Writing Original Music: The Process

How it all comes together

(From the perspective of Gabriel Gledhill… a pianist, turned violinist, turned guitarist, turned bassist)

Writing music is such a unique process that falls somewhere on the emotional scale between exhilarating and frustrating depending on the day. It is so terribly different and beautiful for each person, that is why I love it. I say terrible because there is no set formula to write a hit single, if there were everyone would be doing it- including me. I also say beautiful because it is the quality of individuality that each songwriter brings to the table that makes each song have an identity that reflects the songwriter and his or her passions.

The Inspiration

I find inspiration for my song writing through many different outlets. One specifically is through other music. I try to listen to a new artist, one that I have never heard before, every single day. I pick an artist that I like and find someone related to them that I have never heard of and I push play on track one and start getting ready for the day. That’s how most mornings start. I studied journalism through college and I knew that to be a good writer I had to read material published by other writers. Similarly I feel that the more music I listen to, hearing what I like and dislike, helps me discover how I want to shape my sound. The other side of inspiration is simple little tunes that pop into my mind at the most random and sometimes inconvenient times. Its odd, but out of the blue a melody will just pop into my head. It can be a bass line, guitar riff or the lead vocal melody but once I hear in my head I pull out my phone and do my best to hum a scratch version of it into my voice memos. I have hundreds of these that I hope to put to use one day.

The Music

Putting the music together for a song has evolved so much over the years. At first, a song simply consisted of a basic guitar rhythm and some cliché lyrics. It is much more now. For the majority of my songs I will find my root chords that I want to play within the song. Once I have this fundamental element of the song defined, wither it be on the piano, guitar, bass, etc.., I then put in on a loop and I just start to jam. I take turns of different instruments for sometimes upwards of an hour at a time and just try and let creativity flow. When I feel I’ve hit something special, I turn the microphone on, record it, then continue moving on looking for something better.

Once I have something that agrees with both my ears and my mental vision I begin to add all of the trimmings to the song. A drum beat, small piano licks, guitar effects, strings, etc… I find the small things that you hear on a track that aren’t prominent are sometimes the most crucial parts. It’s like cooking my favorite chicken and grilled apple dinner with gravy. There’s a lot going on there, but what really wins me over is the hint of rosemary that is hidden inside of it all. It’s not a main ingredient but without it I wouldn’t crave it. Similarly, those hidden flares of creativity are everything to a song.

The lyrics

Writing lyrics are easy. Writing good lyrics are difficult. For the most part I write something every day. Whither it’s in a journal, a letter, an op-ed that I submit online or a song – it’s happening daily. I won my first poetry contest when I was 14 and received my first paycheck for a written article when I was 17. It has been something that I have loved doing since I was young, so I relish this aspect of songwriting.

What is difficult is writing something that speaks to everyone. Writing about something that the majority can relate to but saying it in a way that is completely new. A perfect example of this is done by Chris Martin of Coldplay; one of the most iconic bands of our time. Off of their most recent album; A Head Full Of Dreams, is the impressive song Army Of One. In this love ballad Chris cries out the following words in the memorable chorus:

“So I’ll never say die, I’m never untrue
I’m never so high as when I’m with you
And there isn’t a fire, that I wouldn’t walk through
My army of one is going to fight for you”

Everyone has said the words “I’ll do anything for you” before to someone, but the phrasing he uses in the last sentence of the chorus conveys that common message in a way so simply unique that you can’t help but both relate to and love it. In case you are looking for other examples of this, go listen to Let’s Hurt Tonight by One Republic, Slow Dancing In A Burning Room by John Mayer or Tear In My Heart by Twenty One Pilots.

The Why

Writing music isn’t a pure joy. There is definitely a little bit of hate, frustration and impatience sprinkled into this process. Nothing is quite as aggravating as having a song floating somewhere in your mind and not being able to get it onto the paper and into the music.

For me, creativity is like a lightening storm. When it hits, its nothing but brilliance and beauty for those lucky enough to experience it. The issue is waiting for those storms to come. The rest of the time, skies are blue and winds are calm and creativity is at a normal level. Now I’m not saying that nothing good comes from average days. I have written a lot of music that I enjoy just because I do it everyday and the repetition elevates my abilities, but it’s not the same as those rare musical inspirations.

I want to conclude by stating the obvious. I know that I am not a multi-million dollar artist with platinum songs being played all over the world. I am a humble songwriter from Utah with a passion and a dream that burns deep inside of me. I don’t know if I will ever write a Grammy nominated track or pen a ballad used for thousands of couples as “their song”, but I do know that I’ll die before I stop trying, because this is a love and a passion that I want to share with the world in hopes that I can use it to affect the lives of others in a positive way.

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