OK, so now that you've seen the rough draft I'm gonna walk you through the process I go through to craft the song in more detail. For the most part, from here on, I'm doing this in real time with you. My palms are sweating, but the only way through is forward now.STAGE ONE
- Free-Writing on the topic/title ("Burn Sheet" - I call it that because it gives me subconscious freedom to write freely without judgment, without stopping or editing, knowing that I am free to "burn" it when I'm done writing)
- First draft of lyrics (shaping the best lines of my writing into at least one verse + chorus)
- First draft of melody (sing the lyrics naturally, feel the pulse)
- Sketch out first draft of chords that best harmonize the melody (usually the most obvious ones)
This is exactly where I am with this song currently. I have a pretty simple melody, nothing super original, but it feels nice to sing. The chords are very basic one, four and five chords so far. Now that I have a recorded sketch of the lyrics and melody this is always a good time to experiment with other possibilities. Sometimes this is as much work as is needed because the song is so easily clicking on every level that I can bring it to the band and we can skip to Stage 3. For this song however, there is still a lot more work to do. So on to STAGE TWO: Editing.
- Re-read the lyrics. Identify lyrical weak spots. (When you're trying to tell a complex story in a 3-5 minute song every word counts) The best lines will serve three purposes: 1) develop the character 2) advance the plot and 3) deepen the imagery.
- Dig deeper for fresh imagery (this may require research, as you'll see below)
- Dig deeper still (internally now) till a nerve is struck (thinking, writing more, asking lots of questions)
- "Tighten the threads" - Cut out any unnecessary words. See if there is a poetic thread (a word or phrase) that can be pulled through to the end, or woven in to the middle somewhere.
I'll share more about the process, including STAGE THREE in the next post. For now I'll pause here and focus on lyrics because there is more to be told here than what I am saying so far. This is not a complex story: A girl sits on a bench in a peaceful scene somewhere in Kansas. She is about to write in her journal when a bug lands on the blank page and stays there for a really long time. . . It's certainly not material for a thriller. Everything I want to communicate here is going to be projected onto the actual physical events of the story.This song is about the internal dynamics of a subtle scene, so it's crucial to choose the right details and use the imagery symbolically to strengthen the message. Sometimes that means just free-writing and sometimes that means researching. Since I didn't know much about dragonflies, this song called for some research. I read a number of blogs and articles online, then wrote out a poetic summary of what I read.
In Native American culture dragonflies represent swiftness and activity. This is especially striking to me because of the contrast with my experience - a dragonfly that stayed so peacefully with me for such a long time. I'm not sure how much of all of this information is applicable to me and to this song, but in a creative brainstorm all things are considered.
The research alone is naturally poetic enough that it points me in many possible directions I could run in. On the cusp of my fortieth year of life I feel as if I have outgrown this old shell again (hopefully for the last time). I am tired of hearing myself make excuses, apologizing, analyzing my regrets, swimming in the sea of anxieties. I feel like I have spent the majority of my life trying to crack open the “weak spots in the back of my head” and crawl out of my old larval skin. As I grow I keep crashing into my old beliefs of powerlessness, irrational fears, and false limitations.
As compelling as this imagery is though I don't think I want to go into detail about the metamorphosis of the Nymph in this song. It gets too complicated. When there are too many details and they are all good the hard work of song crafting is choosing the right details. I feel like there's enough material here just describing the scene, showing how my personal observations mirror my emotions and allowing the dragonfly be a symbol. But symbol of what? . . .
So, the next step here is to ask questions. This is my number one tool as a songwriting teacher - sometimes all it takes is to ask a few simple questions. Here goes -
Q: What is the central theme of this song?
A: Change. . . but something more. Like not just simply that things are changing but that there is this peaceful eye-of-the-hurricane moment of epiphany in the midst of change, a silent companion who seems to understand the internal anxiety that the change is bringing. So it's also about comfort, and the way that God communicates with us to let us know that He understands.
Q: Who or what does the dragonfly represent?
A: A divine messenger from a loving God? The fleeting, mysterious Muse? A sign that change is coming? An image to remember an important moment?
Q: How could each verse advance the story and support the chorus?
A: Verse 1 Establishes the scene, describes all the information about the who, what and where. (essentially verse 1 tells the whole simple story)
Verse 2 Character development: projecting my own thoughts and emotions onto the dragonfly through our unspoken conversation. Add more details to the scene and advance the plot.
CHORUS - presents my interpretation of the dragonfly's message to me
Verse 3 or Bridge - not sure yet. . . Where do we go from here? Does the dragonfly fly away? Do I move on to the next city? Or do we stay in this scene and just muse about the future? How can I support the chorus message best?
After working through this process, here's what I ended up with for a first and second verse:
Vs 1) Good morning Dragonfly
You’ve been burning through the night
A clean day rises now
And you’ve ended your flight
On the clean, white paper
Where I was just about to write
Won’t you stay awhile, little Dragonfly? (2x)
Vs 2) The sky is upside down
Fish are splashing in the clouds
I can’t stay here (or “in Kansas” - not decided yet)
Till I figure this out
I’ve been suffering
Is that why you have come?
To keep me company in the quiet of your love? (2x)
Thanks for following along in this process. These lyrics still may change as the song develops, but I really like how the picture is shaping up. Now for the hard part: tackling the chorus lyrics. The CHORUS is the heart of the song which will represent the dragonfly's message and/or symbolism.
There is more to come of course, as it's also time to get back to the music and try singing these new lyrics. Part IV will expand on STAGE THREE of my songwriting process which is where I get into the musical details.
much love Erin