Every songwriter has a different process for translating ideas into songs. In my case, I approach a song the way a director or a screen writer might approach a movie. Like a movie, I see my songs as vehicles to tell stories, and like all stories there should be a main character and a conflict to be resolved. As a songwriter, the challenge is to do in 4 minutes what a movie director does in 2 hours: to set the scene, develop the characters, and resolve the story…all while using words that rhyme. When I work in this mode, I use the first verse like a movie’s “establishing shot” by describing the setting as vividly as possible. For example, my song Fais Do Do (A Cajun Lullaby) opens with the lines: “An old shotgun cabin sits on concrete blocks where the cypress trees are thick with Spanish moss, and the black bayou water shines in the bright Cajun moon…” My goal with the first verse is to have the listener “feel” the setting versus simply having them follow the storyline.
As far as subject matter, I tend to gravitate toward ideas or phrases that I think I can make a compelling story. I try to write about subjects I am passionate about—ones that will touch people’s emotions in a meaningful way. From a technique standpoint, I’m trying more these days to use single line “hooks” at the end of verses rather than writing long, drawn out choruses. I’ve become a big believer in brevity in songwriting—as such, I work very hard fine tuning my lyrics to say what I want to say in as few words as possible. The “less is more” approach creates “space” in the song and allows the listener to better process the lyrics. Finally, interaction with other songwriters is crucial to my creative processes. As such, I’m incredibly thankful to be member of SAW. Whether I’m teaching a Toolbox session, playing at a SAW showcase, or listening to my fellow SAW members perform, I always learn something from my peers that helps me mature and grow as a songwriter.
For more info about Mike Ryan, visit his website or facebook page.