Robbie phones up – “hey, need a new song – thinking anthem! Let me know, thanks!” Mariah leaves a message – “hey, need a ballad, romantic, you know, thanks!”
Whoa. Where to start. Review nuggets stored in Evernote. Boff. Play guitar five minutes (all I get is “Stairway”). Look at notebook for three minutes. Lots of lines. Page a bit curly at the bottom. I draw a cat (actually two circles, two triangle ears and some whiskers). I shade in the cat, tail, eyes, looks quite g… I throw the cat into the bin. Robbie must never know.
On the other hand: “hey Sherman Brothers, need a song that demonstrates Mr Banks’s realization that he needs to spend time with family and has been overworking. Needs to show that deep down he’s a good person and not an ogre. Should be something playful, needs to be suitable for all the family and friends to join in, something social, outdoors. OK?”
Now we’re talking.
It’s easier to write in context – if we have a movie scene in our minds then we see characters, places, activities. How do they feel? What do they say? Where do they go? What are they thinking? How do they feel inside? How did they get there?
So if inspiration is short, don’t sit down with a guitar (noodling) or a pad (doodling). Your mind is like packet soup. Powdery and dry; looks like nothing; tastes like it was made in a lab (actually it was); smells like anything except teen-spirit. You can shake it, pour into a cup, put your fingers into it, but it won’t be dinner. It needs something from outside to awaken it, bring out the taste, and reconstitute those molecules. Water, heat, recipient, utensils, attention. Maybe a herb; cheese; I know, croutons! Now we’re cooking (ahem).
Do something active but song-focused. Don’t watch a movie and come back later. Watch a movie and dig into the characters, situations, senses. What’s going on? See anything you like? Press pause. Write down everything and see where it takes you. Go for a walk, sit in a café (of course!), watch people, dogs, plants, things… Where do they come from? Is the man in the gabardine suit a spy? Let it flow. Write everything down now, rearrange, look up You Tube. Try the I or the he/she. Dust off the rhyming dictionary, go wild with the thesaurus. Let it blossom, let it grow. You’ll get something (not necessarily a song). Keep it. Tomorrow you’ll get something more (maybe something good).
Do this before Robbie or Mariah call. They won’t know you didn’t prepare it especially for them.