A Songwriter’s Pocket Checklist

Though often reserved for the mundane realms of the shopping cart or office Post-it note scene, a good checklist can be a helpful tool in any situation - a collection of stripped-down, simple reminders that quickly focuses the mind toward the core of the matter.

At the risk of appearing clinical or oversimplifying the often amorphous process of songwriting, here are three song-centric bullet points you may find helpful/worth running through before declaring any new composition complete:

- Does it have a good beat? Can you dance to it? No matter what style/genre you’re working in, remember the hook is king. Does your song have at least one melody, chord pattern, phrase, riff or groove that will (potentially) grab the listener and make them want to sing along, cry, scream, dance or bang their head?

- Say anything? Do your song’s lyrics make a definitive statement whether they’re obtuse, simple, serious, silly, etc? Be it “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Love Shack”, each makes a strong statement of intent.

- Do you feel it? Does your song convey a strong feeling or mood? Although both are quite intangible, they are still very real commodities. Never underestimate the power of creating an emotional connection between you and your listener.

Despite its grocery list leanings, hope you found the above checklist helpful and worthy of keeping in your back pocket; a little something to refer to next time you stroll down the songwriting aisle.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.3

(If you missed the previous installments of the 29 HMP series, here are links to parts one and two.)

PART III: Sunday

Matty: We finished all the music for 11 songs on Saturday — while still leaving time for a pizza break and a prosecco-and-cupcake break —  slept five hours or so and walked into our own rehearsal / recording-studio at noon Sunday. Rob set up two vocal mics and made it crystal clear that we were not to take more than an hour per song, including singing a lead vocal, figuring out the harmonies, singing those, and in a few cases doing handclaps. Though some of us had thought about harmony parts on Saturday, and sung some of them into our iPhones, it felt to me like we were starting from scratch with most of them on Sunday. Or am I mis-remembering?

Cheri: Chalk that one up to exhaustion, Mr. K. I didn’t remember, either, so I took stock on a song-by-song basis. It looks like we had most of the harmonies figured out ahead of time. Maybe four songs were started from scratch as far as harmony vocals go. Remember we went outside to work them out on a bench in front of (ubiquitous coffee chain) while one person was recording lead vocals?

M: I do remember that, and I remember having to run back inside 15 minutes later because the previous person’s hour was about to be up! At one point someone said, unhappily, “The clock’s making a lot of decisions.” But of course, that was the whole point of the weekend. It was very much a game, and there was a game clock.

One limitation imposed by the clock on Sunday: Almost all harmonies for any given song were recorded live on a single track on a single mic, which is not the way it’s normally done. We spent a little bit of time, each time, working out how far away from the mic everyone had to be to make the blend work.

C: It’s hard to get a blend with six people who aren’t used to singing with each other. Next time maybe we’ll warm up with scales, like they do in choir. But eventually it sounded good. Then we remembered: We forgot to record handclaps!

M: I assume at some time in the next few weeks we’ll remember that we forgot to record a lot of things! With speed comes carelessness. And also, hopefully, some happy accidents. It’s all part of the game.

C: Happy accidents… Chris messing with the rototoms and everyone in the room simultaneously saying, “We have to have a rototom breakdown!”… Listening to “The Value of Seafood,” hearing some sort of glitch or guitar cord noise, and deciding not only would we leave it in, but we’d record a track of us saying “oooohhhh” and applauding it right after it occurred.

M: Ohhhh! I had no idea why we decided to applaud. But I loved that we did it. It was a rather tepid applause, but it sounded quite full when we played it back. We may have stumbled accidentally on the trick to recording small audience applause right there.

C: “Let it be lame.” Another lesson in acceptance.

M: But the thing is, it didn’t sound lame in the end. It was a lesson in advanced recording techniques.

And speaking of applause, that’s kind of it, isn’t it? We clocked three hours on Friday, 16 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, including meal breaks. Eleven songs and three or four meals, depending how you count, in 31 hours. And the songs are totally, irreversibly done. They still need to be mixed — that wasn’t part of the weekend, as we’re not that insane yet — but the rules dictate there can be no more recording.

C: Hmmm… I predict an overdub. I think someone will sneak into the studio and add a glockenspiel, or another guitar part, to one of the songs. Unless TEOTWAWKI happens first.

M: Under our rules, an overdub will in fact cause TEOTWAWKI. So there.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.2

(If you missed part one of the 29 HMP series, it can be found here.)

