A Songwriter’s Story: Jon McLaughlin on “Promising Promises”
I’ve been writing songs for about 10 years now. I have definitely developed a process. I wish I could say that my process was some kind of formula for writing a great song…but I can’t say that. I’d like to think that I’ve written some great songs that I’m really proud of but for every great song I’ve written there is definitely a bad one. Maybe two bad ones, actually. Good or bad, though, I tend to go through the same motions when I write.
Typically, it starts with one little idea. This idea could be a lyric line – for example, my song “If Only I” started with the line “slowly all the faces turn to yours.” Sometimes it’s a little piano riff – for example, my song “The Atmosphere” started with that high piano melody. It’s always just this one little snippet of the song and I’ll sit and play that little part over and over and over again until more comes.
Without fail, what comes next almost every time is the rest of the melody and music. The lyrics never come quickly. If I start a song on a Tuesday, there’s a good chance I’ll have all the music done by Wednesday. But then I work on the lyrics. If the music is a cheetah, the lyric is a freaking glacier. I will sit at my piano and play the music while I sing gibberish to the melody lines, and I will do this over and over and over. For me, if the lyric comes quickly, it might be a week. But it could take up to a few months to really get the lyric right. I have a song called “People” that I put on my record Indiana. I wrote the piano part in a day. I wrote the lyric in just under a year.