A Song is Born
How I wrote "Natalie." A deep dive into the my writing process as seen through the voice memos of one song. PS it comes out tonight :)
First of all, please PRESAVE “Natalie” — it doesn’t cost anything for you (the permissions are just so that the song pops up in your feed when it’s released tonight!!) and it helps me out a ton.
I remember sitting in the back of a cab and humming the melody into my phone—“Natalie, I saw you at a party”—that what would become the verse to “Natalie.” Most of my songs start like this: with a little nugget of words and melody that occur to me simultaneously. Pick any phrase and figure out how it scans fluidly.
The original voice memo for “Natalie”:
Scan is the word for it. Shorthand for “scansion,” it means the rhythmic feel of a line, where the stresses and unstresses fall. That scan in turn determines the natural feel of a melody. “Natalie, I saw you at a party” (which later became the slightly more interesting “Natalie, I saw you cross the party”), fell right into that melody like the right Tetris piece. Another good example of a good scan is the melody for the line “I don’t want to miss you like I do.” The melodic rhythm even preserves the humor of “…like I do,” pushing it all the way towards the end of the line like the embarrassing admission it is.
The original voice memo for “I Don’t Want to Miss You (Like I Do)”:
Anyway, songs, or at least the seeds of them, kind of “occur” to me in this way, with a little nugget of phrase and melody popping into my brain. Then it’s time to figure out what comes next?
In the case of “Natalie” I started to figure that out the next morning while riding my bicycle, and you can hear my bike-lock jangling over each 1st Avenue pothole.
Second voice memo for “Natalie,” the next morning:
And again later that day you can hear me trying to work out the chorus and general form of the song.
Third voice memo for “Natalie,” later that day. A lot of this would be scrapped or change, but it’s becoming recognizable. The “Yoda” rhyme with “vodka-soda” is hilarious and terrible and didn’t even make it to the next voice memo:
Writing a song is often a lot more like sculpting from stone than painting a canvas in that I will have a big block of ideas and chisel them away to find the song rather than folding layers into a composition: it’s reductive rather than additive. And the day after (so two days after the initial idea), you hear the chorus ideas getting stripped even farther back.
Paring down and paring down:
And another big moment here that same day when I figured out the beat-switch. I remember being so stoked about it. That was the moment I knew the song was really going to work well. I will often watch bike racing while I’m writing. It helps me stay on track by limiting my potential for even greater distraction—at least that’s what I tell myself—but I really think it works…and really love bike racing. I think this might have been the Olympic mens road race. Great race, really thought McNulty had pulled it out for a second there!
Figuring out the beat-switch:
Once I figured that out, the rest of the song really fell into place the same way one puzzle piece can unlock the whole jigsaw, and I was left with this song.
The full song takes shape:
Pretty quickly I started to think about the production which is a whole different story. One I will tell next week…
A jaws-like voice memo with the beginning of my production thoughts:
Please comment any questions about the songwriting process, my favorite way to eat Oreos, etc and I will respond in next week’s newsletter!
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Love you all, but mostly Erin who can miraculously sleep through my typing,
P.S. maybe a show announcement coming soon?