In creating original music, I used to bring fully formed songs to the band. All the chords, all the changes, all the lyrics. This worked reasonably well although I was never completely satisfied with the outcome because I could always hear more potential than I was able to communicate to the other musicians; the song was constrained by my own musical limitations.
Then for a while I tried bringing snippets of songs to the band – maybe a funky groove or an interesting musical progression or a few lyrics with a melody. This was always fun to play with but looking back it turns out none of those snippets ever turned into a fully formed song.
Without question the results with which I’ve been happiest always emerged from bringing a mostly (but not fully) completed song. The main musical ideas are formed and the transitions have been roughed out. The lyrics may not be fully baked but there are draft lyrics built around a clear theme or message. There is usually a well-defined melody. My theory about why this formula succeeds ties back to Structure Frees Creativity. In the musical context, when my band mates get some understanding in their ear of the basic song I’m hearing in my head, that’s the first phase. The second phase is everyone feeling the permission to exert their own creative freedom to fill in the blanks or modify according to what they hear in their heads. Combined, this is an equation for unlocking the full potential of the song. Great examples from my experiences with Zen Mustache:
– ‘Best I Can’ was originally a vanilla-sounding rock song, until BJ Callahan gave it a blues vibe.
– ‘September’ contained several individual parts that everyone liked, but it wasn’t until Phil Moss assembled them into the current arrangement that it really became a song.
– Geoff Madding wrote the guitar solo bridge to ‘Awakening’ that exactly captures the emotive longing behind the lyrics.
Watch a music history documentary and learn about hundreds of unique ways that songs get written. My hat is off to all the song writers and artists who find their own paths.