When I write a song I rarely come to the table with a concrete idea. Usually I have a certain feeling I want to capture. Occasionally I have a sound that I want to mimic. I do not adhere to strict music writing principles. My songs are likely to changes modes several times and they rarely change tempo. I can’t think of a track in the past 10 years that changed keys. This might mean I am a bad composer. I am definitely a bad composer.
At first, after studying some theory beyond what was required of me of an ensemble trumpet player and self-taught pianist, I wanted to incorporate all of these ideas. The resulting music sounded stale and forced. I was not satisfied in the slightest. I limited myself to things I knew. I didn’t experiment. Perhaps that is wise in more classical schools of thought, but from here, right now, I think I made the right choice to branch out.
I fell for ambient soundscapes. Walls of sound with delicate, almost non-existent melodies. This was all I wanted to listen to. I started playing the harp. Self taught. I’m still terrible at it, but it also informs a lot of my music now.
My tools shifted from a book of staff paper and my keyboard to a completely digital toolset. Right now I use a MacBook, an iPad, and a couple of cheap midi controllers. Obviously the quality of gear has an effect, but my cheap plastic keyboard with missing knobs works just fine for me, so long as it is attached to my laptop. If I need it I still have my Alesis leaning against the wall in my spare room in a distinctly 2001 manner.
Enough of the history.
When I write I
Keep a feeling in mind, but allow the feeling to change if warranted.
Present myself in each piece and make no excuses.
Try to leave the listener a space to insert themselves.
Try to paint with sound. Sometimes it gets messy.
Don’t worry too much about form. If the song is there, it writes itself.
Don’t fear stepping away from a track for weeks or even months.
Don’t fear discarding a track as a failure, but do take the time to save a copy.