PART II: Saturday

Matty: We reconvened at 10 a.m. Saturday in a recording studio, with the plan to write music for at least 10 songs, and record them, in a single day. What were our limitations on Saturday?

Cheri: The only limitations were that we had one hour for each song, and a “No overdubs” rule. No leaving out parts on Saturday for a subsequent recording session.

Then there were rule-y things, set up by Rob: Grab a set of lyrics and start to write music. Congratulations: you’re now that tune’s “song leader.” The “song leader” should come into the recording session for the song with the basic structure already worked out. This could happen individually or in small break-off groups. Is that how you understood it?

M: Yup. I would put extra emphasis on the no-overdubs rule. That’s a huge one. Whatever you come up with on Saturday, that’s it. You can’t re-think the bass line later on. You can’t decide to add a synth tomorrow. You can’t even add it two hours later. You’ve got one hour. Go!

So with that in mind, how exactly do you write and record an album’s worth of songs in a single day?

C: I can tell you what I saw, and what I did. I think five of us picked up some lyrics and went off to our individual corners to write music. I spent the first hour in my corner cleaning up the red wine that spilled in my gear bag. Then I sat down and started to block out chords with a MIDI controller and sequencing program. After a while, a few other people came in and all of a sudden I was deeply involved in a conversation about AKG headphones, so I had to move into another room and shut the door. Not a gesture that screams “work with me,” but I couldn’t concentrate. I was a pretty unreliable witness to everyone else’s process from that point until around 4 p.m. What was going on in your wing of the building?

M: Sorry! I think the red wine spill in your gear bag had something to do with the jury-rigged napkin cork I made for you Friday night. I should have used a higher thread count napkin.

I picked up a lyric that was entirely someone else’s work and headed to the stairway outside the studio door with my guitar and iPhone, which I use as a portable tape recorder for song ideas. I thought it would be more fun, and actually easier, to work with somebody else’s words and inherent rhythms instead of my own. The lyric suggested a certain tempo and feel. I picked a random chord to start with, found a melody fairly quickly (it was a lucky morning), and then spent most of my time sweating over whether this chord should have four beats and that one eight beats or vice versa. Then I found you in the other room and asked if you had any ideas for harmonies. But you were busy with your laptop and your AKG headphones.

C: Yeah, that was before the room got heavy. I think Kate came in before I left and started to work out some melody ideas on the keyboard. I thought maybe I should make beats to offer up for any song that didn’t have a drummer attached to it, then I started to do this for the song I was working on, then I realized that it was going to take longer to make cool beats than I thought. So I finished chords and melody. Then I got back to you about the harmonies. You, me, Meave and Alan recorded some on my iPhone.

M: …and Alan suggested an alternate melody for the first line of the second verse. My first, automatic impulse was to think “b-b-but I already have a melody! I spent many minutes coming up with it!” My second impulse was to block my first impulse and go with the moment and let the collaboration happen. Like you said, it takes discipline. My third impulse was to listen and realize, “Holy shit, he just made the song better.”

By early afternoon we had something like eight songs written and nothing recorded. You were one of the first to lead a team into the recording room, including resistant-obstacle-man me, who didn’t know how to do the guitar part you were asking for and didn’t want to do it. Then I figured out how to do it, and suddenly I did want to do it.

C: I was the song leader for song number two. This was about 4:30 p.m. (!) and the pressure was ON. I didn’t have the song structure completely worked out to my satisfaction, so I was pretty stressed out. I played the “demo” and someone suggested we just use the sampled beat instead of a live simulation of the sampled drum kit. Yes, and… the technical difficulties began. The beats mysteriously began to fade out in the middle of the song, leaving everyone stranded with his or her own approximation of the tempo. The structure wasn’t sinking in. Thankfully you had it figured out, and were able to conduct a quick mini-seminar for those around you. Eventually, sheer repetition triumphed, and we had a song! Because I was so busy dealing with the technical f-ups, I didn’t notice the cool guitar and keyboard parts, or mandolin part, or gentle reggae stylings of the bass player until we were actually recording. That was a happy surprise.

