The 3 Phases of Creativity & How to Not Suck #songwriting

...before you throw your guitar across the room and tweet how “adulting is hard”, read this.

Do you ever get creatively frustrated in your songwriting? Do you ever feel like you get stuck and don't know how to finish? Or start writing without even fully knowing what your song is about? Do you ever feel like you just plain suck at songwriting?

You're not alone, my friend. We've all been there. But, before you throw your guitar across the room and tweet how "adulting is hard", read this.  I want to help you.  

Songwriting can be painful sometimes. People who don't do it really have no idea. But, after decades of being a creative person and also teaching young songwriters at Belmont University, I’ve identified something that has consistently proven helpful time and time again. Here's my angle... there are actually three distinct phases of the creative process. If you can understand and use them properly, you won't feel like you suck. A least not as often.

WHAT ARE THE THREE PHASES OF CREATIVITY?

The three phases are CONCEPT, FLOW, and EDIT.  First I’m going to describe each one and why it’s important, then I’ll write about why it's better when they happen in their proper order [ish] and what might result if you stray from this pattern.  

You’re surrounded by soap bubbles and wet dog smell and suddenly BAM!

PHASE 1: CONCEPT

 My dog is suuuuper excited about your new song idea. His name is Happy.

My dog is suuuuper excited about your new song idea. His name is Happy.

The “concept” phase can happen anywhere and it can take any amount of time, from minutes to months. Your starting concept can happen when you're making toast or giving your dog a bath. You're surrounded by soap bubbles and wet dog smell and suddenly BAM! You've got the next "Someone Like You" begging to be written. The important thing is to get that pooch out of the tub and document whatever is coming to you as soon as possible before it goes away.  

It's pretty fantastic when you magically get a song idea that’s compelling, original, catchy, or inspired. However, the reality is that "inspiration" is often a luxury when you're writing songs professionally. If you don't have time to wait for inspiration, you can sit and hammer out a concept right before you move onto the flow phase. Sometimes when I’ve got a job for a client or a pitch opportunity and I’m on a tight deadline, the start of my concept phase might only last 5-10 minutes.

...generally speaking, this one little nugget alone isn’t quite enough to get you ready for phase 2...

The starting concept can be a fun melodic idea that keeps popping into your brain, or an interesting song title, or even a compelling storyline.  Instrumental riffs are another possible starting concept. If you listen to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, it’s obvious the guitar riff is the real star of that song and the lyrics and melody take a much distant second place. Clearly, this piece is instrumentally driven. Clearly, that riff was their concept. [I'm going to take a risk and step into my "who does she think she is" box... The writers could have done a lot better with the vocal melody on that one.  I know, right? Pretty ballsy of me to critique Led Zeppelin, but that's my opinion. And while I'm at it, the lyrics to the second verse of "Someone Like You" lack the emotional connection of the rest of the song. They're weak! Yeah, that's right, I said it. Now that you hate me for busting on Robert Plant and Adele, I'll get back on topic.]  

Essentially, the "concept" that you start with is the little nugget of an idea that begs you to "write me please"!  However, generally speaking, this one little nugget alone isn't quite enough to get you ready for phase 2. If you haven't already established it, you needed to firm up “who” is talking and what they're talking about. So here are some next steps that transition you from concept to flow.

HOW TO GO DEEPER IN THE CONCEPT PHASE

full of ideas.jpg

If lyrics are your focus, two things I highly recommend doing before you try to flow is to ask yourself a couple of questions and then create a word bank.  Once you’ve determined your song title, your storyline, or your primary emotion, ask yourself “who is talking” and “what is their situation”.  Often times, the person who is talking is you, and in that case, you need to narrow down the scene or situation that you want to write about. This may seem basic and obvious, but you'd be surprised how often people start writing without having a clear vision of this. 

After I had the title “Instafamous” [Legendary Zeroes], my co-writers and I decided to go with a Regina George from Mean Girls approach to the “who”, and her situation was that her life centers around posting Instagram photos, and she feels like she’s better than everyone else. Before we wrote "I Hate Your Face" [Adorable Freaks - not yet released at the date this blog is published], we decided that the Adorable Freaks [always the "who" for that group, self-entitled, emotionally stunted, angry girls] were mad at the librarian for charging 25 cents in late fees and had an inappropriately extreme emotional response. Having that concept solidified before we moved forward was very helpful.

