TLDR: Please make music and then share it with me.
A year ago, I was writing my very first music. Before then, I’d never really tried to write a song. I always thought making music would be impossible.
Maybe like most people, I always saw a song as a whole and perfect package — a perfect representation of a moment, a completely original thought or idea. At the time, I only really listened to songs that had millions of hits on Spotify and so my suspicions were confirmed with every play — from what I heard, music seemed like it was always a perfect sounding version of all of those things.
And from what I could hear, it was completely inaccessible to someone like me, who knows nothing about sound production and is only average at singing and playing instruments.
From what I could hear, music was made by people in Los Angeles — some woman with bleached hair and a guy with sunglasses and a baseball cap on in studio, both seated at a mixing desk with so many buttons and switches that it looks like it could take you to the moon. While they were working on a beat, they had fifteen writers working tirelessly in the other room, generating lyric ideas around a boardroom table:
OK, how about this: it’s summer in California but winter in Sydney. Lovers are split by COVID. The distance is made even larger by the different weather. And so they sing something like ‘Damn the cold, damn the heat, Autumn is where we’ll meet.’
How about this: Let’s call the song Grapes of Wrath and make it about a daughter of a vineyard stuck working on the farm while all of her friends are hanging out at the mall
I got it: Jesus comes back in 2020 and he proclaims that God isn’t real
Despite feeling like making my own music was impossible, I was inspired by my boyfriend, Dan¹, who is always making new music and can whip up a new song in thirty minutes. So, I set aside a month where I would make some songs and, at the end, perform them at an open mic night.
At the end of my month making music, I’d made four songs. My first song, Oat Milk, is a love song about someone who, throughout their life, was always searching for oat milk in the grocery store but it wasn’t available in their local shops yet. And while they grew to love other milks in the meantime, they’ve never loved any milk more than oat milk.
I wrote another song called Safeway which is about going grocery shopping in my hometown Safeway during the day, getting a Starbucks coffee in the store, and walking around, becoming more and more overly caffeinated.
Three out of four of the songs that I wrote that month were about grocery stores or things inside of grocery stores. I used grocery stores as my initial inspiration and was surprised to find that they were very fertile thematically when it came to making music.
And while my first songs have some obvious flaws — they have messy tempos and are only made with a few instruments and one microphone and it sounds like I have a cold — I was pretty pleased with the songs that I made.
These first attempts at making music taught me a few things:
- It’s actually fantastically easy to make something that you like. Music doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to have lots of layers or lyrics or fancy instruments. It doesn’t have to be perfectly timed. And it doesn’t have to have a bridge or even a chorus. It could be a simple melody and a few words or no words at all and it can be a really beautiful, fun and interesting song — even more so because you made it.
- It’s really beautiful to hear music made by people that I know. I used to think that a small artist was someone with 1 million listens on a song on Spotify. Since last year, my standards have really changed. After making music myself, I’ve found it so much more satisfying to listen to music made by musicians who are doing it all themselves, especially people I know personally. People can make incredible music and the imperfection that comes with making something homemade adds to its beauty.
- Songs can be about anything and inspiration can come from anywhere. Music is just an idea — a flash of an idea, as fleshed out as the artist wants to flesh it out. It can be about the grocery store or index cards or love or 1300 B.C. It can be written as a poem first or made completely on the spot or made out of words from a completed scrabble board or a pamphlet you received on the street. It doesn’t have to be your autobiography or completely representative of you as a person. It could be written from your perspective or from your dad’s perspective or from a whale’s perspective. Music is an art full of options.
When lockdown started, Dan and I started a musical project together. We’re called Porch Culture. Since last May, we’ve released four songs. Each of the songs we made were written and produced using really different methodologies.
Our first song, People Don’t Move Much In America was written after we recorded a short Byte (like TikTok but less of a cultural phenomenon) of the chorus melody.
Friends told us that the tune was fun and that we should make it into a full song. And so we did, sitting on our kitchen floor. The lyrics don’t tell a story, but are all about people in America not wanting to move very much. We recorded it in a single take with two microphones. Other than a couple of harmonies, we didn’t add any other instrumentation to the song. However, partway through the song, our upstairs neighbour dropped something on the floor. In the recording and you can hear it.
Our second song, Dust Storm, was written as part of a song-writing challenge I was doing with my friends. The idea of the challenge was that one person would come up with a theme for a song and someone else would have to write the song. The theme for dust storm was my friend Miura’s idea:
Every now and then a dust cloud from the Sahara makes its way up here and it rains for days and the sky is orange and the rain leaves sand deposits on EVERYTHING, like you need to do a full deep clean of you balcony, car, windows, anything outside. I was sort of thinking that happens in life too like suddenly a cloud from “afar” just drops in and hangs out for a couple days and makes everything kinda shitty.
At the end of Dust Storm, we added two spoken word bits. Spoken word in music is something I didn’t realise I liked so much until I realised I was suggesting we put some into every subsequent song.
The melody and chorus for My Mom, our third song, were written by our friend, Ben².
My mom told me not to drive you home
I don’t ever want to be alone
Made as a joke, it was supposed to sound like a whiny emo song. We really liked it and sang it lots in our back garden.
Around the same time, we were nursing a full-blown obsession with country music. In particular, Justin Moore’s song You Look Like I Need a Drink really impressed us. It was a break up song, sung from the perspective of a man who knows his girlfriend will be coming over to split up from him. When he detects her discomfort and anxiety as she walks into his house, he sings:
You look like I need a drink right now
You like like you’re gonna try to let me down, nice and easy
Think I know why you won’t sit down
You’re just dancin’ around what you came here to do
But you’re scared to
Impressed by the creativity of the song, we decided to make a “cover” of it: set in California, a high school boy knows he will be broken up with while he drives his girlfriend home. It goes:
Why’d you wait to talk this out until the car ride home?
Sorry, would you have preferred a break up on the phone?
It’s never too early to apologise you know
My mom told me not to drive you home
I don’t ever want to be alone
Last Tuesday, we released our fourth song, Roger’s Afraid of Flying. It’s a silly song about a boy, Roger, who has a fear of planes due to some bad early life experiences where he almost died on two separate flights. As the song progresses, though, we learn in a freestyle rap that his distaste for planes is not actually about the safety — it’s about the discomfort: he hates the food and the people and the whole situation puts him into a really bad mood.
This song was made almost entirely during a jam session Dan and I had last summer. He started playing and I sang and rapped over whatever he played.
When we first finished the song, I felt almost embarrassed by the lyrics — some of them were so simple and silly. I started to worry — I’ve never heard a song about a boy who is afraid of airplanes. Plus, it really straddles the line between serious and comedy. And let’s not get started about the freestyle rap. Was it going too far? Would anyone want to listen to it?
But the more I listened to it, the more I embraced that we’d made something weird and fun that I loved and we didn’t need to change a single thing about it. It was a random idea fleshed out. It wasn’t like anything else I’d ever heard and that was actually really perfect.
Just like with everything else we consume where we are mostly guided by what people in big companies make and sell to us, we get used to consuming music produced by big companies. And that music is usually seriously laboured over. It usually is that perfect package that I was talking about — one idea, sung perfectly.
In the past, that sort of package appealed to me. That’s what I thought music always had to be.
I don’t think that so much these days. Sure, there will always be many times and places for for professional music. It might always be a lot of what we listen to. But we can all make music. And homemade music has it’s own appeal — just like it’s nice to have a friend cook you brunch instead of a restaurant, friend music has an incredible way of being better than the professional stuff.
I’m so glad that I know that now.
Places to find music that is not professional: