What I Learned from Taylor Swift’s New Album

I know I promised a rewrite of my water balloon fight as my next post, but it will have to wait. Because something terribly important happened: I bought Taylor Swift’s 1989 D.L.X.

I don’t like owning hard copies of CDs anymore. I don’t listen to them in my car much, and use Spotify for most of my music needs. But when I heard that the Deluxe version of 1989 would include Taylor’s voice memos during her songwriting process, those three tracks alone were more than worth the $14 and the weight of the physical CD to me.

See, I was a songwriter first. And I really really really wanted to know Taylor’s process. I figured it was a lot like mine (except executed better), since she, like me, wrote exaggerated songs about her exes three years after breaking up with them. She did what I tried to do with my personal songs–tapped into remnant emotions, amplified them… and then did what I failed to do, which is become a gazillionaire. But you know…

The first voice memo on the album was one she sent to Ryan Tedder (of One Republic fame) before their recording session the next day. It starts with Taylor saying:

OK…  so I have this rough idea thing.

and then she plays a baseline on piano, and little else, with some lyrics like this “[good line] mumble mumble mumble… [good line]”. Sometimes she’s a little off key, but the idea is there.

Then after she’s done getting the basic idea down, she ends the memo with:

or whatever, I don’t know. But that’s basically… just like a dark, really dark, like, um, lyric, like, bridge thing, and it’s about, like, uh, everybody’s like trying to get in t- and like ruin a love or whatever and it’s like  you just… whatever. You know. And then the chorus would just go to that major and just be like “ahhh! chorus.” So I hope you like it… it wouldn’t be like a piano thing it would be like mmm bb bb ttcchh… like a beat. Now I’m just making weird sounds… hope you like it.

And, well, I can relate to that. The sheer number of “like”s as she speaks, the incoherence and gist of things… I love it. She writes like I do. Tonight, I was telling my husband about some plot twists I’m planning for my NaNo novel. And one of them involves some kind of mystic man who knows death dates because of some mystic thing and is a hobo living in a mountain. And my husband was all “well how does he hear about the mystic? Does the government know about him? How can he find out if the government doesn’t know?”

And my response was very similar to Taylor’s rambling at the end of her memo. Something like “I’m just brainstorming! There’s going to be plot holes… I’ll deal with those later.” If T. Swizzle herself doesn’t know all the lyrics and melodies at first, and sends a memo to another leading music industry professional saying “Yeah, so that’s the gist of it…” then, so can I, right?

In fact, the way I wrote this original song** was full of “I don’t know”s and “like”s. The lyrics were written in 2006. The audio file below was recorded on August 23, 2012, and the final YouTube Video was uploaded on January 3, 2013. The audio file’s kind of painful–I’d just realized the song was 6/8 and not 4/4, and I was experimenting as I recording. But the contrast is pretty awesome.

http://vocaroo.com/i/s0nMCoYBZlo6

So to those of you looking at the germ of an idea–let it be rough. Fill in what you have and save some blanks for later. After all, Taylor Swift does it. If she doesn’t get all her ideas down at once (and like her or hate her, she’s successful), why should you?

**originally published this blog with a Harry Potter song, but I found the memos for this one, which I prefer.

Comments

  1. ridiculously talented–just beautiful, Rochelle! and I absolutely adore this blog. I’m a huge Taylor fan–saw her at MSG and had the time of my life. I have a blog scheduled for two weeks about comparing Taylor’s decision to change genres (I hear this is a strictly pop record) to my decision to try writing NA this time around. I find her inspirational–no matter what people think of her, no one can deny her writing abilities. And I just went on a binge of throwing out old CDs since I despise hoarding unnecessary junk. I went back and forth on simply downloading 1989 but when I heard about the extra songs and voice memos I went ahead and pre-ordered from Target lol

    • Thanks, Beth! I ended up going through some of my old lyrics last night. I wish I were a better music writer (Peter Pan was HARD WORK, and the only other song I’ve written that I can play on piano has music co-written by a friend) so I could have more finished songs. 🙂 Being a good lyric writer is like being a good outliner of stories. Oh well.

      I like your comparison! (It’s definitely strictly pop. You can hear some pop-country undercurrents, but it’s pop for sure.) Looking forward to reading your post about it!

      I’ve been thinking about doing some more in-depth analysis of Taylor’s album, evolution, and songwriting process as well (complete with writing advice–good and bad–I’ve learned from her). Would that interest you?

      Go listen to it! It’s not her best album for lyrics (I’m thinking that might be Speak now? idk), but the music is pretty incredible. She does pop well, and differently than anyone else.

  2. yes would LOVE posts like that–I don’t write music so seeing you break down her process is really fascinating…I agree on Speak Now’s lyrics. “All to Well” from Red is also one of my favs. “autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place” is possibly my all-time fav line from her.

    • Awesome! I’ll get to work on that (after I finally rewrite that water balloon fight…)! All too well is great. now you’re making me think about what my favorite line might be and it’s taking a lot of effort. 😛 Maybe “All I know is I don’t know how to be something you miss” from “Last Kiss”. 🙂

  3. Great post!! I adore Taylor Swift (I often turn to her for inspiration when I’m feeling stuck in writing my WIP), and you are crazy talented! I love this! Okay, and just to throw in my two cents, I think my top contender for favourite Taylor line is: “You gave me all your love, and all I gave you was goodbye.” And also the entire song “Ours” – love that song! 🙂

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