The Creation of “Listen”
If you’ve read the last blog post I did called “The Creation of Need Each Other,” you know that when I first have an idea for a song, I normally just press record on Garageband and struggle to come up with both the acoustic guitar part as well as the lyrics and melody. I start playing random things while singing unrefined lyrics with incoherent ideas until I finally have a basic melody and some kind of lyric that acts as a prompt for the rest of the eventual lyrics.
But this song was different for some reason.
The melody for the acoustic guitar on this song just hit me all at once, and it never changed throughout the entirety of creating the song. That’s not normally how it is with me. Normally it’ll take me a long time to flesh out exactly how the melody on the acoustic will go, but not this time. I just knew exactly how it should be the first time I played it.
I first happened upon the tune while just messing around one day on guitar, and after I played it, I frantically pulled out my laptop and turned on Photobooth so that I could reference the video later on in case I forgot the picking pattern. I really loved how it sounded:
Even when it came to the lyrics, I always had a clear sense of direction for some reason. There wasn’t really that much of a period where I was struggling with the melody either. I guess what I mean to say is that this song formed more naturally than any other song on the album. The main acoustic part just had a feel to it that, as corny as it sounds, I understood, and so it was really easy to come up with lyrics for it.
Here’s the first recording of the song I ever did on my laptop. And just so you know, when I make demos, I literally just use my laptop and a cheap-ish microphone I bought online. Nothing fancy. I just try to get ideas down more than anything. Now with that said, here’s the first demo. It was also my first attempt at lyrics for the song as well:
Right after I recorded that, I sent it to my brother Josh over Facebook to see what he thought about it. He had never heard the song before. Here’s our conversation:
After I had received such positive feedback, it motivated me to continue recording demos that day so that I could send Josh something else that night. So I came up with the basic form of the chorus in my next demo:
That chorus ended up changing to be a little more complex later on, but it got me headed in the right direction at least. I liked how repetitive it was, like it was something that the narrator continued to mull over in his mind; however, at the same time, I thought it was a little too repetitive. In later versions, I would work to fix that aspect of the chorus.
I kept coming up with ideas for the song that day, and even went so far as to write a rough draft of the second verse:
This second verse would stay fairly consistent throughout the entirety of the writing process, but I did go through and refine it because the pacing and word choice seemed off to me even though I liked where it was headed. That same day I adjusted the lyrics a bit so that they made a little more sense to me and had a little more of a rhythm:
After I felt like I had something of substance, I sent Josh a demo that combined all of the parts I had written so far and asked him if I was headed in the right direction with it. This is what he wrote back:
So I was encouraged and continued refining the song the next couple of months. I loved playing it, and, as I was just having fun with it, I started messing around with an extended instrumental outro. It wasn’t even like I planned it or anything; I just started playing it one day, layering the acoustic on top of itself on Garageband until it was something intricate, like the narrator’s thoughts building one on top of the other on top of the other until the thoughts are so intertwined that he doesn’t even remember when the first one started or what it even was or why they’re even there or why he even cares—and then everything stops. Everything, that is, except one layer of the acoustic the narrator is playing alone, I imagine, in his bedroom before he falls asleep. It just felt so true to the song. And, of course, don’t get me wrong, I know that that explanation for the outro isn’t actually in the song. Nowhere is it in there. How can it be when it’s just instrumental? But I can’t help but think every time I play it, “How can it not be?” Here’s the first recording I did of the outro, and, keep in mind, the outro is probably what evolves the most throughout the evolution of the song. This was just the initial idea:
Then, I started experimenting on what percussion should sound like on the song. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but I needed to start somewhere, so I put together some drum loops. For the purposes of this blog, in this next clip you’re about to listen to, I spliced together two parts of the original demo together to give you an idea of what I was thinking specifically for verse 2 and the outro:
After that demo, I wasn’t sold on the idea of having actual drums on this song, so I came up with something a little more experimental:
Somehow that dragging sound really seemed like it went well with the song. It reminded me of dragging chains, something that felt true to the attitude of the song, but I wasn’t sure if it was too weird or not and, therefore, distracting. I really liked the kick drum at the beginning of the outro though. It felt like a heart beat. I knew I wanted to keep that. So I sent the demo to Josh:
Josh’s positivity didn’t solely convince me to go more towards the route of experimental percussion, but it at least didn’t make me feel crazy about kind of liking it. And, besides, it was fun coming up with weird percussion, so maybe for that reason alone, I stayed on that path rather than the basic drum kit. In this next demo, I finished exactly how I wanted the verses and the chorus to be, and I felt like I was getting a better handle on how to play the outro to make it more impactful:
Then I added some electric on top of everything I had done so far because I felt like it would give the song some added depth:
After getting vocal lessons and extensively working specifically on that for several months, I felt like I had done as much as I could with the song by myself. Then it was time to take it into the studio to show to my producer Chris Folsom. I knew that he would have some great ideas for the song and that, together, we could make it something special. For instance, to simulate the dragging sound that I liked so much in my demos, Chris filled a bleach bottle with rocks, and we recorded me swooshing it back and forth throughout the song. It was so much fun coming up with weird ways to get the sounds that I wanted. We ended up not using a full drum kit after all but, instead, used shakers to propel the song forward subtly. Here’s a sample of the final version of Listen:
If you enjoyed this final version, you can find the full song on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Amazon MP3. I’d really appreciate if you’d let me know what you think about it! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy the full version.