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Fast vs Slow Writing
Old 22nd March 2017
  #1
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Fast vs Slow Writing

Hey guys, I tend to write pretty quickly. I feel best about a song when I spill it all in like under an hour or two (first few mins on melodies, rest of the time filling in lyrics). I listened to an interview with Savan Kotecha recently ("And the Writer Is…" podcast, highly recommend) and he said he's spending like 2-4 WEEKS per song, being in the studio all day. I don't know if he keeps a few songs cooking at the same time or spends all day every day on the same song. With this strategy he ends up writing MUCH fewer songs than many people with pub deals who just kind of plug in to the LA Writing circuit and do ~a song a day, BUT he has a nearly 100% placement rate.
It definitely takes longer to get the topline done in a co-write, every decision has to be discussed rather than me just making what I believe is the best decision instantly, but I still don't know if I could keep making a song better for two weeks straight. And what is the value of that over the purity of the first idea that just pops into your head?
So what are your thoughts on spending so much time on one song and how that changes depending on how many people are co-writing in the room?
Old 23rd March 2017
  #2
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I agree, I find that I get the best results if I get an idea down as fast as possible - that is the basic framework of the song, as well as any lyrics. Then I walk away from it. If the song has any potential I will usually find it stuck in my head not too long after, in which case I will revisit it and spend quite a long time bringing it to life. As for cowriting, results for me depend on who I am working with.
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Old 23rd March 2017
  #3
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He's talking about making records, not writing toplines.

If you're making records, then yeah you're looking at a few weeks minimum of actual man-hour work time to get something done. He no doubt has multiple topline ideas going for each idea he has for a record, and ends up finding a topline that works for most of his ideas, so when its all said and done he's getting most of his records placed. But he's probably burning through 100s of topline ideas for every 10 cuts, mining for the right ones.

If you're topline-writing only, your best bet is to move fast on initial ideas and then work through any re-write notes if your idea ends up THE idea. You're doing the right thing for your current role

No one I know or know of is spending two weeks writing a single topline to demo. You hear about the occasional "5 rewrites" but that's once the initial topline demo has already been picked as the one, and they're fine tuning it all as the record is being made.
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Old 24th March 2017
  #4
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One other thought on the various processes. . . its also common for a producer to go into a song/production idea with a more vague vision and gradually work everything out over the course of making the record in whatever way forwards the creative process the most effectively. When working this way you're less likely to end up with a bunch of completed topline ideas, but you do end up with a lot of tossed-out vocal bits and pieces as you figure out the vision.

Either way, the 2-4 week process involves making a record, not spending three full 40-hour weeks on a topline.

I also know songwriters who will sometimes take that long before they're fully happy with the song at times. But its usually short bursts of editing here and there over the course of a few weeks (giving a few days distance from an idea, coming back to it for an hour, making some tweaks, then a few days days distance again, coming back, making tweaks, etc etc), never 4 weeks straight on a song.
Old 24th March 2017
  #5
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Originally Posted by lukeforester1 View Post
I still don't know if I could keep making a song better for two weeks straight. And what is the value of that over the purity of the first idea that just pops into your head?
Depends what you mean by value. If you mean strictly the quality of the song, I don't see how tweaking (presumably, improving) a song would damage its "purity" in any way.

Quote:
So what are your thoughts on spending so much time on one song and how that changes depending on how many people are co-writing in the room?
Well I don't co-write; horribly territorial that way, and it sounds like this is from a commercial point of view vs an art-for-art's-sake point of view, and that I can't speak to either, so having said that (and probably rendering the rest of this sentence meaningless), I say take it song by song and spend as much time as one feels is needed. For me at least, some songs all spill out in a brief flurry and viola, done song. Others I might get part way and finish on the 2d go-round, still fairly quickly. Then there are songs I've tinkered with for years
Old 25th March 2017
  #6
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u can totally ruin a song by overworking the initial raw version of it.
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Old 25th March 2017
  #7
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My feeling is that so much music is terrible largely because so little time has gone into the actual writing process. It can take a huge amount of time to write a song or no time at all depending. The only question is, how good is the song. The time taken doesn't matter in my view. Let's say you come up with an amazing verse. It might take ages to genuinely come up with a chorus that truly does it justice. It could take weeks or gasp even months of trying different ideas and chucking them out etc and coming back to them and rewriting etc. Most writers will just slap on a chorus that is an obvious choice with a melody that just follows the chords because it's quicker that way. I don't get it. Everyone understands that it can take years to write a great film script or novel. For some reason in music, speed is seen as a virtue even above quality at times. I know John Williams spent absolutely ages coming up with the simple little melody line for Indiana Jones. It took him much Longer to create this tiny melody than score the whole orchestral part and record it. This makes sense because it's the most important part and that little 5 note tune is incredible. Yes many songs, plays and films are written super quickly but many are not. I think that the song should be amazing and blow u away. However long or short u take to get there is just what it is.
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Old 25th March 2017 | Show parent
  #8
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Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
Most writers will just slap on a chorus that is an obvious choice with a melody that just follows the chords because it's quicker that way. I don't get it.
It's very simple: greed. All these people hoping to "strike it big" with that one song that puts them on the map and makes them money, and they figure more is better, so the more songs you kick out, the better your odds. Short-sighted, to say the least, but then again, w/the pathetic state music is in generally with the corporate cookie-cutter mentality, it's understandable.
Old 25th March 2017 | Show parent
  #9
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Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
It took him much Longer to create this tiny melody than score the whole orchestral part and record it.
So wouldn't your argument of "bad music" also apply to John Williams? If the rest of the score is filled with generic musical tropes and obvious counterpart and cheap variations, it's because of the compositional methods and techniques that he applies to hasten his own writing process.

