The Scribes welcome singer, song writer, and guest blogger, Jen Vanderlyn today! What’s on your mind, Jen?
There’s an art to writing the three-minute, radio-ready pop song. And many have tried to – though few have – mastered it. Me? I took a right turn on the way to that class and headed to the local record store.
You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about songwriting it’s that everyone has their own approach, and their own style. Mine’s folk-rock – inspired by Romantic poetry, Arthurian fantasy and Carroll-esque dreams. And music. And experiences. Of all kinds.
Which is why, one day, you’ll find me dissecting Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound,’ and another lying between two speakers, wrapped in the folky deliciousness of an 11-minute jam song on Fairport Convention’s “Unhalfbricking.” Or, I’ll be staring at a bowl of marbles. Or wandering Mount Olivet cemetery. Or freewriting by candlelight wearing a dress I got at Stevie Nicks’ yard sale.
Sometimes, inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of sources.
When I write, I’m not particularly concerned about whether my song will be radio-appropriate, i.e. what the general public wants to hear. Instead, I’m more concerned with getting the overall mood, theme and story down on paper. Most of the time, that involves a freewrite consisting of quasi-lyrical phrases, words and images I’d like somehow to incorporate into the song.
Following that, I let it percolate. For hours. Days. Weeks. My personal best is fifteen minutes. But then, there are times when a song takes months. There’s no way to predict it. As they say, the muse is fickle – you write when she wants you to.
Melody almost always follows lyrics, but only just. Often, I have a base melody in my mind when I’m phrasing the lyrics, which helps give the song its structure. Then, when I flesh out the melody, it becomes a balancing act – it needs to be sing-able, and match the lyrics. But in the end, it doesn’t need to be a pop song. Because pop isn’t the only way.
So, here’s my kernel of wisdom: songwriter, or writer, find your own approach and remain faithful to it. Let others write pop songs. There’s a fan for every style.
What’s your favorite song (it’s OK if it’s pop!) and why? I have too many to list, but right now, because of its intensity, this is one of mine.
Jen Vanderlyn is a singer/songwriter/guitarist dedicated to telling unique stories through music and performs with an eye on blending modern folk-rock with the folk-rock experience of the ’60s and ’70s. Reminiscent in sound and style of Joni Mitchell and Richie Havens, Jen performs with her sister Kate as the duo Free Thought. Together, they perform at coffeehouses, town greens and festivals around Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island and are currently promoting debut album, “In Her Eyes.” Check her out her website. Here’s a link to J Monkey’s current favorite Free Thought tune, Brave and Handsome Soldier.