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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

The Alchemy of Music

The Spark

by Astra KellyNovember 2023

It’s that moment when there’s a little flicker of something and you know it’s a song. It could begin as a few words to describe a feeling, a couple of chords or a riff that sounds cool, a melody stuck in your head, or a message from the subconscious that comes in a dream. There are no rules. Every songwriter is different. When you know, you know. You feel it. I like to say, “Listen to what the song wants.” When it first starts speaking to you, it’s like the forces come together, the fire builds, and the more fuel you give it, the closer you listen. That feeling becomes excited and electric. Sometimes it’s haunting even. The idea floats around just waiting for your stars to align, for the elements to collide, or for the wind to blow in the right direction.

Some songs come in a flash, as if they write themselves. I’ve had transcendental experiences in those kinds of moments. Most require a certain amount of nurturing and refinement that can be a smooth or sometimes incredibly frustrating process. Both can be equally rewarding whilst crafting something from nothing. If you are committed, you stick with it. One of the most common things I hear in my songwriting coaching and workshops is that folks have a hard time finishing songs. Once the initial inspiration subsides and the honeymoon phase is over, they have a hard time moving forward in the process. This is where I come back to “listen to what the song wants.” Ask it questions. What is this story about? What are you trying to tell me? What do you need me to learn? Where should I go to open the way for an experience where you can reveal all this to me? What am I feeling? How will other people feel when they listen? It can be an exploration, an experiment, an intimate experience of musical alchemy.

Once you’ve honed in on a lyrical concept and musical soundscape, there are those amplified moments of things that feel right. You just know…or you know it’s not right yet. Sometimes, you need more time to let it simmer. I’ve had songs that took years to write. I had to live more and peel away layers to reveal the truth of what the song needed to be.

When you feel the song is done, you give it a name. You play it for your sister. Lots of songs never leave the house. Some that have been heard by the world were written on a napkin in a diner. It all goes back to that spark. Whether the road was long or the path was swift, you listened.

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