How to write a song in 32 567 frustrating steps

By September 2, 2012New Jazzinho, Non classifié(e)
How to write a Jazinho song

My songwriting secrets.

In case you would be interested in writing a Jazzinho album, let me explain how it is done. Well, it is rather simple but nevertheless requires a little bit of patience and a fair amount of money. In this post I explain in detail how to go about it; the recipe, the ingredients and the know how. It is all there so you too can record your own. Simple and easy! Think of me as being in the kitchen, and very much like Jamie Oliver, pretending it is all easy and that anybody can do it. In truth, as you have probably already fathomed, you should be prepared for a fair amount of frustration and the occasional tantrum.

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Step one : Create a decent melody.

Well, here we go. Step one ! I just start humming a few notes, often while in the proverbial  shower. As I was not trained at Julliard or Berkelee, there is a fair amount of trial an error (understatement). Eventually, I start stringing a few coherent notes that make up a rather basic melody. Most often, at this stage, I have no lyrics, perhaps a word or two; and it usually sounds childish and primitive. Which is good, at least, at this stage, I have the pre-teen audience sorted. On the piano I play around with the melody which leads to a few chords. I then sit at my beloved iMac and  move onto Garageband. This is a simple and quick tool to throw a drum loops or two, a basic bass line, a piano melody, a few pads, may be some strings and what have you. Next step, I lock myself in the vocal booth and improvise a few lyrics. That’s usually when the theme comes together. In my songs the sound of the lyrics has as much importance as their meaning. It needs to sound the way I want.

Real musicians : if you can’t beat them, join them.

Guida de Palma and Luis Barrigas

Me and Luis Barrigas listening to our work being recorded.

On rare occasions, I write everything by myself and it comes rather naturally. In most cases, I struggle a wee bit and, out of frustration, I end up calling someone who knows a little, and more often a lot more about music than I do. In this case I have called Luis Barrigas and Graham Harvey.

Leon Ware

Mr.Leon Ware

For this new body of work, I have also asked Leon Ware, of Motown fame – I know, I’m not worthy -, if he had anything in his bag of Soul goodies. To my great surprise he gave me a fantastic Brazilian song that is also somewhat in the style of “I want you”, his seminal work for Marvin Gaye. Am I a lucky girl ? This was quite an interesting experience. I always wanted to experiment with Leon’s style of multiple vocal layers that sounds to be less structured. The truth is totally the opposite, to sound so natural, it took me hours to place my licks in the exact place. I hope you’ll like it,

Download the lovely duet we have done with Leon Ware.

It is also on iTunes, Amazon and hundreds of online stores.

Lyrics : say something interesting and deep.

Er… yeah. Whatever. Once I have a reasonably good melody, I need some decent lyrics. Believe me, that’s the difficult bit. Well, in plain English : writing the lyrics is the excruciating bit. I tend to think melodically, I see myself as a musician, not necessarily as a poet. Besides, being a woman, what comes naturally is, well, surprisingly, a bit “girly”. Not to everyone’s taste, but guess what? I like it : “Alone, again, naturally !” I can see how I am not full blast in the vibe of our times. I do not have too much of an obvious social conscience. You see, my models are more of the Gilbert O’Sullivan, Burt Bacharach and Hal David persuasion and I totally fall for the Carpenters. Do not get me wrong, in no way do I pretend I’m in the same league, but I fancy myself as belonging to the same school of thought. First, it has to be in English – or does it ? The truth is that English is not my mother tongue and I have been known to struggle a bit. As I also speak Portuguese and French, when I am stuck, I blag my way out by mixing in a bit of these languages. Right. Now that we have the lyrics, the melody, the chords and an idea of the rhythm, what do I do next ? Well, I transfer everything onto Logic and start recording the less basic demo with lyrics, BVs etc… you know I love BVs, so I indulge a lot. In the end I usually only keep 1% of all my ideas. OK, that’s it… I now have what starts to sound like a song.

Graham Harvey

Graham Harvey and I in Lisbon.

At this stage it’s still only a blueprint and I now need to send this to my accomplice Graham Harvey, the album producer, so he too can start having fun. He is the one with all the cool musical knowledge. Within a few days he gets back to me with a real demo of the kind you would send to a major company to find a record deal (OK, not anymore, they hardly exist these days). Graham is also an amazing composer, and I wrote the lyrics for two of the songs he wrote for the album. If you are an Incognito fan, you love his work, as some of the band’s best songs were written by Graham.

Pukka! Bob’s your uncle, we have a song !

Now, we are working on what musicians will record in the studio. I know, I forgot to mention, all this computer programming shenanigan is only about providing a guide for when we get in the thick of it, that is recording the actual track, in a real studio, with real musicians, reading scores and playing real instruments (you know, those weird contraptions that take at least 10 years to learn when you can simply assemble loops purchased online). That’s the arrangements bit. We select what instruments will play, what and when they will play it.

This is the time you start spending money you do not have yet… “It would be lovely to have some strings there ?” Er…. You mean a philharmonic orchestra or just samples ? Well, since music has become the fastest way to go bust, let’s not pussyfoot around the issue and go for the Full Monty. Real strings it is then ! And since we have them for one song, let’s use them on ALL of the tracks, so the album sounds coherent.

Now you have a pretty good idea of the initial steps and how easy it is 😉 Soon, in a later post, I will explain recording the rhythm tracks, all together in the studio, in London. Keep listening! I am.


Author stef

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