I was cleaning out and organizing my Voice Memos the other day (a thankless and often embarrassing task, I have to say) when I discovered that I had a pretty excellent timeline of the creation of "Dopamine Machine," one of the newest songs that's come out in live shows recently.
It's hard to describe the songwriting process, and honestly, I barely know how it works most of the time. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the music; sometimes I write at the piano, sometimes I write on the train; sometimes a chorus springs out fully-formed, Athena-style, from my aching head, sometimes it takes a year to painfully piece things together. Because of these little sound clips, though, this song's creation has a narrative, which is a rare and wonderful thing.
Back story: I've always been a little skeptical of the whole smart phone deal. I only got one because my first job out of college required me to, and though it's proven itself to be quite useful on many occasions, I've always felt that we were in a dangerous balancing game between connection and alienation. The idea of being addicted to this technology was circling around my brain for a few days until I found myself walking behind two people holding a conversation on my way to work; one of them had her head down, eyes focused on her phone. A melody came unbidden to my head and I sang it as unobtrusively as I could (I was really right behind them, as you can hear in the recording).
Excited by the prospect of this song, I found a free piano and worked out a verse and half of a chorus (lyrics were still in a very transient stage):
The next recording is my favorite. I'd figured out most of the structure of the verses and choruses, and had upped the tempo considerably, but the end of the track happened to capture the change between an okay song and one that currently tops my Favorites List. Until this recording, the song had kept a sort of plodding piano-ballad feel, but on this take, I started playing a jaunty little syncopated riff at the very end that, apparently, surprised me in a particularly positive way.
The structure of the song was finished that same day, but lyrics weren't finished for another few weeks. In fact, they were finished roughly six hours before I performed it for the first time (deadlines -- even if self-inflicted -- do tend to work well, don't they?). Here's that first performance, recorded live at The Path Cafe on December 22.
And there you have it, from the first idea to a fully-formed song (with a few steps along the way). Who knows what the next song is going to be, but it's fun to have a chronicle of this one's creation.