BTW, I chose the title "Songwrangling," because that's what songwriting is to me. I get an idea, maybe a topic or a tune or a riff, maybe a catch-phrase or a potential "hook." And I worry it over in my mind like you "worry over" a chipped tooth with your tongue, until the song starts to come together into a verse or a chorus I can work with. That might take days. Or weeks. At any time in the process, I might get distracted by some other project and shelve it or forget about it all together. But if it holds my attention, I worry over that until I've cranked out some sort of verse/chorus combination that makes sense (usually). By this point the song is taking on a life of its own. The second verse generally strengthens whatever theme or direction the first verse and chorus were suggesting, and the third verse either takes that to the next level somehow, or introduces some twist that will hopefully make listeners rethink the song so far and appreciate it even more. Then I try to worry out a bridge that adds to the song and makes the last chorus that much more compelling. Then I try to figure out where the thing breaks down. And that's not always where I think it does. I've discovered during performances that sometimes the parts i just plugged in because I didn't have anything really inspiring to say in that space wind up reaching people better than the parts that I thought were so darn clever. So even the most diligent attempt to go back and revisit the song I managed to get down on paper doesn't always sort out its weaknesses OR its strengths.
I once had a friend (Lenny Gault) who was an old-school Country singer. When I would run a song past him, he could instantly zero in on places where the song changed tone unnecessarily or brought in extraneous ideas that screwed up the song's focus, or otherwise fell flat. Sometimes it was a quick fix; sometimes it meant that part or all of the song was a "write-off." But Lenny's instincts were always sound. You may never have heard of him, but he spent something like forty years in the "second tier" of the industry, and he had reviewed literally thousands of songs from the best songwriters of his era. Without Lenny, it's my responsibility to take the same kind of critical look at every phrase of the "finished" song. Sometimes songs make it all the way to that stage, and I decide that whatever's wrong with it can't be fixed, period. I write down what I have and archive it, in case inspiration strikes later (it seldom does). Or maybe I can use the chorus from this song as a bridge on another one further down the line. Oh well, what was that other bit I was working on?
If that all sounds like a lot of work, it IS work. But it's fun work which is very rewarding when the song comes out halfway decent. On the other hand, it's a brute force, undisciplined, maybe even lazy approach that wouldn't last twenty minutes in Nashville. My friends down there are song-crafters. They approach songwriting the way potters or woodworkers approach a new project, with the right tools, some idea of what they want to produce, and the talent to see the job through to completion in a reasonable period of time. And the end products generally sound more "organic" and "inspired" than mine do even after all my heavy lifting.
But my brain just doesn't work that way. I'm more like an old cowpoke finding a maverick steer in a canyon, lassoing him, dragging him all the way to the camp, and wrangling him to the ground for branding. Yes, every song I write carries my "mark," but each of them has worked as hard on me as I've worked on it, if that makes any sense.
Lots of folks who read these pages are already song-crafters. Some are song-wranglers. Some wouldn't know a "bridge" if it came off the page and slapped them in the face. But we can all learn and share.
I am hoping to add some more specific resources and ideas here later, but in the meantime, enjoy the tips I have listed from "real" songwriters, and permit me welcome you aboard and wish you the very best of luck in all your musical endeavors!
Paul Race - CreekDontRise.com