I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a song where I didn’t have a good solid word bank before I started to flow. It’s so helpful.

OH, THE MIGHTY WORD BANK

After you’ve got a person and situation in mind, then you can start on the next helpful step which is to create a WORD BANK. Take part of your page [I always prefer handwritten vs typed but that’s just my preference] and designate it as your word bank area.  For me, it's usually along the right-hand margin of the page. I use very large paper in a horizontal position. The right side is for workshopping ideas and the left is for lyrics as they become more solid.  As you create your word bank, start brainstorming any word that comes to mind in relation to your idea. You can even write one primary word in the center of a page and draw other words branching off that word, and more words branching off the second tier of words. Since you're brainstorming, making a word bank can have a flow kind of feel to it. I don't consider this to be fully into the "flow" phase because for me, often times I'm getting out my thesaurus or what not, which is not a part of pure flow. But we'll talk more about that later.

 This is a recent one. I've actually got a page for a draft before this that we ended up throwing out except for the chorus, and another sheet for the next round of writing where we finished the song. But you get the idea of my personal approach.  This song will be released by Legendary Zeroes some time in the future.

This is a recent one. I've actually got a page for a draft before this that we ended up throwing out except for the chorus, and another sheet for the next round of writing where we finished the song. But you get the idea of my personal approach.  This song will be released by Legendary Zeroes some time in the future.

Last year, I had an opportunity to top line over a track for a pitch to Sea World for their summer music program. It had to be family friendly and danceable. I decided that a safe topic would be something with a space theme. [I’m not saying this is the most amazing lyric I’ve ever written, far from it, but it’s a good song to illustrate my point since it was commercially successful and useful to the client. I had a very short time to write it, and I did NOT have any nugget of inspiration before I sat down to write.]  My title idea was “Supernova” simply because it’s a fun sounding word. My slightly deeper concept was feeling weightless and taking flight. The "who" is a person who's in a crowd of people having a good time. Before I started my flow phase, I wrote a long word bank down the right side of my page. I first thought of all the space-related words that came to mind, then I moved on to emotions and sensations.

If you’re banking empowering words, stay empowered, if you’re banking rage words, stay furious.

If you get stuck, you can google word lists, a lot of times these are posted by educational websites for spelling lessons. It’s good to approach it from different angles conceptually, so after you’ve got tangible nouns, verbs, adjectives relating to your scene, then you can focus on emotion words or metaphorical concepts.  Or vice versa, if you go with the emotion of happiness, you can start by listing words that are related to the emotion, and then branch off into visible signs of happiness, and then branch off into things that make you feel those emotions, and then branch off from there to whatever else feels connected.

If you stay consistent with your psychology, your song will be stronger. If you’re banking empowering words, stay empowered, if you’re banking rage words, stay furious. Use your thesaurus like your life depends on it! [But don’t use just any word that shows up, you want them to have a cool factor and be singable.]

Be intentional about using words that have more impact to avoid ending up with generic lyrics, unless you're going for something mindless and then by all means... stay basic.

Sometimes it’s not only a word bank but also a phrase bank or even a concept bank that you’ll create. You may THINK you've solidified your concept, but as you write your word bank, quite often you'll go a little deeper and galvanize your scene/character/situation more as you go. For Instafamous, I listed all of the things a girl might do for her Instagram posts.  All the poses, filters, makeup, hashtags, catty remarks, obsession with likes, anything that came to us.  

I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a song where I didn’t have a good solid word bank before I started to flow. It's so helpful.

You might have your swim cap, goggles, and speedo, but you want to stretch before you dive in.

WHAT A WORD BANK DOES FOR YOUR BRAIN

The minutes you spend creating a word bank have both a practical benefit and also a psychological one.  On a practical level, it helps you stay on topic when you start to flow and/or edit. It’s easier to look over and grab a word or phrase when it’s there in front of your eyes than if you’re trying to conjure things out of thin air as you go. But that’s not the only benefit...