M: That’s pretty much how it worked all day, though the hours seemed to get shorter as we raced against the ever-spinning clock. Some people had “their” songs pretty well mapped out in their heads, and some came in with a much looser structure. One song was four chords cycling around and around from start to finish, and five of us just started jamming on those chords until the song leader heard something she liked, which fortunately happened pretty fast. There was a much more complicated song, chord-wise, that three of us worked out beforehand in another room, so when we got into the big room it was pretty easy to explain it to everyone else. I was fascinated by how everyone had a unique way of describing and/or notating music for a roomful of people who weren’t used to playing together. Patience and having an open mind definitely helped. One big lesson for me: “Mistake” is just another word for “new idea.”

C: One lesson for me, which I apparently must re-learn at regular intervals: You will always be the one who gets the parking ticket.

Another one: If you shut the inside door very tight, distracting sounds will come in through the window. Humans will not.

I think that’s two lessons: A) Try to incorporate distractions into what you’re doing. There’s no escaping them. B) Open the door at some point, fer Chrissakes. You need help.

M: Those both sound like oblique strategies. Which is appropriate, considering how this project started. [Editor’s note: 29 Hour Music People grew out of a live performance of Brian Eno’s album “Here Come the Warm Jets”.]

Coming up in Part 3: Lead vocals, harmonies and handclaps.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.1

With this post, we welcome Cheri Leone and Matty Karas to the IVC family. Cheri and Matty, longtime songwriting and performing partners in bands including the Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites, kick off their contribution to IVC with a three-part account of their experience with 29 Hour Music People; a collective of songwriters and musicians who write and record albums, from scratch, in intensive three-day sessions. The first 29HMP album, “Soft Eno Blessing,” written and recorded in 29 hours in January 2012, will be available this March at 29hourmusicpeople.bandcamp.com, with all proceeds from downloads to benefit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

This Q&A was conducted after the making of album #2 in October 2012, which took 31 hours (including meal breaks). The group to date includes: Alan Black, Alan Blattberg, Rob Christiansen, Kate Edmundson, Kim Howie, Matty Karas, Cheri Leone, Chris McBurney, David Satkowski, Meave Shelton and Pam Weis.

PART I: Friday

Matty: Let’s start at the beginning!

Cheri: Friday.

M: Yes, and…

C: Write lyrics to at least ten songs in 3 hours.

"Yes, and…" refers to the suggestion that you pick up an already-written stanza or title that is in a paper pile in the center of the floor, and add to it. Don’t approach it as an editor or critic. See how you can develop the idea already expressed.

M: And then throw it back onto the floor for someone else to pick up. “Yes, and” of course is a principle that comes from improv comedy. Which you have studied, but I have not. How did we do on that front?

C: Pretty well. Mostly one person would write a starter line or verse, then someone else would grab it and add to it. In one case someone had come prepared with a rhyming prescription for a series of lyrical lines.

M: I loved writing lyrics that way, partly because it’s so different from how it works in our band. Usually one of us writes and the other adds/subtracts/tweaks as necessary. Sometimes we argue over words. I assume that happens in most bands. But I loved NOT arguing, and instead everyone just assuming that everyone else was right. There’s that old Motorhead motto, “Everything louder than everything else.” In this case it was, “Everything exactly as right as everything else.” It certainly allowed me to open myself up to the kinds of lyrics, and therefore the kinds of songs, that I could never have written on my own. Or, more to the point, that I WOULD never have written on my own.

C: I don’t assume that arguing over lyrics and words happens in most bands…NOT arguing is a choice. And it requires a lot of discipline to stick to that decision — the "yes, and" mandate — in any collaboration. It feels inorganic at first. People are very excited about their own ideas, and they get very possessive of them. They have a vision. They want to see that vision through. If they’re directing “Bridesmaids” in their heads and someone walks in with a maimed puppy, the tendency is to put the puppy in the next room and resume the hilarity. But the puppy should not be denied!

Reality check: not everyone in the room assumed everyone else was right. On Saturday someone who had started one lyric declared, “Last night I thought about my lyrics some more and I know how the whole song should go” — and discarded the additional lyrics someone else had written. Technically, that went against our rules. Like I said, it requires dedication, and constant self-policing, to trust that others will make your idea, not necessarily better, but what it should be (in a Zen way?).

M: Alternatively, someone could hilariously insert that maimed puppy into the middle of their “Bridesmaids”! But I digress.

One of the interesting things to me about the thrown-out lyrics is that you picked them up and used them as the chorus for another song. We ended up with two really good songs. Win-win. I think the chance element in all of this is kind of cool. But I also agree with you that the more buy-in you get from everyone in the room about the whole process, the more likely it is to result in a successful and productive weekend.

