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More fragments than whole songs?
Old 21st October 2013
  #1
More fragments than whole songs?

I tend to write a lot of song fragments, or orphaned melodic bits. Although usually the most satisfying songs that I write tend to be finished (at least melodically if not lyrically) in one sitting, there are some bits of verse or chorus that seem to come back into my head but I simply can't finish them.

Has anyone found a good way to use orphaned song fragments?
Old 21st October 2013
  #2
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Over the years I've found that I'm the same way--- usually my best work are things I write in one day, seeing them all the way through to the end.

I've always wanted to be able to work on a song for days to really perfect it, but more often than not things get overdone and I lose focus. Something about making decisions when the whole thing is still fresh I think helps a lot.

As far as fragments, I just keep them all recorded, and from time to time ill do a sweep and see if any of them strike me particularly. If so I might load up the session and take another crack at them. Most of the time they stay in orphan land.

One thing I've definitely learned to be careful of is putting two completely separate ideas from the same key together. Even if they Seem like they should work, they are usually too contrasting and don't fit.

I'm sure it's different for everyone.
Old 21st October 2013
  #3
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Double post
Old 21st October 2013
  #4
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I have same problem. I just have to force myself to finish it soon, or it becomes in jeopardy of staying perpetually a fragment. The longer it sits on my head unfinished, the more likely it is to stay that way.

Here's a post with somewhat same question with some suggestions
Have chorus - need verse. Ideas on approach
Old 22nd October 2013
  #5
I can't think of a single case when I had a fragment sitting around for years, got an "ah-ha" moment and made a great song around it. Those songs always sound glued together, Frankensteined and less satisfying.

I think that I need to stick with the old Lennon/McCartney rule: "Finish a song in one sitting."

I'd like to add that if a good melodic idea (verse and chorus) doesn't happen within about 30 minutes, it's probably good to abandon the tune.

Also, starting with some concept for lyrics is much better than trying to plug something in later.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #6
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I have tons of fragments sitting around, too. Sometimes they get finished weeks, months or years later, but most often they just sit around.

I do pull the best ones out from time to time and mess with them. I've found doing this works, not as a way to complete the original fragment, but to generate something totally new (i.e. I'll come up with a B section for a fragment, decide it doesn't fit, but the B section sounds good on its own and is more interesting to me...).

I have tried the frankensong approach, but I've never been happy with the results. Then again, it's said Bowie stitched "Station to Station" from a bunch of half-finished material and it's amazing, so I never discount it and will give it a try every now and then.

(on the Lennon/McCartney rule...you sure that was them? cuz I know quite a few of their classic tracks weren't just written in one sitting, esp. in the later period...)
Old 22nd October 2013
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by KenHR View Post
I have tried the frankensong approach, but I've never been happy with the results. Then again, it's said Bowie stitched "Station to Station" from a bunch of half-finished material and it's amazing, so I never discount it and will give it a try every now and then.

(on the Lennon/McCartney rule...you sure that was them? cuz I know quite a few of their classic tracks weren't just written in one sitting, esp. in the later period...)
I think the 2nd side of Abbey Road is mostly half baked material and leftovers. It works pretty well, but maybe could have been better without John's heroin addiction. I think they tried to finish songs in a sitting pre-Pepper and probably the same way for most later tunes. I also like Station To Station, but it's less about writing pop singles I think?
Old 22nd October 2013
  #8
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Plenty of songs aren't written in one sitting, and are rewritten over and over and over till they're right. It can definitely be done.

Thriller being an obvious example. It was originally "Starlight" but was re-titled and re-written.

Here's the "Starlight" demo: Michael Jackson Starlight Audio HQ - YouTube
Old 22nd October 2013
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baskervils View Post
I think the 2nd side of Abbey Road is mostly half baked material and leftovers. It works pretty well, but maybe could have been better without John's heroin addiction. I think they tried to finish songs in a sitting pre-Pepper and probably the same way for most later tunes. I also like Station To Station, but it's less about writing pop singles I think?
There's more than just the medley, but anyway, sorry, I didn't think citing a non-pop song was verboten here.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #10
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I save fragments that are either great riffs or great melodic hooks. Usually a good lyrical hook is what gets a song done for me, so if I can eventually find a great lyrical line, I'm home free. Often I come back to fragments to see if lightning strikes in a different way that suggests a new path.

A very real problem is managing and retrieving fragments when you have hundreds or even thousands. It helps to have a system of classifying them in various folders on your computer so that you can find what you are looking for easily.

And save only what is good. I always listen to my fragments a few days later and immediately discard what is mediocre that will never amount to much. But the best stuff stays because it can turn into gold. You need to write 20 songs to come up with one good song. Same with fragments. That's why I get rid of the bad ones right away because I'm really only interested in that top 5%.
Old 23rd October 2013
  #11
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Fragments are fantastic for collabs as well.

Find a good partner or producer you can sit down with and go over everything, that can help point the better ideas in the right direction and help finish up the song.