PRIMING

If you understand the concept of priming, you’ll know that interacting with words subconsciously impacts us in significant ways. If you’re preparing to flow out some happy lyrics, making a list of happiness related words and concepts will prime you for flowing out your happy lyric.  Or if you’re channeling a character, like a self-obsessed girl with an Instagram account, making the word bank puts you that much closer to being ready to dive in and flow from that character’s viewpoint.

Making a word bank is a warm-up for flowing. You might have your swim cap, goggles, and speedo, but you want to stretch before you dive in. That's what the act of creating a word bank does for you.

REVIEW OF CONCEPT PHASE

To break it down...

1. Ponder until you’ve got a solid instrumental riff, melodic phrase, lyrical hook, song title, or story idea.
2. Ask “who” is speaking in the song
3. Ask what their situation is. What are they doing? What’s their motivation? What’s their emotional state? What's happening around them? Who are they talking to?
4. Create a big @$$ word/phrase bank

One day it can be like sneezing and the next it can be like childbirth.

PHASE 2: FLOW

 I didn't have a picture of a river on my phone, so... Here's a photo of some water because... you know... flow.

I didn't have a picture of a river on my phone, so... Here's a photo of some water because... you know... flow.

Flow is both more important and more difficult than many people think.  Whether flow is naturally easy or is a learned skill, it needs to become a habit, and it’s something you’ll probably always have to work on. One day it can be like sneezing and the next it can be like childbirth.  Let me explain…

Every creative person has what I call an “inner muse”. I’ve never actually named mine, but just to make this blog more fun… Im’ma call her “Tinkerbell”.

Tinkerbell intuitively knows what feels true and right in a song, and if I can get Ellen out of the way, Tinkerbell will come up with far more creative and unexpected lyrics and melodies than Ellen does.  Ellen writes from her brain, Tinkerbell writes from her soul. Ellen is self-conscious, Tinkerbell has no inhibition. Ellen second guesses ideas and backtracks, Tinkerbell trusts and moves forward. Ellen overthinks, Tinkerbell doesn’t think. Ellen tends to draw on outside sources and tries to be logical, Tinkerbell invents new and fresh things that don’t need to make obvious sense.

Do you see why Tinkerbell needs to have her special moments during the creative process?

What I’m simply saying is that if you remember to intentionally make time for creating from a place of intuition vs. intellect, or heart vs. mind, your songs will feel truer and be more compelling.

HOW DOES FLOW WORK?

Flow can come in short bursts, or it can go for as long as you can stay on that tightrope. I use that analogy because it’s soooo easy to fall out of the flow state, which is why it can be tricky.

Where to start? If you’re top lining [writing melody and lyric] over a music track that’s already finished, or if you’re simply looping some chords on piano or guitar, you can start your flow by allowing yourself to sing whatever melody feels right. I highly recommend recording yourself while you do this.  Often during cowrites, the mic is already set up and ready to go so that when someone hears the chords or track, they can capture their first bits of inspiration. This is a crucial moment and cannot be recreated later on. As with other things in life, there’s only one “first time”, so allowing yourself to freely flow out what that first listening inspires from your inner muse is important and should be documented as it happens.

Even in short bursts, flowing is hugely important.

 When I wrote Supernova, after I had the title and word bank, I flowed out a melody without worrying about lyrics. When we worked on Instafamous, my cowriter stood in front of the mic and simply spouted gibberish as she documented the rhythm that was coming to her while she listened to the track.  After she did one pass, we muted that first idea and had her do another pass of new ideas. Later, we went back and chose the phrases we liked the best and pieced together the rhythm that would be our verse. We put words to it later.

Sometimes when you’re flowing out melody ideas, you might get a partial lyric in the moment. We’ll talk about that in the next section, but let me say this here. Sometimes your inner muse doesn't want to look at the word bank while you're flowing and THAT'S OK. During the co-write I did yesterday, I had a big word bank before we started to flow. But Tinkerbell had her own emotional needs and the beginning of the verses wanted to be more mindless and simple and so I went with it. Does this mean the word bank was useless? Not at all. I referred to it later. But I know enough to look away from it so I can flow. Especially if I'm starting with the melody.

 My mic is always set up and ready to record when we write. A voice memo phone app is also very useful.