Ever heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold's work?
Old 25th March 2017 | Show parent
  #10
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Originally Posted by mattpyter View Post
So wouldn't your argument of "bad music" also apply to John Williams? If the rest of the score is filled with generic musical tropes and obvious counterpart and cheap variations, it's because of the compositional methods and techniques that he applies to hasten his own writing process.

Ever heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold's work?
To say that he took longer to make a simple melody is not synonymous with saying that he rushed or cheapened the orchestration in any way. I don't think he did at all. I personally love that arrangement and don't see it any more generic or derivative than any great modern pop song. It's kind of perfect. Yes sure it strongly draws on influences from before but maintains originality in my humble view at least. Anyway, I'm just making the point of how important the actual initial tune is. Inappropriately rushing arrangement, recording or writing is also dumb and done way too much.

I'm also not saying people SHOULD take months to write songs. They should take as long as needed to write great songs. Brian Wilson took about 6 months to write and record good Vibrations in many different studios including constant rewriting because that's how long it took. It has been voted best pop song in various polls. If he didn't spend this time getting it right, it unlikely would have been so great. These days, that kind of dedication for a single song is actually frowned upon. My beef is that there is this culture in music ( absolutely not in film, art literature) where faster just means better. People brag about recording it in one or two takes, writing it in a few hours etc. Anyone who has spent any time in this industry knows what I mean. Someone taking six months to make a song is enough to cause eye rolls in people in this industry and assumptions that it therefore must be bad. If an author says it has taken ten years to write a book, that is a badge of honour. If an artist has taken a mere two weeks to write a song, people start asking questions about how on earth it could take that long. I guess my beef is that the quality of songs today is genuinely terrible with very few exceptions. I do think that this culture of haste has something to do with it. Once again, there is nothing wrong with writing a song in ten minutes but nothing wrong with six months also. All that matters is is the quality of the song at the other end.
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Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
I'm also not saying people SHOULD take months to write songs. They should take as long as needed to write great songs. Brian Wilson took about 6 months to write and record good Vibrations in many different studios including constant rewriting because that's how long it took. It has been voted best pop song in various polls. If he didn't spend this time getting it right, it unlikely would have been so great. These days, that kind of dedication for a single song is actually frowned upon.
This is simply not true. In fact in THIS THREAD when I made YOUR EXACT SAME POINT in reference to modern music (2nd half of post) (noting 6 months even!), I was met with "but the Beatles wrote songs overnight, it was a lot more common to work fast back then."

Basically all these conversations turn to some old guy talking about how the old days were better, regardless of what's being talked about, regardless if the exact opposite was being argued last week

The status quo in pop music today by those getting repeated cuts is to take all the time in the world. If you're on the "modern music sucks" train and looking for the reasons why, I an assure you that modern record makers rushing things is not the reason.
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Old 26th March 2017
  #12
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Good stuff happens fast. Polishing turds takes forever. But this perspective is for the recording process not the song creation.

Inspiration for a song Idea happens fast. Creating enough good lyrics to fill out a song takes me a long time (hours to years). Typically I create the chorus first and that happens in a few min.
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Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #13
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Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
This is simply not true. In fact in THIS THREAD when I made YOUR EXACT SAME POINT in reference to modern music (2nd half of post) (noting 6 months even!), I was met with "but the Beatles wrote songs overnight, it was a lot more common to work fast back then."

