Tools of the Trade - The Notebook

Just as with any artist or craftsman, songwriters use a certain set of tools in their trade. Standing head and shoulders above them all in importance is the notebook. Ideas are fleeting. Capturing them before they are gone is crucial, and nothing is faster than a notebook. Even in a world where computers and other electronic gadgets are as ubiquitous as sand at the beach, the notebook still rules - it never has to boot up, never has to wait for an app to load, and never needs to be recharged.

Get It In Writing
The type of notebook you use is a personal choice, but I can offer one piece of concrete advice: don’t get a spiral-bound! They are messy and don’t store or stack well. Don’t get one that’s too small either. Notebooks that are too narrow make writing uncomfortable and also make it difficult to fit one line of your song on one line of notebook paper. I find that the 9 ¾” x 7 ½” Mead Composition notebook (College Ruled) is perfect for me. It’s sturdy, side-bound with stitches, and just the right size.

Your notebook is your songwriting database. Remember the old saying “the shortest pencil remembers longer than the longest memory”? It has never been more true than when it pertains to songwriting. Don’t ever depend on your brain to remember a good turn of phrase or song idea. Write it down! The world of music is full of anecdotes about such-and-such artist writing down the idea for their new hit song on a bar napkin or funeral program, and there is a good reason for it: they understood that the idea that doesn’t get written down gets forgotten. Sure, your idea may seem easy enough to remember when inspiration has just struck, and you are certain the idea you’ve come up with is so memorable - so groundbreaking - that it is impossible to forget it. Trust me - it isn’t.

Carry your song notebook everywhere, and write an idea down the minute it comes to you! If you get caught somewhere without it, write your idea down on whatever is at hand (or maybe even on your hand!) and transfer it to your notebook later. You’ll thank me.

How to Use It
Over the years I’ve developed a way of writing in my book that seems to work pretty well. First, I write my name and contact info on the first page. (Ever lose your notebook? I have.) Then I flip that page and begin my first set of lyrics on the first right-facing page. This would be page three, for those of you who are following along. I use that page for my lyrics, and the left-facing page (Page 2) for any notes, rhymes, or other thoughts that occur to me as I’m working. For all subsequent songs, I simply follow the same pattern: lyrics on the right, notes on the left. This technique allows me to see my lyrics and my working-notes at the same time, without having to flip pages.

I also keep a running list of title ideas starting on the very last page of my notebook. This is where I jot down any song titles, catchy phrases, wordplays, or metaphor ideas I happen to come across. As those ideas begin to fill pages I work backwards through the notebook. Eventually my lyric pages and my title ideas will meet somewhere in the middle, and it’s time for a new notebook.

I then file that notebook (I wouldn’t dare throw it away!) neatly in with all my other songwriting notebooks (good thing I didn’t buy a spiral bound), making sure to label the front of it with a few notes about what’s inside. Why? Because filing your notebooks is not about storage, it’s about retrieval. When properly notated, old song ideas can be easily found when new inspiration arrives.

So…what kind of notebook do you use? What’s your method for capturing your ideas?

*Photo by Sancho Papa


Post a Comment