I'm a producer first, songwriter second. My favorite sessions are when writers show up loaded with snippets and ideas, that I can cherry pick for something that fits my vibe and production best, that we then both finish together. These sessions often turn out more placable songs than those where we come up with the whole song from scratch.
Old 25th October 2013
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
Plenty of songs aren't written in one sitting, and are rewritten over and over and over till they're right. It can definitely be done.

Thriller being an obvious example. It was originally "Starlight" but was re-titled and re-written.

Here's the "Starlight" demo: Michael Jackson Starlight Audio HQ - YouTube
Wow - this is great to hear. Are there other examples you know of that show development of the song?
Old 25th October 2013
  #13
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Fragments can develop into songs if you come back to them and want to build something around them.

A more recent example of a fragment that became a song that comes to mind.

I am too old to have perfect memory of where and when I heard this but:

"Who says I can't take time?
Meet all the girls in the county line
Wait on fate to send a sign
Who says I can't take time?"

Was the seed for the entire "Who Says" song by John Mayer and supposedly it rambled around in his brain for a long time.
Old 25th October 2013
  #14
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I don't think they are good or bad, each person has a talent some guys can take snippets of speeches and make them sound musical, some people have the talent to improvise a whole melody and make it sound great, some people need to work on lines bit by bit, it really is varying I think.

Nonetheless, I think a good way to do it is to just sing out a vibe for a track go for a feeling rather then words... even if its just a scat or something, then work from there piece by piece, im sure all the great classical guys re wrote a lot of there pieces, I think the important thing is to keep the emotional aspect at the back of your mind making sure that is conveyed, I think when I have fragments and Im just trying to make it sound good, I forget about the emotional aspect of what it is im trying to say and that causes me to stumble a bit.
Old 25th October 2013
  #15
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Another thing I like to do is to bring fragments along with me to band rehearsals or writing sessions and see what other folks can bring to them. Sometimes a different perspective can open up a whole new vista of possibilities.

This has resuscitated quite a few bits for me over the years, most recently a song on the album my band is recording that most who've heard it have declared to be one of our stronger pieces. Even if we don't write pop songs, I don't think this bit of advice is genre-specific.
Old 25th October 2013
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baskervils View Post
I can't think of a single case when I had a fragment sitting around for years, got an "ah-ha" moment and made a great song around it. Those songs always sound glued together, Frankensteined and less satisfying.

I think that I need to stick with the old Lennon/McCartney rule: "Finish a song in one sitting."
Lennon/McCartney often took years to finish songs. What Lennon did recommend (which is just common sense) is "capture as much as you can in that first sitting because usually there is a feeling/space there (in you the artist) that you'll find difficult to recapture". This is undoubtedly true but sometimes it takes extensive revisiting (I DON'T mean "rewriting" in the crass Nashville sense) to excavate the truth from a piece/idea.
Old 25th October 2013
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smili View Post
Wow - this is great to hear. Are there other examples you know of that show development of the song?
I was surprised even that much could be found. I don't know of anything else to show the progress in the works. I know it sat as "Starlight" for quite some time, with "Thriller" being a near last minute change.

Whats amazing is that "Starlight" is an entirely different concept, but they were able to rewrite the entire song with a new concept and words to the exact same beat and melody and made it BETTER.
Old 25th October 2013
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
You need to write 20 songs to come up with one good song.

I think that's a big waste of time.

If I don't like what I hear in my head I don't even bother to write it down.




Herr Weiss
Old 26th October 2013
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Herr Weiss View Post
I think that's a big waste of time.

If I don't like what I hear in my head I don't even bother to write it down.




Herr Weiss

I think he's saying you need to write 20 songs you liked enough in your head to bother to write down, in order to get one that's actually good.

Not exactly and in all cases, obviously. But to show the importance of a good idea-to-execution ratio. If you fully execute every idea you come up with you can waste a lot of time. Where if you come up with a lot of ideas and execute the best of then, your output will be higher quality all around.

Unless you have old school Motown level resources, where you can get a great cut of every idea you have daily, and THEN filter through them.
Old 26th October 2013
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
I think he's saying you need to write 20 songs you liked enough in your head to bother to write down, in order to get one that's actually good.

Not exactly and in all cases, obviously. But to show the importance of a good idea-to-execution ratio. If you fully execute every idea you come up with you can waste a lot of time. Where if you come up with a lot of ideas and execute the best of then, your output will be higher quality all around.

Thank you for a well thought explanation newguy1,

I agree wholehearted.

Sorry if I sounded a bit contemptuous, that wasn't my aim.



Herr Weiss
Old 26th October 2013
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
I think he's saying you need to write 20 songs you liked enough in your head to bother to write down, in order to get one that's actually good.
Do you mean of the 20 songs you liked enough to write down only one would be good?
Old 26th October 2013
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newguy1 View Post
I was surprised even that much could be found. I don't know of anything else to show the progress in the works. I know it sat as "Starlight" for quite some time, with "Thriller" being a near last minute change.
I didn't mean that - I was also surprised that the different demo ever saw the light of day. Especially back then pre-internet. I didn't mean variations of that particular song, but an example of an artist reworking a song and all of a sudden it becomes something different?

