On Composing: A Guest Post

I’m so excited to introduce my guest blogger! I’ve known him his entire life and I might have sat on his head at one point when he annoyed me (granted, I was three at the time and he deserved it)–my little bro, Robby!  People have been asking us questions about writing and composing; the latter I don’t have much experience on since Robby came up with all the tunes, I just co-wrote the lyrics.  I thought I’d invite him on to share his process with you all!

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Greetings bloggers! I’m honored to be the first guest blogger for As Dreams are Made.  Many of Cristina’s previous posts have been about On the Air, but one of the most frequent questions we get asked about is the process of composing.  Since that is my department, I thought I’d fill you in on what exactly I continue to do did to create the score for On the Air.

 

“Find the moment, the concept, and the change”

Moment:

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Every song (with the exception of one), was written after we already had an outline of the script.  This allowed me to see the points where the characters needed to sing.   After hitting the Vaudeville Circuit in Upstate, NY, Jack and Loretta find out they’ve booked the sibling roles in NBC’s biggest budgeted show in radio history, The Gibson Family, marking their return to New York City.  If that doesn’t scream “I need to sing about this” I don’t know what does!  Voila, “I’m Home,” the Act I finale was born.

Concept:

Before I wrote a note, I needed the concept.  The last time we saw the siblings in NYC they were miserable.  Now they would be returning as stars in the making.  There needed to be that feeling of returning to something familiar, but also becoming stronger, almost an underdog vibe to the song.  The song would start with them on the train to NYC and end with them on the set of The Gibson Family.  I knew then that I wanted a train track rhythm to the song to embrace the idea of the unknown, moving forward, excitement, etc.  Which is why the song starts off slow like a boarding train and then builds and builds as it takes off.

The Change:

You want every song to count.  A great way of double checking this is figuring out how the song changes the character.  If it’s done right, the character at the beginning of the song should not be the same character at the end of the song.  By the end of “I’m Home,” Jack and Loretta have drastically changed.

 

“It’s hummable because it started as a hum” 

Since I was a little kid, I drove my family (and even my teachers!) nuts because I constantly would hum without realizing it (and apparently still do).

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This is about how 90% of the On the Air songs came about.  I would just be humming a random tune.  If it was a good tune all of a sudden I would notice it.  One of the songs from the show came to me while I was in line at Dunkin’ Donuts.  This is where the “Voice Memo” app on the IPhone comes in handy.  It’s a lot easier going into a corner, covering your mouth, and recording a melody for future reference than trying to hum the tune over and over so you don’t forget it until you can go home and pluck out the notes (people will also be less likely to think you’re crazy).

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When I find a tune that fits a concept I have for a song, then bingo!

 

“Let  it go…let it go…”

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Part of writing a good song means being ok to change it, move it, or get rid of it altogether – there are very few songs in the score that have remained untouched in some way.  For example, both the original lyrics and melody of “I’m Home” were different.  I really liked the accompaniment I had made from the tune, but the tune itself was really boring.  I ended up coming up with a different melody and Cristina and I both knew it was the one as soon as we heard it.  Rewriting a song is like doing a good workout – sometimes it seems really daunting but once you’ve done it you never regret it and you feel better than when you started.   I cringe every time I have to change the music, thinking I’ll never be able to write anything at the level I already had.  Then I tell myself to get over it and do it because it needs to get done, and without fail I am always happier with the rewrite.

 

In short, my best advice would be this–just compose.  It’s easy to get caught up in whether or not to write the lyrics or the music first, whether it sounds repetitive, or whether or not it needs the key change in the middle.  Everyone has a different style.  Like anything else, the more you do it the better you get.  And it’ll never get better if you never start.
    

-Robby:)

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