Not everyone knows this about me, but I’ve been writing lyrics since I was 11 years old—ahem, I’m now 24, going on 25.
Now, let me tell you, the most frustrating thing for an aspiring lyricist, besides writers block, is lacking the ability to write music. Sure, I took piano lessons as a kid and learned how to read music just fine, but the subtle art of composition has always elluded me.
It might come as a surprise to many people that playing and writing music do not always go hand in hand.
It’s much like being able to drive a car—that doesn’t mean you can build one from scratch! So, for upwards of 10 years, I’ve written over a thousand sets of lyrics with no melodies to breathe life into them. However, this past Wednesday, Idle Tuesdays Recording Studio gave me the chance to fix that!
We decided to have a writing session.
When I left work and arrived at Idle Tuesdays Recording Studio, a recording of Natalie Chan’s (a vocal performance major at Azusa Pacific University) original song was already underway. Her song about finding unexpected love and holding on to it as tightly as she can was beautifully soft and heart-wrenching.
Natalie’s lyrics were stunning and the touching melody brought her song to life.
Before my very eyes I saw this bare-bones of a song blossom into nearly a fully grown love ballad. Beginning with soft, lingering notes on the M-Audio ProKeys 88 weighted keyboard, Natalie’s added guitar and light harmonies (compliments of Connor Hadden). After ninety minutes later, we had a rough cut of Natalie Chan’s original song. The finishing touches will be added over the next few weeks.
Watching this process unfold, I was terrified to present my lyrics to the group.
I wasn’t Natalie, I didn’t come with any ideas about melody, tempo, key, or anything! All I had were lyrics that I knew would not reach their full potential or shape until a melody was written. After a few moments of convincing, I shared my lyrics with the team.
Let me just say this, for some people, writing poems or lyrics is a chance to show off their talents and showcase what makes them special. I’m not one of those people.
For me, writing lyrics and poems took the place of keeping a diary many, many years ago. My lyrics aren’t chances for me to showcase my knowledge of rhyme or story telling. My songs and my poems are my way of working through issues, falling in love and wearing my heart on my sleeve.
Allowing my team to look at my lyrics was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
But before I jump right into my songs, here’s a little backstory…
My first song, Before You, was honestly not so nerve wracking because I wrote it after watching the 2016 film, Me Before You. There wasn’t anything personal about this song; I wrote it because the film didn’t have a title song and I thought it deserved one.
My second song, however, Across the Universe, had started off being about a guy I’d fallen head over heels for. He was wildly enchanting and captivated me from the start and, about a year ago, I wrote these lyrics for him. However, when I sat down to edit the lyrics, they didn’t feel like they were for him anymore.
I started really reading through the lyrics and found myself thinking more about my niece than him.
I started editing, rewriting, cutting verses, changing choruses and finally settled on a completely reworked set of lyrics. Even though this song was no longer about an unrequited love, I still felt nervous about sharing it.
Okay, back to present time…
It was a raw, emotional process that led me to writing Across the Universe, and I was terrified of being laughed at.
Natalie Chan read the lyrics to the group. Then she and Julia Antonio complimented my choice of words and rhyme. After the initial read through, Natalie, Julia and Emily Hibard agreed that Across the Universe was the song we would all work on.
Connor Hadden, accompanying on acoustic guitar, asked what kind of vibe I wanted. I admitted I had originally considered a pop-style melody for it, but Natalie and I quickly agreed that a lullaby would be best. For the next hour or so, Natalie and Julia tried different melodies, asking Connor to change a chord here and there while I updated the lyrics.
“Maybe someone should record what we have so far,” Natalie suggested. I immediately pulled out my phone and started a voice memo.
Within the hour, we managed to get through the first verse, pre-chorus and chorus of my song.
Now, for those of you thinking to yourself, “But, why couldn’t you finish the song in one sitting? Natalie almost did,” I’ll just say this: I guarantee you, Queen, Metallica, Eminem, Carol King, Taylor Swift, none of these brilliant minds finished composing a song in one hour, there was no way I would.
My lyrics were rough because I wrote them without the faintest idea of a melody. So, when we sat down to write the song, it wasn’t just about coming up with the chords, the lyrics were evolving along with the music.
We called it a night at 8:00 pm and I came home to meditate on the next verse and what needed to be re-written in order to move forward the next time we had had a writing session. During my shift at the library (my day job) the next day, I managed to whittle down the second verse’s lyrics to fit the melody that Natalie Chan and Connor Hadden had come up with.
I took these updated lyrics home and showed my Dad. Being a guitarist and bassist himself, he managed to listen to the recordings I’d made while I was at the studio and figured out the chords. With that, I was able to make sure the way I’d re-written the second verse would work with the melody Natalie and Julia had sung.
With the first two verses pretty much taken care of, we’ll be tackling the bridge during our next writing session.
I’m really excited to see what Natalie Chan, Julia Antonio and Connor Hadden help come up with! Some major editing will still need to be done with the bridge, but I’m looking forward to it.
I like writing when there’s a little bit of pressure.
It brings out my best work. I’m not sure when we will all be able to sit down again since the spring internship is coming to a close. But we have some really fantastic podcasts coming up! If you haven’t already listened, you can check our the Music Industry Insiders podcast on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Player FM or Stitcher.