I generally find it difficult to add more life to a song after I go back to it. At that point it's usually just trying to finish it- to fill in the pieces. The original inspiration is still life of the song. Examples of reworking a song and making it noticeably better would be instructive to see how they evolve (if available).

Like here's an example of Paul Simon revealing a partially written "Still Crazy" song on Dick Cavet Show
Paul Simon performs a partially-written STILL CRAZY - YouTube
Old 26th October 2013
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Do you mean of the 20 songs you liked enough to write down only one would be good?
Yes. Like Frank said, he only wants to bother with the top 5% of his own output. Its a philosophy for approach, not a hard rule.

Dr Luke, love or hate the example, is probably closer to working with .01% of the material his writers turn out. Its his idea filtering that makes everything he does go top 10.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
You need to write 20 songs to come up with one good song. Same with fragments. I'm really only interested in that top 5%.
Old 28th October 2013
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smili View Post
I didn't mean variations of that particular song, but an example of an artist reworking a song and all of a sudden it becomes something different?

I generally find it difficult to add more life to a song after I go back to it. At that point it's usually just trying to finish it- to fill in the pieces. The original inspiration is still life of the song. Examples of reworking a song and making it noticeably better would be instructive to see how they evolve (if available).

Ahh I see. I'm not really sure, I think "Thriller" gets noted so often because its such the drastic shift. I'm sure there are plenty others out there but not sure how to find them.

I agree, re-writes on most songs are about filling in the pieces around the main idea, not switching up entirely.

Recently in one of my own sessions the writer had come up with a song with "assault rifles" as the metaphor. As this is a bad pop topic at the moment, I suggested a rewrite. She was bummed at first but we went over the lyrics and it worked out replacing "rifle" with "jungle" and changing the metaphor a bit. But this isn't as significant as "Starlight/Thriller" and we were able to keep the verses.
Old 29th October 2013
  #25
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I've a ton of fragments sitting on the hard drive even though they'll never get used, I think it's a case of 'what if'. I'm trying to get into the habit of culling stuff quickly if it isn't working, though.

My best songs have always been those that were largely written in one chunk, with a little polish left for later, including lyrics. I can't imagine trying to finish a lyric I started a couple of years ago, I'm a different person now.
Old 29th October 2013
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kuro View Post
My best songs have always been those that were largely written in one chunk, with a little polish left for later, including lyrics.




Yep, same here and may I add that I'm always seating in the passenger seat during the creative process.
Don't know who is driving and not really interested in knowing.





H.W.
Old 29th October 2013
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Do you mean of the 20 songs you liked enough to write down only one would be good?
I meant of 20 good songs written, take the top 5% that are great. Many of us are proficient at patting ourselves on the back for mediocrity. Who am I to argue. Break your arm doing it if you want. But when I don't know you personally, and hear your "good" song for the first time, and don't have any compulsion to press the replay button, it ain't great. It didn't pass the independent listener test. That's what I'm getting at.

Fragments that are inconsistent in generating musical excitement are best discarded. I want a solid impression every time it gets played. A great fragment urges a complete stranger to continue listening each and every time.

5% is a concept, not a rule. There are no rules.
Old 29th October 2013
  #28
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All of my good songs came up in one pass. I consider a song as a whole thing and not of a collage of arbitrary pieces that may or may not fit together.
I have hundreds of fragments laying around, but none of them ever got (re)used.

That said, I recently turned back to my 8-track cassette multitracker for songwriting. It forces me to think about the whole piece from the beginning and I will notice very early in the process if it works or not.
It definetely depends on one's own workflow, but for me, the linear tape medium is really helpful to focus on the song as one single entity.
Old 30th October 2013
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
I meant of 20 good songs written, take the top 5% that are great. Many of us are proficient at patting ourselves on the back for mediocrity. Who am I to argue. Break your arm doing it if you want. But when I don't know you personally, and hear your "good" song for the first time, and don't have any compulsion to press the replay button, it ain't great. It didn't pass the independent listener test. That's what I'm getting at.

Fragments that are inconsistent in generating musical excitement are best discarded. I want a solid impression every time it gets played. A great fragment urges a complete stranger to continue listening each and every time.

5% is a concept, not a rule. There are no rules.
Gotcha. I guess I was just confused by "You need to write 20 songs to come up with one good song. Same with fragments." I don't know any great songwriter with a ratio anywhere near that bad. More like 1 dud out of 20 great songs, if anything.
Old 30th October 2013
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Gotcha. I guess I was just confused by "You need to write 20 songs to come up with one good song. Same with fragments." I don't know any great songwriter with a ratio anywhere near that bad. More like 1 dud out of 20 great songs, if anything.

Where are these songwriters that never strike out? 1 dud out of 20 great songs?

I work with published full time songwriters constantly, and no one's getting even 1 in 20 placed. Most are writing 6 days a week and getting a few tracks placed a year.
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