I’ve never written a full songwriting and production breakdown before, so here it is! This blog post will explain why one of my Custom Songs sounds the way it does. If you happen to already know a lot about songwriting and production, then at a minimum after reading this you’ll know how I approached those disciplines.
Toward the end of last year, I created a song called Middle Heaven for a client. The client was writing a novel that had similarities to the Harry Potter universe, i.e. it contained elements of youth, magic and adventure. Although the client had not yet finished writing the novel, she loved the idea of having a song ready ahead of time to help sell it. The novel’s completion would be followed by pitching for a screenplay and an animated trailer. The trailer would use this song as the backing soundtrack.
Before I met the client, I wanted to ensure that I could learn as much as possible about her idea, so she let me read six unreleased chapters of the novel. Afterward, I met her in person for coffee for an hour with my notebook in hand. We talked about what she wanted in the song, who the target market (listeners) would be and how we could make the song work with her story. She liked my immediate ideas, so I wrote for about 20 hours (a song takes me anywhere from 8 hours to 50 hours to write), then played a skeletal version for her on my guitar “unplugged” a few weeks later to get her initial approval before proceeding with a Deluxe Production.
You can listen to the song and read along with the lyrics in the video linked above.
One of the easiest things you can do to support an idea / a person’s name / a brand / a company / a theme / etc. is to make the title of the song refer to that. I made it happen in the chorus (literally singing, “Middle Heaven,” which is the title of the novel) so it would anchor the listener and ideally help them to remember the title. I kept the chorus lyrics as simple as possible, while singing about Middle Heaven as a place that I wanted to go to. Hopefully, that would make the imaginary physical location of Middle Heaven somewhere a listener would also like to visit, which would further add to listener engagement.
As I built the writing, I played ideas over and over again into my iPhone with guitar, then listened, then adjusted, then re-recorded until I was happy with the result. I usually forego writing lyrics on paper these days since I have so many revisions and want to clearly see old ideas in case I want to retrieve them.
Story-wise for the verses, in this case I chose to focus on the three main characters of the novel, whose names were identical to the idealistic values that they also represented: faith, hope, love. Since many songs do well with three verses, I thought it would be effective to dedicate a single verse to each character. I decided to mention their values and play with the novel’s details by declaring the magic items the characters carry: a magic staff of power, a magic harp and a magic flute. It all added up to a descriptive, artistic and pleasing summary of the Middle Heaven concept, without giving away too much information (think, “no spoilers”). 🙂
To add some dynamics, when I sang about the harp and flute, I momentarily added actual harp and flute to the music. Listen to the song again if you missed those subtleties and the end of the second and third verses. Little things like that can really help the entertainment factor.
The client was of an age group (and likely so too would be her first contacts for pitches / promotion) that would enjoy hearing modern contemporary instruments, rather than electronic sounds or primary classical instruments. Such instruments would also create the “vibe” she was looking for regarding her expected audience. Instruments you can hear in the song in addition to the harp and flute include drums, electric bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, horns, string orchestra, bells and tambourine. A few backup vocals finish it off.
Of special note are the horns. It’s always a good idea (if possible) to associate instruments that will emphasize your message. Horns have always been a well-used association with Heaven, clouds, a higher power, etc. They also have an uplifting quality in most productions, so why not add them to each chorus? Listen for them if you haven’t already identified them.
The recording / mixing / mastering process took about 45 hours (a full production can take me anywhere from 30 hours to 100 hours). The songwriting itself, as I often notice during production, needed to be modified a little bit (lyric and melody changes, plus their timing) as the production came to life. I always want every note of every instrument (including vocals) to weave in and out of the arrangement perfectly. It can be fun and it can sometimes be challenging to do this, meanwhile going through sound / instrument options until I reach my end goal. I programmed some instruments, played some instruments live and sang the lyrics myself. I’m always open to having another singer or session player take over, but the client was thrilled with what she got. I was pretty happy with the end result, too. It sounds up to my usual standards and filled the client’s needs. Working solo for a long time on a song like this is a normal experience for a musicpreneur — but the result still always comes out being worth it.
I hoped you enjoyed this little “behind the scenes” blog post. Check out the Custom Songs page if you want your own song.