So those were the limitations we imposed upon ourselves on Friday night: the “yes, and” principle, the idea that no one in the room “owned” any particular lyric, and a rigid three-hour time limit. We ended the night at 11 p.m. sharp with complete lyrics for 13 songs, along with a few extra scraps and unused titles that we threw in a folder just in case.

Coming up in Part 2: How to write and record all the music for an album in one day.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

Let’s Work

In my musical travels, I’ve found there to be generally two types of songwriters; those who create solely when inspiration calls and those who write via a structured, work schedule. If, like me, you fall into the former, waiting-for-that-lightning-to-strike category of writers, this post is for you.

In the spirit of expanding our creative horizons, what if we temporarily set aside our ethereal, inspired ways and wandered over to the dark side? What if we decided, if only for the sake of experimentation, to approach our writing with more of a workman-like ethic, reported for the (gasp) job and gave this structured, disciplined songwriting thing a try?

If you’re up for the gig, here are some ideas to help us slackers get down to business:

- Save the date. Even if it goes against every fiber of your creative being, pencil in writing sessions for yourself set for specific days and times. Afterward, adamantly stick to the schedule. Accept that a few of your sessions will most likely begin with a silent instrument and a blank piece of paper.

- Assignment desk. Try giving yourself a specific songwriting assignment and see if you can pull it off; compose a tune in 3/4 time or write a Dylan-esque story song that carries a narrative, etc.

- Take it to the limit. Set some limitations for yourself/your writing and exercise your creative powers within the confines of that framework. Singer-songwriter and IVC contributor, Michael Shelley once told me he challenged himself to write an entire song utilizing only two chords. The result? His catchy, “Listening to the Band”; a tune which successfully proves that limitations can sometimes, surprisingly, help rather than hinder the creative process.

Even if, ultimately, the exercises above do very little aside from reaffirm your aversion to structured writing methods, maybe one or two will stick with you. Exercises perhaps worth revisiting next time that flighty muse of yours decides to blow off work for a couple of weeks.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Sneaky Feelings

Songwriters are a funny lot. We spend hours toiling away in darkened rooms, talking to ourselves out loud, pausing occasionally to step out into the bright lights, only to be largely ignored by the general public. You could be mistaken for interpreting this as narcissism with a backing track, but that, dear writer, is where you would be wrong.

Songwriting is, by far, the cheapest form of psychotherapy you are ever likely to encounter. Here’s why: No subject is out of bounds, there’s a price plan to suit all and the doctor is always in. Bad day at work? Write it down! Trouble with your partner? Lay those feelings down on parchment! Wrote a great song? Errr… But, seriously, this stuff is pure, unadulterated, full-fat, songwriting gold. Whether it’s a form of catharsis, by osmosis or any other “sis” you feel like tagging on the end, those feelings are going to find a way out somehow, so why not channel the little suckers into something positive?

Depending on your writing style, you can probably categorize your work as either fiction or non-fiction or both (Peacock alert! ~ Ed). There’s nothing wrong in being completely detached from your subject matter and sometimes this can really help with the creative process. However, direct your ears towards a copy of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and, in particular, the line “making love in the green grass, behind the stadium with you.” Straight away, you know that ol’ Van has been knocking boots for real beneath the shadow of the floodlights. It’s an instant widescreen moment and a classic example of how, just by including a little piece of yourself in the song, you can move one step closer towards the holy grail of songwriting: A connection with the listener.

-Posted by Mick

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Mick Terry is a London-based singer/songwriter. His debut album, “The Grown Ups”, was released in 2010 and he is currently knee deep in Ampex 456 tape working on the follow up. Mick also hosts the monthly “The Living Room Scene” songwriter circle shows in London.

www.introversechorus.com

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

As songwriters, our musical influences play a big part in molding our sensibilities and ultimately our own personal, creative output. It’s probably safe to say that our sonic wellsprings are the sums of all we’ve heard throughout our lifetimes; from the cartoon music we listened to as kids, to that favorite album we obsessed over in college and everything else in between. All of it, collectively, making us who we are, musically speaking, today. Riffing on that premise, here’s an exercise to try that will, hopefully, get under your skin and help strengthen those songwriting muscles:

Infused Songwriting

Courtesy of Mr. Webster - “Infuse: To cause to be permeated with something (as a principle or quality) that alters usually for the better.”

