How to navigate the highs and lows of songwriting

By Beverley Knight

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There’s a song inside. It’s in there. But where do you even begin to tease the goodness out? Let’s start by asking folk who are already doing it. Take a guess: when do many creatives feel their most electric and fizzing with ideas? Nighttime, of course; it’s even better if it’s under the midnight blue sky.

M.A is Ghanaian American and currently in Canada. He, amongst peers like Melodio and Teni Danielle, is happy being a night owl. He says, “Everything is quiet, and I’m more in my zone by then.” Melodio’s music is a weird blend of pop, indie, electronica and hip-hop. Born and raised in Milan, Italy, he’s now in the Netherlands. It could be the quietening of the environment that lets his mind run free. “Or my fucked up sleep schedule, but let’s not go there,” he says.

Before freeing his creative juices, M.A listens to music he’s into. But when writing a song, what comes first: the lyrics or the music? Teni Danielle, a British R’n’B singer, doesn’t commit to any order. First, she flows over the beat to get a rough melody and goes with whatever words come. “I’ll add more deeper thought later,” she says.

Brixton’s trap instrumentalist Ouncez gets the melodies down quickly. “I hate this step because I’m extremely picky about what sounds I use.” Inviting company over is a cheat code for him. “Making music is a lonely process,” he says.

Go Rick Rubin style and let that river of creativity flow. Practically, for Melodio, he ‘fucks’ around with different sounds until something catches his ear. From there, he works around that first idea, which usually sparks everything else. “It almost feels automatic,” he adds.

Don’t fool yourself. It’s not going to be easy to finish. You’ll want to give the whole thing up several times. French hard music producer Naked Kiwi can struggle with keeping the vibe the same as it is at the start of the process. Artists like Melodio find it hard to take their feet off the gas, and they strive too hard for perfection. “But having that intention is crucial to make something good.”

“Take a break,” Naked Kiwi says. “I listen to my body and take time to do other things; this gets me back on track pretty quickly.” Melodio agrees. Change your environment physically and mentally. “I’ll go somewhere but take a different route and listen to new music.” Give it time. You can reinvent your musical approach. “It sounds easy, but I can take up to a month to find new production techniques. It helps keep my sound evolving,” says Ouncez.

You’ve made it. Congrats. But how on earth do you feel? On top of the world? Relieved? Like you’ve accomplished something?” I listen to it and think, ‘Wow, I did that?’ M.A says. Teni Danielle whispers to herself, ‘This is it!’ But it can be hard to ignore that little critical voice in your head.

Naked Kiwi says, “I know this is my best for now, and I tell myself that the next one will be better.” The process of creating can be therapeutic, and Melodio feels almost lighter after finishing something. “I make a conscious effort to try to keep my feet on the ground and my mind in the clouds, to be balanced.”

It’s no good keeping it to yourself. It’s time to air your track. With one, a few, the world. Teni Danielle hopes people appreciate the craft as much as she does. It’s natural to feel nervous, but it’s not too much of a concern for Naked Kiwi. “I want people to like what I make, but the most important thing is that I like it,” he says. Will it translate to the listener? Ouncez creates alternative-sounding music, which he expects not to be everyone’s cup of tea at first.

It is just music, after all. People will always have different tastes. Some people will dig, and some won’t. Melodio detaches himself from whatever he makes and thinks it’s the best way to go, while M.A believes nothing should ever stop anyone from airing their art. “My advice to songwriters and producers is you do you because it makes your music unique and captures people’s attention.”

Research. Claim your sound. “Have a team of people behind you no matter what,” says Ouncez. Mostly, give it your all. Finally, encouraging words from Naked Kiwi, “Aim big,” and Teni Danielle, “Enjoy the process.” If it’s what you want to do, patience is a virtue. Melodio says there’s no need to share whatever you make when you’re green because it’s likely to lack that certain somethin’. “Only share it with someone on the same wavelength who can give you helpful feedback. Like Picasso said, steal, not copy. Learn the rules and then learn to break them.”

Follow M.A
Follow Teni Danielle
Follow Ouncez
Follow Melodio
Follow Naked Kiwi

Cover photo: Teni Danielle