This songwriting diary describes the process of developing and recording a song I wrote, “Jealous” I offer songwriting lessons along with piano and voice lessons. I’ve had the privilege of writing and performing a number of songs I’ve written. I have about 20 songs halfway written but 8 songs that are completed, or about 90% completed.
The purpose of this diary is to share how the song originally started and compare it to the final recorded version.
I’m excited to take the plunge and complete a full song set that will be professionally recorded. I’m excited to be able to start and share my journey.
My first professional recording
The first song I’m working on recording was originally called “Jealous”. It has 2 verses, a chorus, and an outro. I don’t exactly recall how the song came to be written or what inspired me to write the song. I believe I had written the chorus first and then wrote the rest of the song. I am a pianist and vocalist. I always write the music first and then the lyrics. I only use my piano to create my initial songs,
How I approach songwriting
I approach music very similar to advice for searching for a home, “Don’t fall in love with it or you may keep something (or buy something in the case of a house) that doesn’t fit.” Therefore I’m very open to changing something if it doesn’t fit. I sometimes will fight for particular parts of a song but for the most part, if it I can make it sound better, I’m willing to get rid of it.
I sometimes approach songwriting organically, whatever comes to mind. Other times I write to challenge myself. The first challenge was I wanted to write a song that had simpler chords. The next challenge was to write something were I could start incorporating things such as a guitar and a base guitar. I wanted to write to understand how those could fit together. I only write songs using a piano and thus don’t have a guitar to play around it. Actually, I do have a guitar but only know a few chords. I was able to write down some strumming patterns that I had learned I wanted to incorporate.
Jealous #1 is similar to most songs, what you start with isn’t what you end up with. These changes oftentimes comes out of struggles from the original song. You may not like a certain chord progression or the lyrics you originally wrote do not quite fit. I have found that the music I first started writing is completely different from when I began songwriting. Sometimes I’ll pull out an old song and cringe. All artists start with something that doesn’t adequately reflect their talent.
The first thing I struggled with was writing the vocals. What I wrote involved a lot of syncopation. I used MuseScore, which is a free notation software program, to get a general idea of how the song would sound as it is written and thought it sounded pretty good. I work with a great musician, John Scherer, who helps me work through issues and provides a second ear to point me towards areas that don’t sound quite right. I also take guitar lessons with John.
Another challenge I have is tempo. I write slow songs. Nothing wrong with that, but I was interested in writing something that was faster, about 100 bps.
Another issue came when I wrote the chorus. I really didn’t like how it sounded and neither did John. Therefore, I tossed it and rewrote the chorus. The biggest issue here is that the song’s title come from the chorus and changing it might change the title.
The next issue I had was the song is written in the Key of C but the Outro changes to the Key of D. That modulation took some time to work on.
Writing the lyrics
When I finally had the form down and the chord progression figured out, I began to write the lyrics. I always write the lyrics last even though I had a the chorus somewhat picked out by repeating “Jealous.” As previously stated, the chorus has changed and Jealous doesn’t quite fit anymore.
When I started to write the lyrics, I tried to create a storyline in my head that would then be used to write the lyrics. I had it, I liked it, now to add it.
Another issue emerges
The issue was that when I wrote the song, I wrote the right hand as a placement for the vocals. When I added the lyrics, for the first verse, it was too fast and I was stumbling over the words. After different iterations, I changed to making the chords over 2 beats, instead of 4. I also changed the melody to make it fit. Luckily, the rest of the song didn’t need to be changed!
Now, I have a song, but no full lyrics yet. Like I mentioned before, I prefer to write the music first, then I add the lyrics. While I’m still figuring out the lyrics, I decided to go ahead and record the music (chords only) with John.
Recording part #1
John owns Blue Sky Sound and that’s what I used for recording. I used an electric keyboard that was connected to a computer. We determined the BPS (~94). We used a metronome to keep the tempo. As the first recording, we only recorded the chord progressions.
Until the next recording, I’ll work on the lyrics. I do have the chorus completed and just need to write it down. I also need a title. Titles typically are found in the chorus and can sometimes be repeated. I have a few ideas, “Why, The Question Song, Pick me.” We will have to wait and see what develops.
I still have hopes for the original piece which has a slightly faster tempo and a different first verse. My thoughts are to create it as a solo piano piece and work on getting that song completed.
Songwriting tip: Keep your notes
I don’t throw out any of my notes. I have about 20 pages of notes specifically for this song. The reason why is that sometimes you may need to refer back to something you had before. In addition, sometimes there are parts of the song that you really enjoy but didn’t quite fit. I put that into a completely different folder called, “didn’t use”
What did I use to write the song? I use printer paper to write out the chords. I then used music sheets to write out the rhythms for the song. Last, I used MuseScore to create the song so I can hear it without worrying about playing it.
Have a fully developed song was one of the first reasons I started focusing on songwriting. When the songs are played with a band, it helps to better understand how the song with sound. Having only a piano makes it difficult. I look forward to sharing the songwriting diary with you.