My mic is always set up and ready to record when we write. A voice memo phone app is also very useful.

Why would you make a word bank, and then start flowing melody before lyrics? Isn’t it harder to put lyrics to a melody than to put a melody to lyrics??

Maybe, but you should still consider it because the melody is actually more important. If you think about what sticks in peoples brains faster, hands down the melody is much quicker to take root than the lyric. Genre can dictate exactly how much more important the melody is than the lyric. In pop or dance music, melody’s way out front. In a heart-wrenching story song, the lyric carries more weight but the melody needs to support the lyric, not fight it.

Here's the deal, though. It doesn't always have to go in that exact order. I've had plenty of times I've flowed lyric and melody together. Or other times when the melody just shows up first during the session and we need go with the "flow". If you want to flow your melody before you make your word bank, go for it. I'm just giving some guidelines, but I'd say do the word bank before you try to write your lyrics.

It's idealistic to think flow ever lasts for very long. Honestly, once you get used to it, you'll bounce in and out of flow without even knowing it half the time.  If you’re co-writing and don’t have the luxury of staying inside your own head for extended periods of time, you will likely find yourself in short little bursts of flow [maybe even just seconds at a time] in between stretches of edit mode. For me personally, what this looks like is me taking a moment to get out of my head and mentally asking myself what I WANT musically or lyrically at this particular moment. It's not even an inner monologue, it's just a moment of holding back my brain and allowing my intuition to lead.  

Even in short bursts, flowing is hugely important. Be intentional about this and it will most definitely improve your songs. It sure seems like I'm done talking about flow now, doesn't it? I'm not. Keep reading.

PROSODY

Prosody in songwriting refers to the marriage of the lyric to the melody.  If you begin your flow with melody, you may find that a word wants to happen at a certain point for no reason other than Tinkerbell wants it to be there. When I flowed Glitter & Bliss [WGC] over the start of the track, I sang the melody that was coming to me, and it simply felt necessary to put the phrase “I’m trying to remember all the reasons that I loved you” at the beginning of the chorus. Even though I initially didn’t have a context for that lyric, it just felt right, so I left it. 

You can always go back and change it later, but it’s worth leaving those self-emerging lyrics in place for at least a little while. I’ve seen young songwriters sometimes reject a lyric on the principle that it came to them too quickly and easily and it wasn’t slaved over, therefore, it must not be good. That’s not necessarily true. This is when you trust Tinkerbell and honor what she whispers in your ears.

All I can do is take whatever idea pops into my head and very confidently… just go with it.

FLOWING LYRICS

Say you’re just not up for starting with the melody. That’s totally your prerogative. Here’s how you can work on flowing your lyrics. Be prepared that this can be significantly harder for most people, but it will get easier with practice.  

The main principle of flowing lyrics is... JUST GO WITH IT. I started doing improv comedy in 2001, and since that time I’ve performed hundreds of shows where I’ve been in front of an audience and had to make up a song from a given prompt in real time as I performed it. I have no idea what the piano player is going to do, and I honestly usually have no idea what the very next line coming out of my mouth will be. All I can do is take whatever idea pops into my head and very confidently… just go with it. Just go with it. Just go with it. Try to make it rhyme and hope it’s funny but JUST GO WITH IT.  

After a couple years of being in that context, I found that my flow became significantly more natural and easy during songwriting. I’m sure my brain formed new neural pathways in all those improv shows. So now, if I am working on a song section where the melody hasn’t been fully determined and I’m trying to flow out a lyric, it goes like this… I get a lyric idea and I write it down without overthinking it. And then I write down the next line without overthinking it. And so on and so on.

I like my lyrical flow like I like my men... “he may not be for good, but he’s good for now.”*
never a failure.jpg

If you have trouble with this approach, look at it this way. All you’re doing is writing a DRAFT.  Don’t love what you just wrote down? Not a big deal. Unless you can almost immediately come up with something better, JUST GO WITH IT. Consider it a “placeholder” lyric until you get to the edit phase.  Whatever you do… try to keep forward motion. If it helps, close your eyes and silently ask your inner muse to flow. Even if just one word pops into your head, write it down. Whatever comes to you out of the ether, write it down. Even if it’s wacky or lame or whatever, write it down. JUST. GO. WITH. IT.

