By Elizabeth Delaney
One of the most important aspects of music performance is connecting with your audience. There are several ways to accomplish this. The visual of stage presence is highly important in a live performance setting, but so is having a message and melody that sticks with them. The trick is finding that creative combo within your lyrics and music composing.
When ideas come, it's often when you're away from home or your recording equipment. So it's a good idea to have a phone with a built-in recorder, or carry a digital recorder. Of course there's also the old fashioned method of a pad of paper and a pencil. The idea is to have something at your fingertips for storing ideas and easily retrieving them later.
If you're especially busy with gigging or you have a family, there may be times when you can't get back to an idea for several days and you want to make sure you don't forget it. So it's nice to be able to refer back to that original thought
Which Comes First
Creativity isn't a particularly logical thing in the sense that, say, accounting is logical. As a singer-songwriter-musician and recording artist, I've had the words come first and I've had the music come first. I've also had them come together -- sort of like a package deal. The important thing is to recognize a song idea when it comes. It's sort of like listening for a knock on the door when you're expecting a visitor. The trick is to always be expectant. It'd be nice if I got a phone call first, but I usually don't.
Some songs are going to come quickly and others take days or weeks to write. The longest period of time it ever took me, personally, to write one song was one year. The music came very quickly and I eventually concluded it must be an instrumental piece, so I left it alone. One year later while I was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, I "suddenly heard" the words that belonged with the melody. Songs remind me of children because just like children have a mind of their own, sometimes the songs seem to do their own thing. It's important to be flexible through the process, even in the recording studio. I feel I've gotten some of my best ideas while in the middle of recording. Now that's not an excuse to not have a plan and some direction. These will save time and money. But you don't want to quench the creative flow, either.
The process of creating is the hardest part. It can be a challenge to figure out how to fit the concept you want to convey into a three or four minute time slot. A thesaurus can be a very useful tool for song lyrics. Contemporary music will not get airplay if it is more than five minutes long and there are several reasons for that which time and space will not permit me to mention. When I pitched my first CD to radio stations back in 2001, there were many important facts that I gleaned from my experience. And more recently, I learned even more with my second and third ones that I pitched in 2013 and 2015. Also, maintaining positive relationships whenever possible is very important to the future of your music.
Inspiration for Ideas and Melodies
Many of my ideas for song lyrics come from the Bible and my life experiences. I personally want to write lyrics that encourage people who are struggling in some way; and that help them to resolve that struggle so that they are stronger from it rather than weaker. Therefore, many of my songs have themes such as hope, purpose and victory. I believe that any good song (which is not an instrumental) has a message to which people can relate. Though a good beat, style and a catchy melody are important, it's the message that truly matters most if one want so reach people today. Another term for that would be the hook: the concept that will make people remember your song.
Ideas for a melody can come from many places. Beethoven got an idea for an entire symphony from a bird whistling. An idea might also come from the horn on a train, the laugh of a child, or just from your own heart. I've even gotten ideas for a song in a dream I had while I was sleeping. It's all about expecting that visitor.
Finding Time to Create
Once I have an idea, I like to wait until no one is around or everyone is asleep to really work with it. It's difficult to be creative when you're being interrupted by the demands of a family. I love my family, but it just kind of breaks the flow and hinders my creativity when I try to write music and everyone is home and / or awake. Another place I like to create is in the shower. No one interrupts my showers. I've also been known to occasionally run off to my favorite county park on a Saturday morning (weather permitting) and develop an idea in the serenity of what is an inspirational setting for me personally. Sometimes you have to be creative about finding places to be creative. All that really matters is that it works.
As I stated earlier, I personally want to write songs with themes of hope, purpose and victory. Someone else might chose a different focus. It's very important to have a focus. Otherwise the song just kind of flops around like a fish out of water. It doesn't do anything and doesn't go anywhere. A song with good focus is like a 747 airplane with a seasoned pilot in the cockpit. While your listener will feel it take off, level out and land; each transition in the song is smooth, direct, and planned.
It's helpful to start young, but not a necessity. When I say young, I mean five or six years old. It will take years to master an instrument. How many years will depend on how much work you're willing to put into it. And speaking of starting young, parents can foster a love of music in their children by finding practical ways to include them in their own musical endeavors. Often times, they will do what they see their parents do. If you don't have any musical talent of your own, consider taking them to concerts and family friendly open mic nights at a local music store in your area or other venues.
It's important to have a supportive family. If parents aren't supportive, or if you're married and your spouse isn't supportive, it makes for a much more difficult road, but it can still be accomplished. A teacher, friend, relative or spouse are invaluable when they are willing to dream your dreams with you. They will encourage you when your heart gets broken (which happens a lot in the music industry) and they add to the joy and satisfaction of infrequent but well deserved success. Success is a beautiful thing when you've determined what it looks like for you, personally, and when you have a spouse or some special people with whom to share it.