- Pick a favorite band or artist whose music you love, any genre, even if different from the musical style you work in.

- Cue up an album or playlist of said artist’s work, grab a pair of earbuds and listen, without interruption, for 20 minutes. Let the music flow over you and really take it all in. Don’t make a sandwich while doing so either, give the tracks your full attention.

- After listening for 20, kill the music, immediately pick up your instrument of choice, let your fingers do the walking and write something. Anything. Don’t censor yourself and, for now, don’t worry about being derivative. Explore what that short blast of concentrated inspiration has done to stoke your creative fires.

Now of course, as always, your mileage may vary. Maybe after a half hour of woodshedding you’ll discover you’ve just rewritten, in part, one of the tunes you soaked up during your listening session. That said, perhaps conversely, you’ll find you’ve stumbled upon something interesting and fresh; a unique melody inspired by the music you love, yet a melody that’s clearly and undeniably your own.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Time After Time

So the other day I was listening to a song from the ’80s and in addition to the tune featuring some serious, of-the-time production, I realized the song also possessed a very era-specific melody; kind of angular and quirky. Not surprising, I suppose, as that kind of melodic choice was all the rage back in the “New Wave” day, but it got me thinking: While your average songs usually exhibit an era-specific quality influenced by the zeitgeist of their time, the truly great tunes - those considered by our culture as such throughout history - actually exhibit the opposite; a quality of “timelessness”. Songs that amazingly defy period and placement.

As songwriters struggling to create our culture’s new, evergreen compositions we may wonder: How do we introduce this magical sense of timelessness into our own work? Of course, that’s a question even the greatest living songwriters among us would have a tough go at answering but that said, there are some common sense approaches we can take toward transcending the musical here and now:

- Keep it simple. Many classic tunes feature basic chord changes and almost instantly hummable, sometimes childlike, melodies. Don’t over complicate your work.

- Do you remember? Can you easily recall the melody of that new song you wrote three days ago without referencing the demo? Truly great tunes tend to stick to the gray matter.

- Act locally, think globally. The lyrical content of many a timeless tune draws from the well of basic, human experience. Write about something you’ve personally been through that other folks can also identify with, no matter who they are or where they come from.

- Less cowbell. More a production thought than a compositional one; when recording, think twice about adding that hot, new synth patch to your track. Does the song really need it? Remember, today’s fresh sound, many times, becomes tomorrow’s cheesy one. Stick to classic instrumentation when possible.

Obviously, the methods behind creating music worthy of spanning the generations can never be found within the confines of a punch list. If only it was that easy. Fortunately or unfortunately, our job as songwriters is to discover those elusive ways and means. Here’s to keeping our efforts as perennial as the songs we strive to create.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

This is How We Do It: Mark Bacino

As curator of IVC, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is with this installment of “This is How We Do It” and offer a peak into my own songwriting process:

Inspiration

For better or worse, over the years I’ve come to find that when writing music for myself (as opposed to other artists or projects) I’m not a disciplined, “write something every morning” kind of writer. Instead, I generally find myself reaching for the guitar or sitting at the piano when I feel in the mood to play, if not necessarily in the mood to “write”.

With instrument in hand, I inevitably find myself sort of absentmindedly playing through chord progressions. Sometimes nothing more happens and I go about my day. Other times, mysteriously, a new pattern I like appears under my fingers. Now much has been said about where this likable pattern may have come from - Divine channeling? The happenstance of physics in a random universe? - but honestly I try not to think about it too much beyond feeling humbled and grateful.

Once my chord pattern is in place (might be a potential chorus or verse), I then usually find myself singing random or nonsensical words over the top of said chords in search of a melody that interests me.  For some reason, these nonsensical phrases begin, over time, to imply a rhyme scheme. I don’t usually have any proper lyrics, per say, at this point, but I begin to realize the positions where keeper words should attempt to rhyme.

Once I have chords, melody and an implied rhyme scheme in place for one section of the tune, I’ll then repeat the above process ‘till I have all the sections I need to begin assembling a proper song.

Perspiration

With the bulk of the inspirational part behind me, this is where the perspiration drill begins. It’s now that I’ll start assembling my parts into a cohesive song structure. This usually means playing the song sections over and over in various configurations (still with nonsensical lyrics) until I stumble upon a particular structure that feels right for the tune. As I’ve discussed in other posts, there are many classic song structures in the realm of popular song that “just work”.  Having studied a number of these tried and true patterns, I find, has given me a leg up and makes my structuring process less painful.