Most of the time I’m co-writing, I can only surrender to the muse for a minute or two or even just 3 seconds here and there.  It's only on the inside, no one knows I'm doing it, but even in such short bursts, it still sparks off new directions that make the song way stronger.  

Here are some of my more creative “flow” lyrics that have made it into songs. They aren’t logical, but they’re interesting. Tinkerbell wrote them, and later Ellen [and co-writer, hi Marty!] put them into a context that would justify them.

"shadow sniper" [we decided this is someone who fires off at anything that moves. Adorable Freaks - Ready Fire Aim]
"Coppertone chic" [we decided this means looking cute for summer on a middle-class budget. Legendary Zeroes - Summer Sensation]
"shimmer cred" [credibility at being fabulous? Sure ok. Legendary Zeroes - Summer Sensation]
"I’ve got more juju in my pocket than brains in Stephen Hawking" [self-explanatory. Legendary Zeroes - Cha-Ching]
"I’ve got more paparazzi than Kanye’s doppelganger" [also self-explanatory. Legendary Zeroes - Cha-Ching]
"We banging on impossible" [essentially making “impossible” our bitch. Legendary Zeroes - Can't Stop Us]
"I’ll hit the fan, I’ll hit your face, hit on your dad" [self-explanatory. Adorable Freaks - Not Sorry Don't Care]

I could go on and on, but the reason I’m sharing those specific examples is to show what comes out when I consciously allow Tinkerbell to have her moment to create. The results are lyrics that are not clich´é or boring. Those lyrics above are for very specific types of songwriting. Legendary Zeroes has a specific voice, and so does Adorable Freaks.  Your moments of flow will likely yield something entirely different. But there’s something about letting your guard down and allowing your true self to create without judgment.

This is essential to the flow phase: NO JUDGMENT.

 

[* That's a lyric in the song "Good For Now" written by my dear friend Jeff Slaughter.]

HOW TO GET BETTER AT FLOWING

If what I’m describing is completely foreign to you, or you’ve tried it and it felt impossible, you do not need to join an improv comedy group to get better. You can simply PRACTICE.

Not only will it help you write better songs, it will feed your soul in the process.

How do you practice flow? Well for lyrics, you can do a flow writing exercise every single day. Take a notebook or your computer and continually keep putting words down. Start with a prompt [like an emotion or object or relationship or memory] and just keep writing and writing and writing without pausing at all.  Do not let yourself pause.  The PROCESS is what matters, not what you end up writing. It doesn’t have to be good or grammatically correct or even coherent. You are essentially forcing your brain to keep going keep going keep going and yourself to just go with it just go with it just go with it.  For a daily practice, limit yourself to 5 minutes. Don’t go over time or else you won’t keep up the habit since it’ll feel like it takes too long. Five minutes every single day. And if you stink at it, all the more reason to keep doing it. You’ll find that your brain gets trained and you’ll be able to do this more easily with lyrics when you’re focused on a song.

For melodic flow, you can find a karaoke track of some song you’re not familiar with. The reason it’s good for it to be unfamiliar is that you won’t have the song’s actual melody stuck in your head.  Play that karaoke track on repeat and ad lib melody ideas as it goes. Record yourself. No judgment. Tap into your inner muse and spend some time allowing yourself to create without judgment.

Practice creating without judgment. Practice listening for the quiet whispers of your inner muse. Whatever little glimmer of inspiration comes to you, just go with it. Over and over and over. Not only will it help you write better songs, it will feed your soul in the process.

REVIEW OF FLOW PHASE

Here'a basic break down...
1. Make sure you've got your concept firmed up.
2. Turn off your judgment, self-criticism, and intellect.
3. Clear your mind, don't overthink
4. Document whatever comes to you AS it comes to you. Record it, write it down.
5. Allow yourself to have more than one "flow" if you want.
6. Just go with it just go with it just go with it.

If you still feel like this is something beyond your grasp, consider retraining your brain. Research brain elasticity. Get neurofeedback. Do EMDR. Do EFT Tapping. Get acupuncture. Use essential oils or Bach flower remedies. Do yoga. Do energy work. Whatever it takes. You CAN do this!

