In order to give you a peek behind the curtain at my songwriting process, I'd like to tell you about my second attempt at the 5 in 5 Song Challenge. I have written about this challenge in a previous blog entry, so this time, I'll skip explaining the big idea and get straight to the songs.
Day 1, 14th October 2019. Prompt was to use at least five of these ten words: creek, orange, cider, make, gather, cotton, oak, spinning, poured, without. Amplifier bonus (which I don't recall being part of the challenge the last time I participated) was to use the chord progression Dbm, Fm, Eb7.
I'm proud of what I managed to write for this one. I started with the chord progression, as I figured that would be the hardest part. It was. If you're not a musician, let me tell you that those three chords are kind of creepy and ominous sounding when used in sequence. I structured my verses for the song around them, and managed to use all ten (!) of the words, which I believe is a first for me. Here's the thing... using those specific words, but making it seem natural and not forced... that was tough. All told, there is one part here that I will re-write. I didn't like the melody I used in the bridge, so will go back to work on that. Other than that, I think the rest of the song will stay as-is, and I'll be adding it to my live repertoire next month.
Day 2, 15th October 2019. Prompt was to use the following idea as a starting point: It has to come to an end, before it can begin. What is it? (If that sounds to you like something Seneca might have said, well, you're not the only person who thought so.) Amplifier bonus was to use a minor 4 chord.
For this one, I did not write fresh lyrics. Rather, I used lyrics from my collaborator, Ruth. She had lyrics that needed music, and when I saw the prompt, I remembered these specific ones, as I thought they fit. Lyrics in hand, I wrote the music, which I found to be rather easy this time. I mostly write in minor keys, and if you write in a minor key, your 4 chord is automatically minor. Easy as pie. From reading some of the comments in the group, I might be the only person who understood the amplifier this way, as a few folks asked for clarification, and the clarification was to take a major 4 chord and change it to minor... but that's not what the prompt said. Maybe the default assumption is that people only write in major keys?
Day 3, 16th October 2019. Prompt was to use "Harvest Moon" as a song title. Ick. Amplifier bonus is to write in a key you're not comfortable in.
Well, I'm not really comfortable in any key that requires me to use more than just the white keys on a piano. I'm not a competent pianist by any means, so I feel all warm and fuzzy writing in A minor. For this one, I wrote the song on bass instead of piano... and I wrote the verses in G minor, but the chorus in B flat major. I leaned toward snarky and humorous for the lyrical content. I think this song is the best one I wrote all week, and I plan to record it next year and get it ready to release in time for fall. I'll be playing it in public starting next month.
Day 4, 17th October 2019. Prompt was to use at least five of ten given words. Now, I don't have the complete word list (oops), but here are the ones that I used: older, settle, calling, pocket, strong, resist. That's six. Amplifier bonus was to use this chord progression: F, G, Cmaj7, Am.
That chord progression basically told me to write the song in A minor, which as I mentioned above, is my warm & fuzzy key. Ok. I wasn't too thrilled with the list of words, but no matter, I got to work. I used the fantastic closer from the album The Blinding White Of Nothing At All, "All You Really Want Is Love", as inspiration. The main songwriter, John Davis, is a strong influence on my songwriting. Now, the song in question (please listen to it) sounds like it was written in a major key, and I wasn't about to do that, but I did write the B part of the song to have a slight major key feel. I wrote it in second person. I also followed a similar structure. A B A B outro.
I wanted to write a song that I love as much as I love most everything on that record, and I fell short of that goal. However, I like what I came up with enough to add it to my live setlist starting next month. It needs some light editing, but there is potential here. I also feel that this is a good song for We Met In Paris, so I sent it over to Ruth.
Day 5, 18th October 2019. Prompt was to use the following idea as a starting point: she is strong as an old fallen tree, but hollow inside. Amplifier bonus was to change key during the song.
This time, let's start with my overall goal. I wanted to write a Guided By Voices style song. I did that just a little bit on one of the songs from the last time I did this challenge, and after editing, it ended up being called "Huns of Doubt", and you will be able to get your hands on it soon. This time though, I didn't want to use any non-sequitur chords or a crazy time signature.
Beyond GBV, I think of the Wright Brothers and aviation when I think of Dayton. Transportation terms popped into my head. I thought about calling it "Propeller", but that's the name of an early GBV album, so no, can't do that. I thought about the airplane imagery in some of their songs and album artwork... then I decided to call the song "Submarine". Boats are called "she" by sailors, right? Submarines are strong, and hollow inside. Ok, title achieved. For the lyrics, I used terminology related to submarines as a metaphor for a break up.
Musically, well, doing a key change is not new to me. For Prompt 2 during this challenge, I wrote the verses in minor and the chorus in major. If you remember "Harvest Moon", I used relative minor/major keys. For this one though, I did something I've never done before... I just moved the entire thing a whole step up. I tried to be clever doing this... I have some harmony vocals in it, and one of the harmony vocal lines, I keep it droning on the same note, before AND after the key change. I think there is some potential here, and I might go to the studio with it next year sometime.
Summary. Five days, five songs. Three songs added to my live rotation, just as soon as I learn them well enough to play them from memory. All of the songs will need to undergo a little bit of editing, but I don't foresee a major re-write on any of them. I felt more comfortable doing this challenge than the previous one. It would seem that all of the songwriting work I have been doing is paying off... I'm getting better at my craft. That said, there is always always always room for improvement, and I'll probably jump on future challenges like this in an effort to do just that.
If you would like to hear these songs, I encourage you to sign up for my mailing list on the homepage of this website. At some point, I'll be sending them as gifts to the folks who are subscribed.