I find the Billboard Hot 100 end of year charts fascinating. I’ve done a lot of research to try and understand why some songs become number ones. Typically it’s not just for musical and lyrical reasons. Having a song in an iconic movie or television show seems to really help. It makes sense of course, by exposing a well crafted song to more people it helps give it more momentum. However, the song still has to have those sometimes elusive seeming qualities which make it an earworm.
The song and songwriter I want to look at in this blog post definitely got a helping hand from the song being performed (not necessarily by themselves) on high profile TV shows. BUT the song clearly had something compelling about it which helped it become a #1 in Australia first and then in 27 countries around the world! Not bad.
Home Grown Slow Burner
In this blog post I want to look at Australian artist Gotye and his song “Somebody That I Used To Know”. This song sat for 8 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 charts which also earned it #1 position in the end of year charts of 2012.
Gotye, had a long career as a self-recording musician well before the success of “Somebody That I Used To Know”. He had recorded three EPs and two albums before releasing his 2011 album “Making Mirrors”. His DIY recording/songwriting approach on this album yielded the hit song “Somebody That I Used To Know”.
A Sample Of Inspiration
According to Goyte, the song started it’s life as sample from this song:
Probably best to let him tell the story in his own words …
“It just had some weird pull for me and I just sort of went with it. I had a hypnotic attraction to it that prompted the first few lines of lyrics. When I hear something like that that has some almost unexplainable pull, then I feel like other people might feel that as well. I like to stay with that feeling. If I can stay true to that one part that inspired me in the first place, I find that that’s what people tend to resonate with the most.”Wouter “Wally” De Backer AKA Goyte
The DIY Recording Revolution
Another big part of Goyte’s songwriting process is recording in non-studio environments. This trend is becoming more and more popular with songwriters as technology has improved. It is now definitely possible to record and produce world class songs and albums at home*.
I always remember the story of one of Australia’s iconic 80s albums, Whispering Jack, which started it’s recorded life in a garage in a rented house. That album went on to become Australia’s first album released on CD and the best selling album in Australia.
Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” was birthed in a similar way and as we’ll see later this is a key part of Goyte’s approach to songwriting process.
The Songwriting Tips
Now onto the good stuff. Here are some songwriting ideas I pulled out the interview with Wally which I thought were quite interesting and inspiring:
1. Recording On The Go
He records on a laptop in a variety of locations. This includes a barn, in his apartment and on tour. This approach encourages spontaneity and creativity.
It can also help avoid “stage fright” type blockages by having you record in a low pressure environment. This could mean you might capture a take or do something experimental which is “one of those moments” that you might not have captured in the studio. Not a necessity but a good experience to try and see if it works for you.
2. Music Before Lyrics
Experiments with sounds, samples and instruments that inspire him. This leads to moments where a melody and/or lyrics will start coming forward.
He lets the music write his lyrics rather than starting with lyrics. This is a very popular approach with many songwriters and bands. Some people actually dreading the lyric writing process and leaving it as the last part of the songwriting puzzle.
3. Giving Yourself Space
He will let the musical arrangement ideas roll around in his head whilst doing other things. (He’s not the only Australian songwriter who takes this approach to songwriting.)
It’s always important to know when you’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. When the physically songwriting isn’t getting you anywhere and you need to step away and do something different.
This is an important part of songwriting where you’re writing whilst not physically writing. You’re mind seems to keep working to resolve the problems even whilst you’re not focussed on it.
4. Go With That “Feeling”
If the kernel of something has an unmistakable pull to it he runs with that feeling and try not to let the process take away from that pull.
This is a really important thing to remember when recording and producing your own music. If the song isn’t getting “better” as you’re adding things to it start stripping back the arrangement to the kernel and then start to build it again paying attention to where it strayed from the “feeling”.
(You can find the full interview on Metro Lyrics.)
I hope the above ideas are useful for you and might give you some tools to approach you songwriting differently to mix things up.
If you’d like to read more posts like this let me know in the comments.
*Everyone love a DIY success story but it would be remiss of me not to mention that, whilst both Gotye and John Farnham’s albums had a home recording start, they did utilise professional recording studios, mixing and mastering to help get them to release quality. No recording artist is an island.