I’m not a massive fan of the preachy ‘this is how you do it’ articles that crop up so often. I read them in hope they will make me a better writer, that they will unlock a secret, ancient formula that will turn me into some prolific modern-day Beethoven. But in reality, and predictably, I am left none the wiser at the end. It’s a disappointing truth, but there really is no shortcut.
So when asked to do this column I thought it’d be good to do something a little different. Instead of rattling on about what you are doing wrong and how you are going to now make a fortune at being a songwriter (I’m still trying to figure that one out!), I’m going to show you my personal creative process. If you like aspects of how I approach writing and think you can apply it to how you write – brilliant! If not, I shall do my upmost to make this an entertaining read.
Before we dive in, I wanted to make a couple of points on things I get asked quite a bit about the writing process.
What comes first – music or lyrics?
I have absolutely no answer to this, apart from maybe both, separately.
Just like people, each song is different. Sometimes it’ll come in some mad cloud of excitement, where I can’t write fast enough and seemingly everything I play will be met with my inner voice going ‘Yeah! I like that!’. However, and more often than not, it takes months of picking away at a thread before the whole thing unravels. Sometimes it starts with a bit of aimless guitar-noodling on the sofa, sometimes with a melody I start humming. I keep voice notes in my phone of all these musical ideas, a good majority of which will be absolute rubbish. I also keep a notebook handy so I can jot down any interesting ideas for lyrics. Whether it’s an interesting subject, a phrase I overhear or a song title, anything will do, I just scribble it down. I prefer writing words the old fashioned way, not on a computer. Somehow the tactile feel of a notebook and a good pen helps the process.
When I am in a particularly creative mood I can flick through my compilation of musical ideas and see if any lyrics seem to suit them. With this way of doing things I always have a few songs in various stages of completion on the burner.
I do believe that creativity is a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. With each song you write, you become more open, and more receptive. You learn to keep your ears and eyes open. And that, for me, is when this gets more fun. There is a song to be found in everything.
– Davy Knowles