Our friend and author of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Trish Ryan, ran a blog series called “40 Days of Faith” and used our album, The World Awaits (iTunes, CDBaby), as a bit of musical inspiration for dialoguing about her experiences during those 40 days. One of her readers won a contest to ask us the question of their choice. I put a lot of thought, and some cool examples, into my response, and so I thought it would be fun to share it with you. Her question is below, followed by Part 1 of my response.
“I’ve always been curious about not only the process of writing a song, but the journey it takes once you get into the studio to record it. Like, if you start out as just you and your guitar, do you hear the other instruments in your head and imagine the possible arrangements, or does what ends up on the CD after producing and mixing sound very different than what you ever dreamt for that song? Is that a hard process (to let go of your initial version), or fun discovery? Does the degree of change depend on the song, or do most (or few) songs change a lot?”
As you might expect, some songs make the journey from inception to production very much the way we imagined them, while others change tremendously. The two basic ways our songs end up different than when we first imagined them are changes in the “songwriting” itself, as well as changes to our vision for the “production” of the song. And often the two are closely intertwined.
The Relationship Between Songwriting and Production – Part 1 of 4
The Songwriting period tends to focus on the chords, melody, and basic song structure, with the the most common changes during the recording process being the addition of say, an extra chorus at the end, or a bridge or musical interlude to allow the song to breathe or to go somewhere different for a while.
Example: Ryan brought “Mature” to me 70% written, and together we wrote the chorus, “I don’t want to/ turn me into/ something that I’m not…” And once we started making our record, our producer Ross Hogarth suggested the need for a more intense bridge… a place for the song to really peak. Ryan already had, “I forget who I am/ would you lend me a hand?/ I’m not myself,” but there wasn’t the emotional peak yet that you hear on the recording. So Ryan and I worked until we’d built the “I don’t understand this/ I’m letting go/ It slips out of hand/ And it’s gone” section.
The Production of a song often refers to the instruments used to flesh the song out, what the overall color of the song is, where the background vocals go, how fast or slow the song is played… basically, all the interesting choices that make a song go from words and chords to a full-on listening experience. In the example of “Mature,” drums and bass were added; slight, chiming electric guitar was added for ambiance; cello brought out more soul-aching melodies; and the layering of multiple Ryans and Camerons (weird to say?) was added to the bridge. The idea was to enhance, with production, the same goal (an emotional peak) that we tried to achieve through the songwriting.
So that’s a basic framework for how songwriting and production work together. In the next post, I’ll talk more specifically about songwriting, including how to know if you do or don’t have a million-dollar hit on your hands, and what to do if you don’t.