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  • Writer's pictureAdam Kellum

The Birth Of A Song... A Creative Process

I've often been ask, "How do you write your songs?"

The answer is simple, I don't.

Let me explain a little further, I write the words on paper (or whatever I can find nearby). It isn't that I outsource my music. I never have and I suspect I probably won't start any time soon. It's that I don't just sit down and write a story about some random subject. I know a lot of Artists whom do write that way but that just isn't my process. I don't write my songs per say, I live them. The words may rhyme and it may have a good tune with it but what it comes down to is a specific point in my life. For instance, It probably doesn't have to be said but "Whiskey Blues" was written a short time after my first wife and I divorced. So now that it's clear where the songs come from let's dive more into the process

The next question I usually get is, "How do you decide what to write about?" and well that answer is pretty simple too... I don't. As I go through happy / sad / or any other handful of emotions that life tends to throw towards me, I write down little notes about how I'm feeling and why. All of those scraps of paper end up in a big file in a filing cabinet. (Yes, I actually still have a filing cabinet). Over the years, this file has gotten quite sizable. Sometimes I even surprise myself with blurps that I had completely forgotten were in there. Generally, when I sit down to write a song, the only thing predetermined is that I want it to be a (insert emotion) song with a (Insert tempo). The rest is mostly fate. I have a routine that helps focus my mind towards the task ahead. I go to my office and light a candle that fills the room with the smell of sage grass. It reminds me of Wyoming and helps me relax. I sit down at my desk, turn on my computer and open a recorder I've installed on it. I take out my yellow writing tablet and grab a pencil. The first thing I write on the blank page is my name and the date. Then I usually scribble a little at the top. It breaks up the nothingness on the page. Writer's block is more likely to happen with a completely blank page. Next, I reach into the file and, at random, pull out 3 of my notes. The idea is to use at least one to write 1 song. Now, in a perfect world I could write 3 songs but that just isn't how it works every time. Sometimes it's tough to get 1 song from 3 ideas.

The goal for my sessions is to get a song on paper. Whether or not the song is that great or not is beside the point. No one really thinks about it but NASCAR drivers don't wait for race day to take the car out on the track and Football players don't run a play for the first time during a game. Why would it be any different for Songwriters? I've written probably in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 2,000 songs. However, I only have about a handful of songs that I would ever even think of letting anyone hear. The practice hones the skill.

Once I have a good idea for the song or a good hook for the song, I start writing the chorus. The chorus is what roots the song and binds everything together. After I get a chorus that I'm happy with I move to the first verse. This may or may not fall completely inline with the chorus, but either way it starts the story and sets the scene / determines the mood. The first verse should at the very least give some in-site to the idea of the song and/or draw the listener. Think back to Clint Black's "Killin Time"

You were the first thing that I thought of When I thought I drank you off my mind

When I get lost in the liquor You're the only one I find

And if I did the things I oughta

You still would not be mine

So I keep a tight grip on the bottle

Gettin' loose and killin time

That first line draws you in, you want to know more. The rest of the verse sets the precedence for the story. This is an excellent example of a first verse! So I have my First Verse which sets up the story and sets the mood. I also have my Chorus which is the base of the song and really helps drive the idea home with a catchy hook. Now, It's time to write a second verse! What in the world could be left to write about though?

The second verse gives you more BACKSTORY on your idea. This could be when, how, or why. Maybe even all 3 of those! The main thing is to use the second verse for depth. The first verse draws them in and sets the scene. The chorus drives home the focus of the idea. The second verse should give more in-site to the story while also intriguing the listener. After the second verse, when the song goes back into the chorus, it should connect in the same way but differently! Maybe approach it from another angle so to speak. During that second chorus, which the listener has already heard, they should be thinking "dang, that really hit me".

Then by that time, the turn around (or Bridge) will be coming on. This is my favorite part of a song! It can be used in so many different ways! Heck, you don't even have to use it. That's how versatile it can be! Personally, I think it is a very powerful tool if used correctly. Want an example? I've got one! Eric Church "Talladega"

When the winds go cold and it blows October

I think about us shoulder to shoulder

Like those cars my thoughts roll over and over and over

But in my mind..... Tonight

It's brilliant! Not only has he added a subtle degree of depth outside of the verses, he was also able to relate his feelings to the main idea in a completely different way. It really gets you thinking!

Finally, I always try to hit the chorus 3 times. Why 3 times you ask? Because during my college days (when I managed to show up for class) I learned that 3 is the magic number! It takes the average person, at minimum, 3 times of hearing, seeing or saying something for it to process into memory. This is the same reason you hear commercials on radio repeat the phone number 3 times. I guarantee you can sing a couple of phone numbers that you've heard on the radio or TV over the years!

Now that I've explained my writing process to you I have one more thing to add...

Throw all of that out of the window..... You read that right! On a day that I get to set down and write that's exactly how I do it. However, sometimes an idea just hits you out of the blue! Sometimes in the strangest places. I've had to pull my truck over at 3am on a cross country drive. I've scribbled songs out on bar napkins and receipts and just about any other scrap of paper you can imagine. Once while I was in the middle of moving and had most everything I owned packed up in cardboard boxes I wrote a song out on the side of a box. You just never know when inspiration is gonna hit you. That's why most of the time I'll have a pen in my pocket and some paper somewhere nearby. Like I said, it's a creative process and songs aren't exactly written but more less born!

Maybe some of yall have always wanted to start writing but didn't know where to start but now feel like you have an idea. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

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