A song without editing is like a “man” without “scaping”.

PHASE 3: EDIT

OK, campers, now comes the fun part!  Now you need to take a step back from what your inner muse has blissfully created and emotionally detach like a sociopath so that you can objectively nip and tuck without allowing sentimentality to blind you to your song's weaknesses. Real friggin' enchanting, right?

 This is an impression of my teeth before I got braces. Can you imagine if the orthodontist hadn't "edited" my teeth?? I'm not sure my personality would be sparkling enough to overcome this.

This is an impression of my teeth before I got braces. Can you imagine if the orthodontist hadn't "edited" my teeth?? I'm not sure my personality would be sparkling enough to overcome this.

For real though, editing blows. But as unfun as it is, it's exceedingly important. Editing is what separates the amateurs from the pros.  A song without editing is like a "man" without "scaping". Don't just settle for what naturally comes out of you. Trim those nostrils and wax that back!

If you know how to properly edit your song, you can take it from good/bad/mediocre to GREAT. And here's the wonderful thing about editing... you can keep getting better and better at it.

Whereas the flow phase is all about intuition and heart, editing is when you use all of the little tips and tricks you've read about in songwriting books or articles [or learned from your hilarious and amazing composition teacher]. It's the head knowledge/craft part of your writing journey.  I will write future blog posts which will go more in-depth about editing lyrics and melody. It's a topic far too big to tack onto this already punishingly long blog post. Here I am mainly discussing the function of editing and how it fits with the other two phases.

THE EDIT PHASE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS

Some people have a stronger innate editing eye/ear than others, and that's alright, having a sense of what needs to be edited will get stronger over time. You can learn how to better edit through intentional listening and self-education. You basically need to learn what "good" is, then find wherever your song falls short, and then you make it better.

The edit phase is when you step back to get a big picture view of the overall song structure, the overall lyrical development, the overall melodic contour, and the overall harmonic and rhythmic structure. This is also when you get up close and comb through each lyrical section, pondering if you should upgrade individual words or phrases, or change the order of your lines, or replace any filler lyric that isn't adding anything.

Depending on how much time you have or how important the song is, the edit phase can last a few minutes or several years.

Melodically speaking, this is when you make sure you haven't started and ended every section on the same scale degree [usually not very compelling], or check if your chorus sufficiently feels like a chorus compared to the verse, or if there's enough contrast in rhythm between your sections, or whether your bridge brings something new or just feels like more of the same, or if you've accidentally ripped off another song.

Sometimes, you change a few words, notes, or chords and call it good, Other times, the edit phase gets more radical and you decide to throw out a whole section entirely and start over. So you get a fresh sheet of paper and head back to the flow phase for a short bit.  [I've found this bold editing move to be quite liberating and every single time, my new idea is significantly better.]

The more songwriting books and articles you read and the more you develop your craft, the more those techniques will permeate your flow process.

Sometimes, the edit phase gets even more extreme and you decide your starting concept was not sufficiently formed, so you go back and strengthen your concept and either edit lyrics here and there or totally flow a new draft. Whatever it takes, friends.

 My son drew this. It has nothing to do with anything, but it was on my phone and I'm running out of ways to loosely associate my photo library to this blog. It was either this or an alpaca I saw at the zoo.

My son drew this. It has nothing to do with anything, but it was on my phone and I'm running out of ways to loosely associate my photo library to this blog. It was either this or an alpaca I saw at the zoo.

When I've been on a tight deadline and not gotten the track to topline over until 3 PM and the singer is coming at 7 PM and I need to have lyrics and melody done by then [while also making supper because I'm a mom], in those cases, my edit phase is very quick. I get the song fully drafted out and then give it a quick once-over. Sometimes I'm still tweaking lyrics during the vocal session.

When I've got a song that is my special baby, I may edit it over and over and over until a year later when I've got my 12th draft. [ALWAYS "SAVE AS" IF YOU'RE TYPING IT.]  It's a labor of love because I want it to be as perfect as possible. Depending on how much time you have or how important the song is, the edit phase can last a few minutes or several years.