Lyrical Approach

Assuming I now have a decent (if not set in stone) song structure in place, I’ll begin work on the lyrics proper. At this point, obviously, there’s a bit of reverse engineering taking place. I’ll listen to the chords or melody line and see what kind of mood they’re offering - playful, sad, etc - then take my lyrical cue from there, crafting final lyrics that conform to my predetermined rhyme schemes and melodies while hopeful saying something interesting/entertaining in the process.

In terms of a lyrical style, these days I find myself, more often than not, trying to couch the angst of serious subject matters or everyday life within humorous or slightly snarky narratives. It’s not always my plan of attack, sometimes I’ll play it straight, but lately I find talking about semi-serious subjects in a somewhat humorous way makes the heavier meals (at least to my sensibilities) a little easier to swallow and in some ways more poignant.

Whew.

Now all that said, I’d be lying if I claimed that’s the way I write all the time. It’s just the way I happen to write most of the time. Often a lyrical phrase might kick off the whole process in reverse or I might be washing a pile of dirty dishes, absentmindedly humming a cappella when a new melody arrives. And, in essence, that’s the main appeal of the songwriting process for me. I find that mix of mystery and method endlessly enjoyable.

What’s your songwriting process like? Leave us a comment above.

-Posted by Mark

A recurring feature on IVC, each “This is How We Do It” offers a glimpse into the personal songwriting process of a particular artist.


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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Word Up

With this post we welcome Mick Terry to the IVC family. Mick is a London-based singer/songwriter who’s ultra-melodic, debut album, “The Grown Ups” is a must-have for any fan of the classic pop genre. In the piece below, Mr. Terry offers his astute thoughts and advice on the art of crafting the perfect, pop lyric.
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Rhyme is on My Side

Lyrics are king in my book. Compared to a poem, they are like the archetypal cooler, older brother. They get to hang with the pretty melodies, make out with beautiful chord progressions and there’s absolutely no chin stroking required whatsoever. Lots of folk will wax and wane about jumping out of bed to record that killer melody that came a knockin’ at 3am, but how many of us would do the same for a clever couplet?

Rhyme Cuts

People like Elvis Costello are true masters of the pop lyric. He is equally adept at melding tales of mercenary soldiers (“Oliver’s Army”) to classic pop hooks one minute and then killing you softly with a heartbreaking lament to lost love (“Alison”) the next. In isolation, some lyrics can seem one dimensional, banal and even plain cheesy, but a great vocal performance can make you believe almost anything. If you delve into the back catalogue of Scottish minimalist popsters, The Blue Nile, the lyrics can appear abstract and, almost, flat. However, the band’s vocalist, Paul Buchanan, manages to deliver them with such poignancy and emotion that they instantly become three dimensional. As they say, one man’s nacho cheese is another man’s caviar.

Brother Can You Spare a Rhyme

Don’t be afraid to use your favourite quotes as inspiration. Case in point; Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Take a listen to The Pretenders’ track, “Message of Love” and you’ll hear Chrissie Hynde applying her famous vibrato to that very line with such conviction that you’d never guess it wasn’t part of her original lyric. There’s no shame in taking a little lyrical handout along the way. Which leads me on to…

The Rhymes They Are a Changin’

Next time you’re in a bookshop (remember those, kids?), steer clear of the best seller displays and head over to the music section. If you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one: The rhyming dictionary. When I first became aware of this, now, invaluable tome, I kind of dismissed it as a form of cheating; the songwriting equivalent of doping if you will (precious youth alert! ~ Ed). Boy, was I wrong. I can, honestly, say that it totally changed the way I approach lyrics and it’s never out of arms reach whenever I’m writing. They are relatively inexpensive and make the perfect substitute for socks on your Christmas want list.

Rhyme Does Pay

Above all, remember that your lyrics are there to serve the song and never underestimate their pulling power. Your audience may interpret your words in a completely different way to you, but that’s all part of their charm. So, the next time you hear someone say, “That is such a great line,” imagine how great it would feel to reply, “I wrote that.”

-Posted by Mick

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Mick Terry is a London-based singer/songwriter. His debut album, “The Grown Ups”, was released in 2010 and he is currently knee deep in Ampex 456 tape working on the follow up. Mick also hosts the monthly “The Living Room Scene” songwriter circle shows in London.

www.introversechorus.com