Basically all these conversations turn to some old guy talking about how the old days were better, regardless of what's being talked about, regardless if the exact opposite was being argued last week

The status quo in pop music today by those getting repeated cuts is to take all the time in the world. If you're on the "modern music sucks" train and looking for the reasons why, I an assure you that modern record makers rushing things is not the reason.
Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
This is simply not true. In fact in THIS THREAD when I made YOUR EXACT SAME POINT in reference to modern music (2nd half of post) (noting 6 months even!), I was met with "but the Beatles wrote songs overnight, it was a lot more common to work fast back then."

Basically all these conversations turn to some old guy talking about how the old days were better, regardless of what's being talked about, regardless if the exact opposite was being argued last week

The status quo in pop music today by those getting repeated cuts is to take all the time in the world. If you're on the "modern music sucks" train and looking for the reasons why, I an assure you that modern record makers rushing things is not the reason.
Firstly I'm not old! Secondly you do make a good point and perhaps you are right that speed itself may not be as significant a variable as other things to account for any difference in popular music today versus the past. I do think that my basic point absolutely stands though that all that is important is the quality of the song rather than the length of time taken to make it. My main reason for posting is I totally reject this dogma that "good things come fast." Creatively speaking some of the greatest works of genius have come both incredibly fast and slow depending. There is no rule! I was mainly referencing the 60's to make point about the song Good Vibrations. That certainly wasn't polishing a turd by taking a long time. But yes, I do take your basic point that comparing time periods and drawing conclusions about music quality based on time spent writing is probably not where it is at. A good point you make granted. I simply think that people of any age need to spend as long as is necessary to make something great. Speed is massively overly valued as a virtue when it comes to music creation versus film or literature creation in my view. Perhaps this folly has always been thus...

OK it is slightly off topic but relevant. I do think that music was orders of magnitude better from 1965 to 1970 for example than 2000-2005 or any other recent five year period that is long enough away to see it with some perspective. The causes of this change is a totally different discussion granted but Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Clapton, Doors, Cat Stevens, James Brown, Beach Boys, Bowie, Motown.. Even Coltrane, Johnny Cash, Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, Supremes, The Byrds, Roy Orbison, Creedence, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bee Gees, Otis Redding, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Elton John is a collection of song writing genius that is simply not matched. Even people living at the time were widely aware that this was an extraordinary time in music and history has proven this right. Maybe something in the water? I wasn't alive then so it ain't nostalgia on my part. I think certain renaissances in art are absolutely true. Take the actual renaissance for example, preceded by centuries of comparitive stagnation. I don't think every age is equal to every other age in term of creative achievements. History shows that. Yes once again I take your point about time spent though. I have pet theories but the causes of this difference are ultimately unknown to me
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Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
I do think that my basic point absolutely stands though that all that is important is the quality of the song rather than the length of time taken to make it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
I simply think that people of any age need to spend as long as is necessary to make something great. Speed is massively overly valued as a virtue when it comes to music creation versus film or literature creation in my view. Perhaps this folly has always been thus...
Yes agreed on this!

I'm with you on everything but the line I bolded in the earlier post. Past and present, a common ingredient to repeat hitmakers is that take the time they need. Sometimes the whole thing comes in a lighting bolt and other time it takes forever.

There's the Motown mining method too though, where quality is found by pumping out quantity and sifting to the top, that also time-tested produces repeated hits. A lot of setups are a producer with release-ready ideas sifting through vocal demos to see what feels best to him, that often involved giving notes and rewrites as everything is fine-tuned to work together. If you're SOLELY a topliner and not heavily involved in an ongoing record making process with a producer, its good to play the quantity game to a fair degree.
Old 26th March 2017
  #15
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On the L.A co/writting circuit (Which I'm on) you better be fast.

The clarified timeline of initial writting then a week or 4 on the radio-ready recording sounds about right, but that extra time is largely due to the fact that everyone has multiple things going on, and nobody is spending dusk till dawn on a particular track, unless someone is paying for that to be the case.

The essentials of a track need to happen during that first session or there won't be a second,

And I disagree with lamenting time spent on songs, the best ones are written in less time than it takes to play them, your "Downloading" the song so fast in your head you almost can't get it out fast enough.

People who take forever to do things generally aren't being paid to do it.
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Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by terrible.dee View Post
On the L.A co/writting circuit (Which I'm on) you better be fast.

The clarified timeline of initial writting then a week or 4 on the radio-ready recording sounds about right, but that extra time is largely due to the fact that everyone has multiple things going on, and nobody is spending dusk till dawn on a particular track, unless someone is paying for that to be the case.