BOUNCING AROUND LIKE A FREE RADICAL

When I say each phase must happen in proper order and be given its due time, what I mean is, initially, you need to give your concept time to fully form, and then you need to give your inner muse time to flow, and then you need to remember to edit. From there, you might exclusively stay in the edit mindset, or you may bounce back and forth between all three phases.  But at the beginning, disciplining yourself to keep them in order will often get you off to a much better start.  And here's something to keep in mind...

EDIT EVENTUALLY INFLUENCES FLOW

The more songwriting books and articles you read and the more you develop your craft, the more those techniques will permeate your flow process. After you become more seasoned, you will instinctively do certain things the first time rather than needing to go back and check yourself.  How cool is that?

REVIEW OF EDIT PHASE

After you've flowed a draft...
1. Step back and look at your song as a whole. Decide if the big picture is as good as it can be harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, and lyrically.
2. Examine each of those aspects up close for changes that can make your song stronger.
3. Anything that isn't as good as you want it to be... fix it or get rid of it and come up with something better.
4. Go back to concept and flow as needed, and keep looking from up close and far away and asking yourself where the song doesn't yet deliver. Then change it.
5. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

WE'RE ALMOST DONE, STAY WITH ME! Now that we've covered what each phase is, let me give a quick rundown of what can happen if you skip one of the steps...

Simply put, it was soul-less garbage in song form.

SKIPPING THE CONCEPT PHASE

 One time my friend Holly got her coffee like this. Totally off topic, but super funny.

One time my friend Holly got her coffee like this. Totally off topic, but super funny.

Hopefully after reading my description of what the concept phase includes, you don't need me to explain the importance of this step.  However, I have at times been in a rush and not given enough thought to the song concept before trying to write, and this is what happened...  My flow was total crap. My lyric was vapid. Simply put, it was soul-less garbage in song form.

On occasion, you might get away with skipping this phase, but for the most part, if you really don't know what you're aiming for conceptually, your song will most likely come across as bland and nonspecific. This can be avoided! Nail down your concept before you begin writing. You'll be glad you did.

Then you swing your arms like a gorilla and sweep your laptop onto the floor...

SKIPPING THE FLOW PHASE

Say you've got your concept on lock and then you immediately start writing from your brain. We've all done this. You slave over each and every lyric line, defaulting to whatever melody seems to go with it.  Whenever you can't think of what you want to say, you sit and stare at the page, wracking your brain to find just the right line. We've all done this. Three steps forward, two steps back. After 45 minutes, you still don't even have a verse and you're frustrated and creatively drained thinking "I suck!" Then you swing your arms like a gorilla and sweep your laptop onto the floor, then you kick the furniture over and start trashing the room and flipping everyone off, then, screaming obscenities, you run through the wall, leaving an Ellen shaped hole...

We've all done this.

Trying to write a song this way is like trying to drive while pushing both the gas and brake pedals at the same time. For all the energy you spend, you make very little progress and you're burning up precious fuel.

It's not only creatively exhausting, but the results tend to be less intuitive.  Your melody less memorable. Your lyrics overworked. The song can end up sounding formulaic and contrived. Now we all feel sad and someone's got to clean up the kombucha Ellen threw at the cat.

They’ve got peach fuzz and acne and they don’t know when their hair is greasy and they need deodorant.

SKIPPING THE EDIT PHASE

 Here's a selfie I don't hate. I'm blonde now. Holla!

Here's a selfie I don't hate. I'm blonde now. Holla!

This is what many young songwriters do because they don't know any better. It's a missed opportunity! If you don't ever go back and edit a song after you've flowed it out, your catalogue of  songs is like a group gangly tweens who haven't grown into their puberty noses yet. They've got peach fuzz and acne and they don't know when their hair is greasy and they need deodorant. I mean, you love them because they're yours, but they're not fully formed and they could use some serious grooming.

The edit phase is when you turn a first draft into a masterpiece. This is when you use your CRAFT. The more books and articles you read and the more songs you write, the better your editing sense will get. I will write more about this in future blog posts.

CHANGE YOUR PROCESS TO CHANGE YOUR WRITING

The next time you start fresh on a new song, try to keep these 3 phases in order and give each phase its due time. Let me know how it goes. Happy songwriting!

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