A guitarist friend, Kevin Scruggs, pointed me to a Facebook video featuring Ben Folds at the Kennedy Performing Center for the Arts. Folds was asked to write a song in ten minutes, from scratch, given the following tools: one line selected from that evening’s printed program, the key of A minor, and the National Symphony Orchestra.
His real-time creation and assembly of musical parts is fascinating to watch, and the musicians who became his instruments were thrilled to participate in the process. Take a look:
Those of you who write music know that sometimes it can be a long, painstaking process and other times a song seems to write itself. Every songwriter has his or her own method and style.
For me, writing a song is two separate journeys – the lyrics and the music. These seldom come to me connected. I find writing lyrics to be very fast and easy, given an inspiration or a message. The musical part of the journey is more complex and involves discovery through trial and error. That involves finding a framework, or a “groove” (to me that is bass, drums, and chords) that is satisfying and unique and then fleshing it out with details, depth and hooks.
We are fortunate to have technology that makes songwriting and composition so easy. I recently watched the 50th anniversary documentary of how the Beatles composed and recorded their groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s album, and also one about Queen and their recording processes. The recording engineers spent painstaking hours manually cutting and manipulating physical tapes – it was complicated enough just to assemble tracks for a straightforward song, but in the late sixties and early seventies, these guys pushed the envelope to create totally unique sounds and music.
Now it’s a piece of cake (or Cakewalk for you recording buffs) for a solo musician to record layer after layer of tracks using his or her choice of instruments, a digital interface and a laptop computer with specialty software. The range of digital instruments and effects at our disposal is only limited by our imagination.
If you are a musician and have always wanted to write and record songs, you can start tomorrow for as little as a hundred bucks – the cost of an inexpensive interface, which usually includes software. There is a learning curve, but you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Yes, I have written songs that I am reasonably proud of in ten minutes, or thereabouts. And I have heard many musicians say that it’s not unusual for a song to fall into place very quickly given that lightning bolt of inspiration. Of course to get beyond vocal and guitar it takes many hours to record and detail out all the instrumental and vocal parts, with a lot of experimentation, trial and error, mixdown, etc.
It sure is fun to see a songwriting genius like Ben Folds at work.
Caution! Blind Driver