The essentials of a track need to happen during that first session or there won't be a second,

And I disagree with lamenting time spent on songs, the best ones are written in less time than it takes to play them, your "Downloading" the song so fast in your head you almost can't get it out fast enough.

People who take forever to do things generally aren't being paid to do it.
This is true, and this is still the dominate way the pop scene works. Things are shifting rapidly though.

A decade ago near 100% of the songs on the radio came about through the LA writing circuit (which spills into Atlanta and NY and Miami and Stockholm, I'm talking that whole scene). This was the time of the ROMpler production, JR Rotem type beats, that were ridiculously simple, just choose your Fantom/Motif presets for the parts and then send off to Serban or Manny to mix.

These days pop music has merged with electronic music, which since the 90s has had a "take whatever time we need to make it right" aesthetic (from the old school techno producers, to DnB guys like Teebee and Calyx who spend 6 months on a bassline, to Justice and Daft Punk who'll lock themselves up for 15 months to do 10 songs, etc etc etc). A large number of current hit makers like Chainsmokers, Snake, Daft Punk, the Swedish House Mafia guys, Calvin Harris, Zedd, Avicci, etc etc all became mainstream writer/producers by producing their own vision at their own pace. And as this mentality took grip starting around 2007/2008ish, you'd increasingly read interviews with the straight-up pop guys like Dr Luke, Max Martin, Red One, now Savan, where instead of bragging about how fast they were (this was a common producer brag a decade+ ago), they started talking about taking all the time they need to get things right.

I can definitely see Savan going into a month of his life with a rough vision for a song, and gradually working all the parts out over the course of a month, which include the lyric and vocal melody, bringing in collaborators to help where necessary, with that vision being the primary focus for most of the month. And in doing so, getting placed near 100% of what he does, because the vision he's fighting to find is solid and he knows it. I can definitely see this method producing better results than Savan taking 5 sessions a week and cranking out 1 day production demos that he sends off to his publisher asking "are any of these any good?"

That's the method I'm currently trying to work within, using my own act as a constant outlet for music while I pitch ideas to others, taking whatever time I need to come up with something I'm genuinely happy with and feeling. I'm still in LA, I still use writers on the circuit when I need to, I'm just completely behind the "take my time, trust my judgement, have a vision, work until its fully realized, don't rush things" approach. To me its more fulfilling and I'm working at a much higher percentage than I was in 2012 cranking out demos as fast as I could with random published writers sent at the pace of 4-5/week, week in and week out, year in and year out. This sh*t gets rough, its a great setup for publishers mining for hits, but can be draining for creatives to float around session to session with no underlying vision, collaborating constantly with people they don't even know and then may not work with again for months.

Taking your time is for PRODUCERS though, or writers heavily involved in the creative process with a producer. If you're JUST writing for pitch, you want to have QUANTITY until a producer locks in on one of your songs.
Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
I'm just completely behind the "take my time, trust my judgement, have a vision, work until its fully realized, don't rush things" approach.





~HW
Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #18
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Originally Posted by terrible.dee View Post
the best ones are written in less time than it takes to play them,
That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard someone say about composing.
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Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #19
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Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
I personally love that arrangement and don't see it any more generic or derivative than any great modern pop song. It's kind of perfect.
But aren't great modern pop songs generic and kitchy - isn't that the point and offers more enjoyment value to it?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
My beef is that there is this culture in music (absolutely not in film, art literature) where faster just means better.
I'm hoping you are joking about that, but yea, most film music nowadays uses plenty of tropes and gimmicks to speed up and fill in the blanks. Most music nowadays in film and tv is from libraries of music made to fit specific cues. Everything about film nowadays is part of that "get-er-done fast" bandwagon.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
Once again, there is nothing wrong with writing a song in ten minutes but nothing wrong with six months also. All that matters is is the quality of the song at the other end.
Agreed!
Old 26th March 2017 | Show parent
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattpyter View Post
But aren't great modern pop songs generic and kitchy - isn't that the point and offers more enjoyment value to it?



I'm hoping you are joking about that, but yea, most film music nowadays uses plenty of tropes and gimmicks to speed up and fill in the blanks. Most music nowadays in film and tv is from libraries of music made to fit specific cues. Everything about film nowadays is part of that "get-er-done fast" bandwagon.



