When I went to the Toronto Songwriting School Songwriting Retreat in November 2018 I discovered the joy of working with songwriting prompts. I’m very happy with the song I wrote that week-end from a prompt card (which I’m not playing live till I record and release my second album.)
After the retreat, we bought their Songwriting Calendar for 2019, which offers one prompt per month. I got 2 complete songs and one partial out of it (with a seed for a fourth) but there were many months that I didn’t really think about the prompt. In December I participated in a 5 day song a day challenge, and ended up with 3 complete songs, and 1 that just needs a tiny bit of tweaking.
I got the Songwriting Calender again this year and have decided to really put a push in write a song every month, put them up on Youtube, and even write a little bit about them.
January’s prompt was to write a song using a headline. Thanks to the Trump administration, I’ve pretty much given up on reading news other than sports and VOCM. Also, Spermatophores came from a headline, so I decided to write a song about headlines in general, and why I stopped reading them. Some of the prompt songs have come together very quickly. This one took some time and went through quite a few different permutations and concepts before winding up where it did on January 31st.
There were some attempts at making it a story about why I stopped reading headlines. I was playing with the idea that ignorance is bliss and how I thought ignorance was bad before the current state of things. Then it almost turned into a song about all the stupidity around me that I wish I didn’t know about. (ie: flat earthers, incels, etc) During these stages, I didn’t have any solid musical ideas, I was just focusing a lot on lyrical notions.
I seem to have been running with the chorus idea based around the words ‘Shut it all out’ for a while and at some point I came up with my opening line and a melody to go with it.
That lead to a first verse and a chorus. My original chorus went:
So I tune it all out
I turned em all off
I Shut em all out
Won’t let em blow it all up
Now, I have two notebooks that I use for songwriting. One is a moleskin music note book with blank paper on one side and staff paper on the other, the second is just a blank notebook which is where most lyrics get written. For a week or two, the first verse and chorus floated about in my mind, and then when January was about to come to a close I headed up to my studio to finish the song. When I got there, I discovered that I didn’t have my music notation book where I had made my notes, but I had to finish, so I went with what I could remember.
I had good luck using lists of words in the 5 songs in 5 days challenge, so to come up with the lyrics for the second and third verses I made a list of words expressing how headlines make a person feel. This was helpful in coming up with the next verses. Because I couldn’t quite remember my chorus, it ended up morphing (for the better) into:
So I tune it all out
I turn it all down
If I let it all in
I’d wanna blow it all up
I also added two bridges, one explicitly calling out headlines, and a closing bridge pointing out that journalism is missing from the news. I had a bit of a hard time determining the structure of this song, but I played around with chorus placement and any repeats, called it done and posted it in the songwriting group. (As well as Youtube)
My songs often change a little bit with time, and the prompt songs are more likely to change between first performance and CD recorded version. One of the comments I got from someone in the songwriting group was that they liked the guitar melody and would like to hear it as an instrumental, and perhaps that would be a better ending than the second bridge. I believe I agree with this, I’m still playing around with it a bit, but I suspect that is the direction it’s going to take. I will leave the original version up on Youtube, but it is liable to change.