Songwriting Methodology

I started as most writers do, penning songs about personal experience. I went through things… starting in my teenage years… that I wanted to put to song. I wanted people to listen, and relate.

In my 20s I began writing fiction songs. Songs sung by me in the first person, about someone else. I dabbled in acting… applying that to writing. As an original music performer, being larger than life helps, and the characters I could assume on stage added to my live performance.

My first proper foray into Musical Theatre writing was The House of Finnegan. Here I was presented with a book, a story, which needed songs for the characters. It was time to draw on my fiction writing skills and work them to a whole new level. It was intimidating. How does a 25 year old guy get in the head of a 42 year old single mum?

Well I learn’t a lot. This is how I did it, and this is how I would do it again….

  1. Shut out the real world. I closed myself in my bedroom with my keyboard and whenever I sat down to write, I cleared my head and tried to get in the head of my character and maintain that space. When I flew to Arizona to meet the script writer, I turned off my phone, and thought of nothing but writing for 48 hours straight.
  2. Brainstorm. I drew on what I knew about the subject, generally from the experiences of others, tv, stories
  3. Go back to the book. Check the way you’re thinking is consistent with the developed character in the book. I spent time reading the book and looking for lines that would be great in a song.
  4. Write as quickly as possible. Let the writing flow and don’t prejudge the result. I wasn’t precious of the details. I would not critique my work as I went along. I was more concerned with quantity. I set myself a target of 20 songs in 2 days and over shot it.
  5. Let them mature. Record it, move on, then come back for refinements at a later time. Hopefully you’ll discover something that you didn’t realise you could write, and couldn’t replicate it if you tried.

Overall it was a great experience. What would I change about the way I did it the first time? Nothing. I’m now setting myself up to do it all again. I’m working on my creative space in my bedroom. And I’m setting myself up for more time to use it.

I’m now starting to apply this method to songs about me, although I don’t write as much about me as I did in the past. If it’s about me, I have to love it. If it’s about someone else, the audience has to love it. These are two very different things.