Where exactly do songs come from? Not an easy question. But, I believe there are two distinct ways that music arrives to the musician.
Well, here’s what frequently happens to me, and the explanations I have for each.
Make My Idea
I have some specific, detailed, idea for a tune, and then I try to write the notes. I go to the MIDI keyboard and my DAW. I plink out a tune on the keyboard and try to match the notes I hear with the ones I have in my idea, the ones in my head.
This is basically me forcing the software and instruments to bend to my will, so to speak. I try to get the notes exactly right. I try to get the instrument exactly right. Both need to match the musical idea I have.
Note: This is also the process I go through when I try to replicate another artist's music. I often play the other music side-by-side with my own DAW, instrument, and MIDI keyboard, and try to match them.
This method is somewhat frustrating to me because I am a perfectionist and cannot ever achieve perfection. I will get close to what I want, but not exactly, and that is then a failure to me. As a result, I do not often like these compositions because they took such a long and difficult path to come to fruition.
Grow My Idea
I have some general thoughts and ideas for a tune. I go to my DAW and then experiment with different instruments to get the sound I am looking for. I don’t necessarily write out the notes, but I play selected notes to see if a melody of some sort comes out.
Usually this results in a tune that was not at all what I originally thought, but is in many ways better and more original than I could have hoped for.
This is, by far, my favorite way to make music, because it is much less frustrating than trying to make the software, instruments, DAW, notes, and melodies get in line and work the way I heard them in my head. In this method, I just experiment until I get something, and that is much more relaxing and enjoyable for me.
Another byproduct of this experimentation approach is that I get many more tunes out of a single session of experimentation. I may sit down with one general idea, and by the end of a half hour of experimentation, I have six or more starts of tunes that just need completing. New ideas then grow out of these and multiply themselves.
The Unlikely Connection to Alan Watts
Alan Watts, the teacher and philosopher from the 1960-era, lectured about the two different models that people have for the universe. One is the ceramic model that mirrors closely my “make the idea” approach. The other is the automatic model and is closest to Asian culture and my “grow the idea” method that I prefer.
Alan Watts’s speeches are used in the Everything video game and below is a video of the game preview with Alan Watts’s talking. It is well worth watching, in my opinion.
The Unlikely Connection to Jack Kerouac
The writer, Jack Kerouac, summed up life, in my opinion, by also echoing the Asian thoughts of letting things grow organically. This is inline with my “grow an idea” method. A lot of what Jack wrote is from that perspective, but less direct than Alan Watts’s lectures.
To get a feel for what Jack wrote, check out this video below with words by Jack Kerouac in the narration.
Below are some images of good Jack Keroac books I have read and recommend.