They compose the melodies. They write the lyrics. They create award-winning, record-breaking songs that make us grow and fight and cry. The way they put together melodies and words looks no different than pure magic.
Let's see Rachael Yamagata, Adele, Björk, Alicia Keys, Fiona Apple, Amy Winehouse, PJ Harvey, Norah Jones, Patti Smith and Ingrid Michaelson share their formula of the songwriting magic.
By the way, why female songwriters? Oh, to me, girls who read are cool. And girls who write are hot. So girls who write and sing beautifully, are, phenomenal.
"I happened upon it because I was always into piano as a safety zone hobby that would make me feel better. I'd go off somewhere, find an empty room, and play piano for hours. I've done it all my life — when I was at home and through college, even. I just loved to play.
Songwriting came about by chance. I'd always written songs on the fly and improv things, but never wrote them down or kept track of them. I thought I was going to pursue theater and be an actress, but when I wrote my first song and really paid attention, I became completely intoxicated by the process. More so than I ever felt with somebody else's character.
There is drive to express and process what I go through. [Songwriting] became the best form for me — more than speaking with a friend or writing in a journal. Something about being able to put a melody, instrument, and lyrics together made me feel better. It's an internal angst of sorts that made me become a songwriter. I needed a way to express myself in a way that said what I needed to say, and that's what it became."
"Sometimes I force myself and wake up and say "Today, I'm going to write songs." That never happens. If I try and make myself, nothing ever comes. Sometimes I come up with the melody first, or a lyric or a phrase or a chord. But it's usually at, like, 4:00 in the morning when I get up to use the toilet or get a glass of water that an idea comes and I have to sit down to pursue it."
“What comes first? The melody, always. It’s all about singing the melodies live in my head. They go in circles. I guess I’m quite conservative and romantic about the power of melodies. I try not to record them on my Dictaphone when I first hear them. If I forget all about it and it pops up later on, then I know it’s good enough. I let my subconscious do the editing for me.”
“For me, writing comes directly from a specific source. Like something that just happened to me, a conversation, a strong emotion, a line in a book, a word… Usually I seize that exact moment to write down what I felt, even if it makes no sense or it doesn’t rhyme… Or I will call my voicemail and leave my self a message if I have no pen, or only a melody.
Later, when I have time alone, I like to sit quietly, most times at my piano… and I revisit what I felt. I allow myself to say everything that my heart feels about it with no judgement, until I get all I need out… and I feel the spirit in the song. Then I begin to arrange it, or share it, or get feedback. The most important thing for me when I write is that I properly express that emotion that struck me so deeply.”
“I really, really enjoy fitting words together — but I only enjoy it when it’s easy, when it sort of rolls along by itself. I never erase anything and I hardly ever write anything down… The song will be finished before I write it down… I won’t write a song unless it serves me in some way, unless I feel I have to write the song to make myself feel better. If you’re not overflowing with something, there’s nothing to give.”
“I really started writing music to challenge myself, to see what I could write. There was nothing that I could listen to at the time. Having listened to great songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King, I felt there was nothing new that was coming out that really represented me and the way I felt. So I started writing my own stuff.”
“If you want to be good at anything, you have to work hard at it. It doesn’t just fall from the sky. I work every day at trying to improve my writing, and I really enjoy it. Nothing fascinates me more than putting words together, and seeing how a collection of words can produce quite a profound effect.”
“I want to sing a great song. If I can write one, terrific, but if I can’t, I’ll sing one that somebody else wrote. I love the craft of songwriting and I get into it, but if nothing comes, that’s OK with me, too.”
“Poetry is a solitary process. One does not write poetry for the masses. Poetry is a self-involved, lofty pursuit. Songs are for the people. When I’m writing a song, I imagine performing it. I imagine giving it. It’s a different aspect of communication. It’s for the people.”
"That's something I don't like to look into too much because I feel if I try to define it, it will fly away. I just sit down and I try to write and either something comes out or it doesn't come out. If it doesn't come out, then I just walk away. My last album (Everybody) was really autobiographical. My first album was sort of a mixture of autobiographical and stories. The stuff I'm writing now is about life lessons and more stories. I'm starting to shy away from autobiographical because I've written so much about myself that I feel kind of grossed out and I want to write about the human mind and human nature. I mean I'm always going to write about broken hearts and loving and not being loved and all that stuff...but I'm trying to open my mind to the human plight."