home     who?     sounds     gigs     studio   radical notes  discography    contact
How I Wrote Seven Songs in Seven--uh, Eight Days For The Fearless Songwriter Challenge of 2013


Last week I participated in the Fearless Songwriter Challenge. This online event is presented by songwriter Timmy Riordan five or six times a year. The idea for the event is to write seven songs in seven days.

Now, I know I can write a song in a day as I've done it many times. On my EP minus equals plus that I released on Bandcamp.com last year, four out of the five songs were each written in less than a day. On my upcoming CD, out of eleven songs that I wrote, nine of these were each written in one day, most within an hour or two. Two of these were written in as much time as it took to write them down--twenty minutes tops, and one was written while I was driving down San Jose Blvd. Maybe a half hour to write that one including stopping at stop lights to jot down the words. Some of these are my favorite songs.

But these songs came to me infrequently. Only when I was inspired by a phrase or series of chord progressions did this happen and the songs would rush out as fast as I could figure out the chords and write down the words. Other songs took days, weeks, and sometimes even years to finish. (Still working on that one about Johnny Cash crawling into Nickajack Cave to die. Been over a year now, still not done.)

But--could I write a song on demand, tweak the lyrics, and record a rough demo by the end of the day? And then do it again for seven days total?

I decided to go for it even though I knew my time was limited that week. Besides work, gigs, rehearsals, recording, I had to deal with buying a new work van as my current one was quickly becoming a deathtrap. (Seriously. I was becoming afraid to climb in it just to run up to the store, much less take it across town and over the several bridges that make up this town.) That gave me an hour in the morning and perhaps an hour or two each afternoon to work on songs. Not the way I was used to working. What, no time for naps? Grrr.

I also decided that, even though I run a recording studio out of my house that I would instead record these songs as rough demos directly onto my iPad using a recording program called Multitrack DAW by Harmonicdog. Easy to use and it got a decent sound using only the built-in mic on the iPad. I had been using it to record demos for myself and it did a fine job. The app also easily uploads the songs onto Soundcloud.com and from there I can link them to the Facebook page for the event.

One of the things that Timmy Riordan does to inspire you is give you a "prompt" each morning. A word or phrase to get you started. Day one's prompt was "full plate." I took that as meaning a very busy day. I know that feeling well so that was no problem. Song one, titled "Learn To Fly," down. 

The next days prompt was "the real thing." I'm a Coca-Cola addict and since I was drinking a Coke for breakfast that's what went into the song. Why not use what's around you for inspiration? "Monday Morning," written on a Monday morning completed. I spent that afternoon buying a used van from it's original owner (for a great deal I might add) and had a recording session that evening until late and went to bed right after.

For day three the inspirational prompt was "off the grid." I thought and thought but had nothing. Played some chords over and over, still nothing. So I reached for my songwriting notebooks. I opened one to a random page, saw the phrase "Let's talk about the dreams you had." I sketched out the chord pattern, roughed out some lyrics and went to work. All day long I was running ideas through my head, jotting down lyric ideas. When I got home I threw it together. "Think About" was done.

The day four prompt was "keep it going" which I assume was meant to be inspirational to the participants. "Keep it going! You're doing great!" Tried but couldn't figure out how to use "keep it going" in a song. Instead of the notebooks I decided to start from scratch. Worked on it in the morning for a short while then went to work. "The Good News" was finished the next morning. 

I had gotten some encouraging feedback on the Facebook page that was set up for participants to post their songs so that felt good. Listening to a few of the other participant's songs was also encouraging. There was some good stuff being done, everyone who was participating was taking it seriously and trying really hard. Good to know.

"How about a song written on a different instrument than you usually play?" was the prompt for day five. Well, since I used to write songs on bass, my first instrument--guitar is the new one for me--I decided to stick with guitar and keep plugging away. I started a song, got halfway through it before deciding I didn't like it. Went to work, jotted down a few ideas and started a new one when I got home. I had a recording session that night so didn't get back to it until the next morning. "Breaking Bad" is one of my favorite shows and I always wanted to use the title to the season one episode "Crazy Handful of Nothing" in a song. The phrase didn't make it--although I toyed around with it for a while--but it did become the title for the day five song.

For day six the prompt was "minimum wage." I've worked plenty of minimum wage jobs but wasn't inspired enough by this to write a song about it. I worked during the day and went to a house concert that evening. The performer was a great songwriter who used nature--rivers, mountains, weather--in her songs. She was a very natural storyteller. Matter of fact songs with a poetic feel to them. Beautiful in a plain-stated way. When I got home that evening I decided to sort of follow her example and used the ocean as my "prompt" since I had been right on the ocean that night. I used the chord structure I had abandoned the day before but with different lyrics and finished "Take Your Time" the following morning, Saturday, right before my next recording session.

The final day's prompt was "looking forward." Hmmm... what to do, what to do...

I thought about it all day but couldn't come up with anything. Had that recording session to do and no time to think about writing a song.

Sunday morning came and I had an idea for a lyric. Later I came up with a walk down chord progression that I liked. I let it stew for a bit, added a walk up progression to go with it and slaved over the words for hours, finally finishing "Where Will You Keep Your Soul" late Sunday night. Seven songs in eight days. Whew.

So what did I learn from all of this? Yes, I can write songs on demand if I feel like it. But I'm not crazy about any of these songs--yet. They may grow on me. But they don't all have the "instant classic" feel. I may come back to some of these in the future--tweak the lyrics, add a bridge section--who knows? If nothing else, it was a fun experience and I learned quite a bit about myself along the way. 

Now is a song better just because it was written in a day? Not necessarily. Mick and Keith wrote "Satisfaction" in half an hour. Contrast that with Leonard Cohen who said that his song "Hallelujah" took years to finish. Is one better than the other? Opinions would vary but a good song is a good song no matter if it's written in five minutes or five years. You work with what you have and if inspiration hits you then you take it to the next level.

I have to thank Timmy Riordan for putting this on. A great idea done well and I had a chance to listen to some previously unheard songwriters performing some of their rawest material, really taking a chance and not being afraid to put it out there for the world to check out.

Next February I may decide to try my hand at the FAWM.org event where the goal is to write fourteen songs in twenty-eight days. It could happen.


Also check out February Album Writing Month at http://fawm.org/ This group does a once a year event where everyone attempts to write fourteen songs in twenty-eight days. an entire album's worth of material indeed!

If you are interested in hearing the songs I wrote for that week go to my Soundcloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/roy-peak/sets/fearless-songwriter-challenge

If you're on Soundcloud feel free to "follow" me and I will "follow" suit.

Roy Peak









All contents copyright 2011 d.r.peak