I was talking with a guy at a party the other night. He always wanted to try his hand at art and songwriting and knew I was a designer/musician, so he asked where to even start.
Well, he asked the right person because I love to encourage people to break out, to share that voice inside.
Have you ever felt this from graffiti? Sometimes it’s just a name sprayed across a wall, as if screaming, “I’m here.” It’s natural to want to be recognized, but where do we begin?
First, be present. Peek under rocks and around corners—you have to live in order to have something worth reporting. Fortunately, or sadly, you will have to love deeply to have your heart shattered to have it born into art or song. At least that means most of us probably have a great tune to write. It also helps to do it incessantly as I do and hold space for it.
Process? This can mean setting a vibe in a quiet place, maybe getting a beat going or putting a few chords in order. Try grabbing a phrase from text or a news flash across the TV. Maybe jot down something cool a friend says, or if you’re lucky (as I am once in a blue moon), come up with something clever. You never know what will make for a lyric. The Beatles credited Ringo with a lot of their take-off lines, like “it’s been a hard days night” and “all the lonely people, where do they all come from.”
So, I tell him about a song from my latest album. I’m camping with a friend, and I’ve just finished writing a song called “Haven’t I.” I’ve been on a writing streak of two songs a day for the last 10 days and, honestly, I’m almost afraid of touching my guitar.
Sometimes I wake up from a dream with a complete song, or it just comes in like email without much input, which can feel like you’re just a song’s tool. Other times it takes a lot of browbeating work.
Well, today my friend is on her hammock and I’m beside her on a stump. She says she’s going to take a quick nap, so I keep idly strumming my junky old travel guitar. It’s a miniature acoustic that hardly stays in tune, but I’ve written countless songs on it. Some clouds start moving in, so I simply take notice.
The “download” begins:
Rain drops in the valley
Clouds over the plains
Lightning rips the sky…
This feels like song. What do I do with these lines? This feeling of dread and woe, darkening skies, swirling turmoil, hot-threatening-moist wind—it’s a storm front. My next line:
And thunder rumbles out your name
I’m reminded of her. An old ex. This unleashes uneasiness and brings her right back. My idyllic nature scene suddenly collapses into emotional muscle memory. I realize I’m wounded, exposed, and vulnerable to everything. This place is not my sanctuary; it’s as deadly as all I’ve gotten over. Naturally, I pursue:
Bear prowls the meadow
Bobcat stalks the range
Eagle screaming over
At the cliff’s edge lies a snake
How have these beautiful towering trees become menacing timber that aim to fall around me? Where am I going with this, Ramiro? The chorus comes in:
I went up to the mountain to forget you
Tried every way, cried anyway
I went up to the mountains to forget you
Oh, maybe someday
“The Mountain” is one that rather wrote itself. And dare I say, it got better as it went on and delivered a great ending. Once I was “in,” it was done in minutes.
At this point, my creative process and I are pretty good pals. We stay in touch to keep the lines open. As for art, the hardest part of painting is the space between brush and canvas.
So, press in. Commit, and you are more than halfway there.