the philosophy of sound, part 3

this is part 3 of a log of Q & A regarding recording arts and songwriting (click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2). these are submitted only to surface the intersectionality between creative, socio-political, socio-economical, and psychosomatic tensions. this is fertile ground that births expression. accurately capturing this expression is vital to robust songwriting (and the field of recording arts that songwriting fuels). this is a new field of study, its interdisciplinary power is somewhat obscured by compartmentalization in traditional songwriting courses, but the bones of this field are ancient and fundamental. the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

for songwriters (and those who want to talk songwriting)

melody is just a sketch of your anxieties. you can further articulate these emotions with lyrics (although, it isn’t necessary). for more detail on how to excavate the most useful material-art out of your anxieties (and, therefore, your melodies) — or, on the importance of gauging narrative in your lyric — feel free to comment here, or send me a message.

*some of you have reached out to me, already, regarding the craft of recorded arts and songwriting. as these disciplines are integrated with other aspects of your lives, the options for application of the information we exchange can quickly become confusing. so, i hope you will continue to check in with me re: your progress. sharing the information i have, and learning about the concepts of others, is a joy for me.


(the innocent, #21)

Hey good evening, Van. I’ve been doing music for a while and have always wanted to be a better songwriter. Do you have any exercises or general tips? I’ve been a huge fan of your writing since “Hopeless”

Anyway, man. I appreciate the time. Anything would be a great help.


thanx for reaching out. what does becoming a “better” songwriter mean for you? would it mean that you were able to sell those songs to popular singers? to find investors for your own project? would being a “better” songwriter simply mean that you could facilitate taking your ideas from your head to an instrument and then to a completed song, regardless of whether anyone else ever hears it? or, does it mean something else, entirely?

(the innocent, #21, cont.)

It would be a mix on 2 and 3 if “investors” could mean listeners/supporters. I want to facilitate the feeling that music has always given me while sharing my vision of and for the world. I’m not as interested in selling out arenas as i am in connecting with a crowd/community of folks who engage with the songs and ideas. As it stands now, i am not completely connecting with the things I’m writing (perhaps a therapist may be more appropriate for that one. Ha!).

The other thing is my melodies get redundant and all together boring as hell by the second verse. When I heard “Muted Symphony” for the first time I had to pull the damn car over! It captured everything i feel when the music is as it should be. When i was writing my dissertation, the only songs that could get my mind right every morning were “Character” and “Her smile.” The potential for this kind of connection and impact has always been what’s drawn me to music. Instead of winging it, I’m trying a more disciplined approach to learning the craft.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Van. Sorry so long.


no, don’t worry about the length. it takes time to move from one place to the next. i like that u recognize a detachment from the things you’re writing. obviously, if you were writing songs for other singers, it would be less important for you to connect to the story. but a song that u deliver really benefits from ur flesh being caught up in it. it’s more natural for u, therefore it relaxes u, gives u confidence; which n turn allows the audience to trust u — and relax into ur story/melody. so, whether it is a therapist or ur notebook app, YES, bring ur life to the lyric. no bullshit. and go from there (with song construction). u can start with a melody, a concept 4 a song, a couple of chords u ❤️, whatever. but, don’t do it unless u absolutely love it. don’t write the lyric until the thoughts n ur head scare u. don’t record until u feel u will die if u don’t. u have 2 go deep within urself and pull out all the parts u hate. that’s what art is. it is solving something within urself. once u’ve got that stanky truth on the table THEN u can construct the song (which will b the ez part).

(the innocent, #21, cont.)

Wow. None of the books or blogs have broken it down quite like this. So, in other words, no quick fixes. The exact thoughts i’ve turned away from or shut out are the ones i need to invite. And that’s what actually builds the song? I’m really going to think on this, man. I’m gonna give this a try.

Seriously, i thank you for taking the time.


“None of the books or blogs have broken it down quite like this. So, in other words, no quick fixes.”

- the information u find n most music schools becomes exponentially helpful AFTER u have a story/concept/melody. music education (chords/harmony/arrangement/polyphony/theory/engineering) will b what u use 2 construct ur song. but, any serious member of the music industry (i.e., commercial recordings and distribution of songs) will admit that melodies/story/concept CANNOT b taught. these r extracted experiences from ur environment that happen TO u. that’s y u don’t find them n music blogs, schools. they r the data that u bring with u 2 these institutions and 2 the process of music production.

“The exact thoughts i’ve turned away from or shut out are the ones i need to invite.”

-YES!!! exactly.

“…And that’s what actually builds the song?”

-it’s what seeds the song-building process. what u learn from those music blogs and schools r the tools for building the song. the story/melody/concept that u extract from ur life is the seed — the idea — the backbone — the cornerstone — the most important load-bearing wall of the song building.

i appreciate u having the openness and courage 2 ask questions. i learn from the process, too.

(the innocent, #21, cont.)

I was reading something recently that said that most people never ask those at the top of their respective fields how they got there. I’m getting older and have never given music the shot that it deserves. So before i let my dreams pass me by, I want to put in a solid effort. To me, that requires developing the craft. So much of the noise out here is about being famous (popular? ha!) and not meaningful. So I figured I’d reach out to you since, for so long, your work has been a model for the direction I’d like to go in.

But alas — as i’d suspected — meaning comes from within.


but, i would hope that knowing that “meaning comes from within” would not be something to lament; as it is something that u have already, and not something u have to look for (outside of urself).

(the innocent, #21, cont.)

Correct. I realize that may have come across as “woe is me.” Thank you for this, Van. This has certainly been extremely helpful.

(the innocent #22)

Mentor?…. What you think?…(link to an original composition is provided)


lol. obviously, everything you need to know is here. the singers are talented. the vocal arrangement is intriguing. i can’t comment on the track because i can’t fully appreciate it without listening on a better audio system. my comment is regarding writing lyrics. so, when i — or anyone — am writing lyrics, i am gathering phrases i’ve heard, that my mind has interpreted, and then spit back out. it’s like the way i might do the two-step on the dance floor. i’m just really doing what i’ve seen others do, with only a slight variation. and then a choreographer comes in and adds a signature move to my two-step. and then, while doing my two-step with the choreographer’s added signature move, i come up with a way of finishing off the move. so, now, i have an old two-step, enriched by a choreographer, which inspired my own final addition. instead of just a simple two-step, i now have something much more rich, robust, and meaningful. when writing lyrics, i really want to take the familiar phrases everyone has heard before and add layers of richness to make the familiar…more compelling.

*[thanks to all those who allowed me to post our exchanges]