mostly after the household was in bed. While crafting of a story, he would hang sheets of paper with sections of prose on a couple clothes lines strung up in his office. He would run these back and forth to find the page he wanted. Sort of like a dry cleaners hanger trolley but for pages of prose.

What do you use to sort, scan, and otherwise keep your ideas in the forefront of your mind?
Mostly, I don't worry about that stuff. Oh, I do have various song ideas, be it in Outlook notes (I've got a "Song Ideas" folder) or in OneNote (I've got a Songwriting tab, with one song ideas entry and any meaningful starts I may have gotten, meant to be work-in-progress as I progress to a first draft, if I get that far, which I sometimes do and sometimes don't). But it is rare for me to actually look through those to "keep them in the forefront of my mind". Rather, I use the latter when actively trying to work on a project based on some other stimulus (e.g. a TAXI listing or real life inspiration that makes me want to pursue a specific concept), and I go through the former on those rare occasions where I'm working on something from a music first directions, not coming up with any organic ideas for lyrics, and wondering if any of my past notes might help get me past that "blank slate" hump.

While there are currently 175 notes in that Outlook folder, it's actually pretty rare for me to add something. Those notes were accumulated over the space of something like 25 years, which I guess averages out to 7 ideas a year (though most are probably 10 years or more old). Most of the time when I actually sit down to write a song, I work up something new on the spot (the OneNote environment, though that is a relatively new way for me to do things, and mostly specifically when working on writing something for a TAXI listing because it is an easy way to keep links to reference songs, the text of the listing itself, any notes I might make on songs from the listing, etc. under the same hood).

That said, there have definitely been times I've mined the old list of ideas, some of which are almost full lyrics and others which are just concepts and/or titles (and most everything in between). The nice thing about having things in OneNote or Outlook is I can easily search but, especially in the Outlook case, also browse by whatever the note's title is. I can also color code the Outlook notes, for example if I think something is especially promising but just don't have a clue on how to finish it at the time I enter it (or at some later point when reviewing it). Those notes can also be useful for looking for ideas to bring into a collaborative opportunity.

It might be worth noting that I'm far from a prolific songwriter. While I've written somewhere between 300 and 400 songs, that is over a very long period. My most prolific year was something like 50-75 songs, but that was with lots of cowriting with lyricists (and I wrote the music to the lyrics, not the other way around), so there was no blank slate syndrome to contend with. But there have been years where I haven't written a single song, and I'd guess my more typical number to be on the order of 10 songs a year. I mostly write either in response to specific opportunities or based on specific (real life) inspiration. It is rare for me to write just due to some detached "idea for a song" such as a clever hook. I know some really dedicated songwriters who have loads of cocktail napkins, and all sorts of things, with ideas, but anytime I've had a song sparked in that manner, I've just sat down and tried writing the song while whatever sparked it is still fresh in my mind.

I suppose if I were to try to come up with some system for organizing ideas, I'd probably be looking for some sort of database-like system that would allow a title, a free text field (for any lyric snippets), plus an arbitrary number of keywords (or tags, if you prefer) for things like subject matter (love, breakup, politics, etc.), genre (where applicable to the idea), and so on. That way, if I'm looking for a something to start a country love song, I could just search the keywords to see what matched, browse the titles of matching entries, and drill down to the text of anything that intrigued me.

Rick

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by mophilly » Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:34 pm

Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Very encouraging. I like your tunes as well. :-)

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by RPaul » Wed Mar 31, 2021 8:27 pm

mophilly wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:34 pm
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Very encouraging. I like your tunes as well. :-)
You're quite welcome. And thanks. :)

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by Ted » Thu Apr 01, 2021 7:22 am

In the past few years I went through a dry spell and was only able to complete maybe one actual bona fide "song" before I got Master Writer. I was initially skeptical of it-- I like scribbling lyrics-- and typing them seemed a bit too clinical-- but looking back, I've written tons of complete songs this past year using Master Writer.

I usually get my best ideas for lyrics/concepts when I'm out for a walk or a drive-- so I'll write them into phone memos or sing them into voice memos. Or I'll scrawl them on a piece of paper. Music Memos in iOS is a really good way to document song ideas in their infant stages.

Every once in a while, like maybe twice a year, I'll go through a mildly painstaking process of going through all the snippets of song ideas I've accumulated in that span, across formats and compling them into a playlist/walls of text so I can have everything in one place. Then when I need a song, I've got a starting point with hundreds of musical/lyrical ideas.

Then when I have a brief I want to work on, I'll usually go through these ideas and pick about ten or so that could work and maybe send them to my brother and ask which ones he finds the strongest, musically.

After that I'll fire up Master Writer and sit there with either a guitar or a piano and work my way through the song line by line until it's finished and the lyrics are airtight and stand on their own. I find that when I use Master Writer, my songs tend to be much more focused and "about something".

In conjunction with Master Writer, I'm a big fan of using something like Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies" card "game" to help me navigate through spots where I'm stuck on how to proceed. I have an app version of it on my phone-- sometimes it will give you a random card that makes no sense, but overall it's helped me a ton.

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by mophilly » Wed Apr 07, 2021 4:39 pm

Thank you, Ted. Good suggestions. I am learning to use Master Writer, as it happens. Very nice tool. I use the Voice Memos and the Notes apps quite a bit. As you wrote, a bit tedious moving stuff into Master Writer. Small price to pay, though. Once in place, the Master Writer features are quite helpful.

Can you elaborate on "playlist/wall of text"? I am rather concrete in my thinking sometimes and I am envisioning a wall covered with snippets of paper. :-)

I will look into the other things you mentioned.

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Re: taming the chaos

Post by Ted » Wed Apr 07, 2021 5:22 pm

mophilly wrote:
Wed Apr 07, 2021 4:39 pm
Thank you, Ted. Good suggestions. I am learning to use Master Writer, as it happens. Very nice tool. I use the Voice Memos and the Notes apps quite a bit. As you wrote, a bit tedious moving stuff into Master Writer. Small price to pay, though. Once in place, the Master Writer features are quite helpful.

Can you elaborate on "playlist/wall of text"? I am rather concrete in my thinking sometimes and I am envisioning a wall covered with snippets of paper. :-)

I will look into the other things you mentioned.
"wall of text"

I used to write things down on pieces of paper but then I wind up with boxes of paper that I never want to go through. More recently, I started just going into Notes in my iPhone where I create sort of a running thread of good lines for a song. I find that often I'll get the best actual "lines" when I'm walking or driving or whatever- but not really in the mood to write a song, so I save them for later. So in one note thread in my phone I might have 50-100 lines of lyrics but each line is kind of its own thing, added independently, but just randomly listed in a thread so I can scroll down when I need a song starter or just a really good line that's inspired and I can always find something.

Sometimes, especially with Master Writer it's like solving a crossword puzzle, finishing a set of lyrics-- but I never start at Master Writer-- I need a few "ice breaker" lines and those are the kinds of things that seldom come to me when I'm actually in the process of writing a song.

What I like about Master Writer is that I can write as many alternate versions as I want, so I feel like I have more freedom to take chances.

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