On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

March To May On Songwriting

March To May On Songwriting

March To May is a Seattle-based folk-pop duo that blends harp and guitar with rich vocal harmonies, haunting lyrics and riveting melodies. The band is a collaboration between singer/songwriters Darren Guyaz (guitar, vocals, keyboard) and Beth Wesche (Celtic harp, vocals).

Darren and Beth first met in December 2012. By March 2013, they had co-written their first two songs, by April they had a paid gig under their belts, and by May they had a name and shows booked out into the months ahead.

March to May released their debut album earlier this year—The Water’s Edge.

Rick:

What inspires you to write original music?

Darren/Beth:

The “why” for writing original music is pretty simple – there are songs in us that haven’t been sung yet. Maybe the general story or feeling has been repeated many times, but never quite the way it’s ringing in our heads. We both seem to have endless melodies in our heads and have to let them manifest in some way. We also both love forging new paths and creating music that is unlike anything else we’ve heard.

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Rick:

Where, in your opinion, do good original songs come from?

Darren/Beth:

Our biggest requirement for a good original song is authenticity. Good songs speak to people because they tell a story that resonates and feels real. They come from a place of inspiration, whether that’s a landscape, an individual’s story or one of our own experiences that have influentially shaped our lives.

Rick:

You co-wrote your first songs together just a couple years ago. How did that first experience unfold and what did you learn from it?

Darren/Beth:

So much of writing that first song was just trying to figure out if we could work well together, and if we could connect enough to open up and co-write something that felt authentic and personal. We played around with melodies and instrumental riffs for a while before sitting down to actually finish our first few songs.

That first round of songwriting yielded two songs. The first was called “I’ll Be There” – we don’t play it very much anymore, but in a lot of ways it was more about making a promise to each other musically than it was about writing a great song. The second one, “Embers”, has become a staple at our shows. We recorded a beautiful music video for it last year, and it’s a single off of our album The Water’s Edge.

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Rick:

As you’ve continued co-writing together, are you developing a predictable/repeatable process for writing original songs?

Darren/Beth:

Yes and no. On one hand, our inspiration comes from so many different places, and some songs seem to write themselves while others take a long time to finish. On the other hand, we communicate really well when we write music, and tend to fall into a pretty predictable pattern: one of us will find an instrumental pattern or a piece of a lyric that inspires us, and the other one will jump in with instrumental and vocal harmonies. It’s like a conversation.

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Rick:

What’s typically the easiest part of writing a song for you two? What’s the hardest part?

Darren/Beth:

The easiest part of writing a song is definitely getting started! It’s easy to get inspired – some piece of a melody or fragment of a lyric is all it takes to spark an idea. We have over 40 songs in various stages of completion right now, which is wonderful and terrible at the same time – there are so many songs to finish! We also communicate really well when we’re writing music – the actual process of co-writing songs is really inspiring. That said, the most difficult thing part is knowing when a new song is finished.

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Rick:

Your website says that your primary interest is to keep the music fresh and personal. How do you do that?

Darren/Beth:

Being authentic in our music is so important to us. We never go into writing a song with a set idea of what we want it to be about or who we’re writing it for. Ultimately, we’re trying to write something that’s real and true, and the only way to do that is to reach into our own realities and our own truths.

Each of our songs speaks to us in very personal ways. But what really tells us that we’ve succeeded is when people listen to those songs and see their own truths reflected back. The best music isn’t confined to any one experience – it’s a mirror.

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Rick:

What have you learned so far about the process of marketing original music?

Darren/Beth:

Creativity is everything! Original music is exactly that – original. Which means that there isn’t a predetermined path for you to follow to be successful. You have to make your own way. But especially today, there are so many ways to get your music out there.

We’ve heard so many people talk about how difficult it is to make it today as a musician. But the fact is that making your life as an artist is always a challenging path. You know that when you get into it. But it’s also incredibly rewarding, and the world of music-making has possibly never been this democratic. There are a lot of ways to get yourself heard, if you believe in your work and are willing to be creative.

Rick:

Who are some other songwriters you particularly enjoy listening to, and why?

Darren/Beth:

We both grew up loving Tori Amos and Damien Rice – their songwriting is gorgeous, and they put so much authenticity and feeling into their songs even when they break the mold. We also love the Civil Wars and the Swell Season – the way they connected as duos is really inspiring to us. Other recent favorites include Vance Joy, Josh Ritter, and Anthony D’Amato—they’re great lyricists and their music really moves.

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Rick:

Of all the songs you’ve written so far, which is your favorite and why?

Darren/Beth:

The Monk and the Lover” really speaks to Darren – the spaciousness and richness of the instruments really underscore the lyrics, which speak to feelings of solitude and love. Beth’s favorite is “Crazy Universe” – she loves the lyrics, and loves the momentum of the song. We’re also really excited about one of our new songs, “A Thousand Mornings”, which is based on a poem by Mary Oliver.

Rick:

Finally, what have you learned (so far) about the art of composing music that would be most helpful to other songwriters?

Don’t get too caught up in rules. Let yourself play. And never be afraid to set a song on the back burner if you’re getting stuck; sometimes coming back to it later – even years later – lets you see it with fresh eyes and get inspired all over again.

 

Tools of the Trade

What instruments do you use when developing a new song?

Darren plays a Martin DC-16GTE guitar, and Beth plays a Dusty Strings BH36 harp in curly maple. We also use a Yamaha P-105 digital piano—and our voices, of course!

What devices do you use to record your songwriting ideas?

Honestly, our devices of choice are our phones! It’s great to be able to capture an idea wherever and whenever it strikes, so using our phones works really well. Beth has an iPhone 4s and Darren has a Samsung Galaxy Note. Both work pretty well, but the iPhone makes it really easy to share the recordings so we tend to prefer using hers.

Do you use any software in your songwriting process?

Not specifically for songwriting—we usually compose the instrumental and melodic parts by ear and scribble out lyrics in one of many songwriting notebooks we have laying around. We did use Facebook Chat once, though, when we were writing the lyrics for “Count the Days”! Beth was home in Seattle and Darren was traveling, and we ended up passing verses back and forth one evening when we both happened to be on Facebook.

Are there any other items you consider essential for your songwriting toolkit?

Books! Even when they don’t directly inspire a song, reading passages from authors we like helps get us thinking creatively. On the tech side, we keep it pretty low-key—usually just the two of us, our instruments, a phone, and a pen and paper.

 

Artists mentioned in this article:


Tori Amos


Damien Rice


The Civil Wars


The Swell Season


Vance Joy


Josh Ritter


Anthony D’Amato

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