Agreed!
I'm not talking about film music. I'm talking about making great films. Obsession, years, dedication, even developing new technology are all prized in the making of films. Someone who says this film took ten years to make (or book took years to write) does not result in people claiming they must have been polishing a turd. I'm just wondering why music making is always expected to be so quick to be good.
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Old 27th March 2017 | Show parent
  #21
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Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
This is simply not true. In fact in THIS THREAD when I made YOUR EXACT SAME POINT in reference to modern music (2nd half of post) (noting 6 months even!), I was met with "but the Beatles wrote songs overnight, it was a lot more common to work fast back then."

Basically all these conversations turn to some old guy talking about how the old days were better, regardless of what's being talked about, regardless if the exact opposite was being argued last week

The status quo in pop music today by those getting repeated cuts is to take all the time in the world. If you're on the "modern music sucks" train and looking for the reasons why, I an assure you that modern record makers rushing things is not the reason.
Seeing as you're quoting me and are totally misrepresenting what I said and why I said it, figured I would respond.

1. Context is everything. That thread started with a reference to The Beatles.

2. No one said anything about the old days "being better". It was about the idea that many people (including the referenced Beatles), did often work fast. That's a goddamn fact.

3. You seem obsessed with age. How old are you?

4. I'd say these conversations often turn to some ahole talking as if they are the great authority on everything, and are sooooo incredibly insecure they think that whenever someone disagrees with them in any way no matter how harmless, that opens the door to personal insults.
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Old 27th March 2017
  #22
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the more songs u make the more u see that there only so many progressions and in reality it's the little things that end up being what makes that song unique; there's no magic progression or formula------ there's just well put - together music and ill-conceived music

I think once u take that strain off yourself where u assume it's about endlessly searching for that elusive magic formula -----the process becomes easier to just assemble a strong fundamental song and then u can take more time on it.

it becomes more about just finding the right fresh voice for it and or changing things like what voice parts are used and the little things like transitions and "depth" of musicality-----texture---as opposed structure
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Old 27th March 2017 | Show parent
  #23
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Originally Posted by hhamilton View Post
Seeing as you're quoting me and are totally misrepresenting what I said and why I said it, figured I would respond.

4. I'd say these conversations often turn to some ahole talking as if they are the great authority on everything, and are sooooo incredibly insecure they think that whenever someone disagrees with them in any way no matter how harmless, that opens the door to personal insults.
I did conflate topics in a way that threw you under the bus. My bad for that, your posts are good.

Was one simple quip though, there are baited purposeless diatribes on why modern music is inferior going on here. . as usual. I feel I've been pretty restrained and ignored it all, attempting to answer the question straightforward with actual facts.
Old 27th March 2017 | Show parent
  #24
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Originally Posted by Moondog007 View Post
Firstly I'm not old!
You speak as though you are however, and in case there's any doubt, that is very much a compliment
Old 27th March 2017 | Show parent
  #25
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Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
I did conflate topics in a way that threw you under the bus. My bad for that, your posts are good.

Was one simple quip though, there are baited purposeless diatribes on why modern music is inferior going on here. . as usual. I feel I've been pretty restrained and ignored it all, attempting to answer the question straightforward with actual facts.
all modern pop music does suck though---------
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Old 28th March 2017 | Show parent
  #26
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Originally Posted by starsoul707 View Post
all modern pop music does suck though---------
Thats like saying shakespear sucks and is all the same because everything is in Iambic Pentameter
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Old 28th March 2017 | Show parent
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattpyter View Post
So wouldn't your argument of "bad music" also apply to John Williams? If the rest of the score is filled with generic musical tropes and obvious counterpart and cheap variations, it's because of the compositional methods and techniques that he applies to hasten his own writing process.

Ever heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold's work?
Yeah I guess he's kinda like John Williams, the odd memorable motif submerged in a huge vat of sonic gloop
Old 7th April 2017
  #28
faster is better to me. you can always come back and rewrite, but you shouldn't sit on it for days and weeks, because then you lose all the energy of the moment you heard the song for the first time.
Old 7th April 2017
  #29
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For me there's no method.

I've written songs in one sitting, literally in real time - like I'm just observing it happening - great songs have come out like that.

Other songs have taken weeks, months, even some years because I've written a verse and only got the chorus years later.

It's the part of writing I love, where does it come from - you never know what's going to happen - will it be quick, will it be long winded and hard to find - will I have to search - will I have to get out all the intellectual developmental chisels or will it flow naturally without effort.

My very best songs have come from all these different aspects and taken all different lengths of time.

You just never know :-)
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Old 8th April 2017 | Show parent
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukeforester1 View Post
Thats like saying shakespear sucks and is all the same because everything is in Iambic Pentameter
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