Songwriting and musicmaking tips from Andrew Falkous

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Falco, as he likes to call himself, is one of my favorite musicians, a lyrical genius and musical madman. If you have a soft spot for noise rock you may know his bands Mclusky and Future Of The Left. His blogs are also super fun to read which is why I paste his latest one here:


Sometimes, when people get really bored, perhaps while waiting for their car to be detailed (*1) or simply staring at the internet waiting for death (*2), they email or message me and ask for what I can only describe, in the silver tongue that has made me famous across this municipality, for songwriting tips, for ways of moving their band, their thing, forward (whatever that means, to them or in reality), for the secrets of human levitation.

Okay, maybe not the last one.

But the emails, the messages, Yes, I'm flattered. Thankyou - really - for thinking of me, because I know you're hardly here for the big-buck-tips, the shortcuts to fame and fortune, the how-to-foo-fighters - you know the score. It's all about fucking on. It's all about losing yourself in it.

So, here are some basic, band-being/song-writing tips, partly because (a) it's nice to be nice but also (b) I find myself typing out the same basic things over and over in individual replies, and that's patently daft(*3). This lot - this first lot, because there are some more song-specific things/tricks I can share, once I have the time - are a little general in nature and may sound patronising to some/most but I tell you in all honesty I've worked with/talked to so many bands, young bands, old bands, bands in hats, and sometimes this advice, this list of the seemingly obvious, is often greeted with the kind of astonishment which I had previously assumed only applies to ghost encounters.

Please note - these are tips rather than rules, except for the first one. The first one is non-negotiable. Think of it as the science which underpins the theory - and certainly the efficacy - of all of the other suggestions.

Ready? Okay.

The first tip/rule is WRITE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF SONGS, NEVER STOP, IN FACT, DEVOTE EVERY AVAILABLE MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE TO IT, SURRENDER RELATIONSHIPS, MISS BIRTHDAYS AND TAKE THOSE SONGS EVERYWHERE WITH YOU, EVEN TO HOSPITAL WAITING ROOMS, FUNERALS AND CAR-WASHES. I once existed in close proximity to a very talented musician who spent a considerable amount of time attending to the presentation of their physical form whilst also continually bemoaning the lack of forward momentum that their - pretty good - band was obtaining. The answer to their problem, of course, was that they had not picked up a guitar (other to play a show) for almost a year. You need to pick up your - your whatever, because it doesn't need to be a guitar - and you need to make sure you enjoy the fuck out of it at least 82 per cent of the time BECAUSE IT'S MEANT TO BE THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD DAMN IT ALL DO IT BECAUSE NOT DOING IT IS WORSE THAN DEATH. That last part is supplemental to point one, and really, if you've got as fair as emailing me, of investing the time to contact a guy whose most google-able achievement is responding to a shitty review nearly a decade ago, should go without saying.

This leads us onto the second tip, and it's a tip for your mental health as much as helping to create the foundations for the legendary catalogue of songs that will surely follow. Tip two is - and yes, it runs almost completely antithetically to tip/rule number one - REALISE WHEN IT'S REALLY NOT WORKING, STOP AND DO SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY. Please note -this does not mean 'I tried this one thing and it didn't really work so now I'm going for a nap' - as objectively awesome as naps are, it is a message that your mind will send you at some stage or other, and it is your job to listen effectively, to be aware of what it is trying to tell you. Also, I get it - life is busy, existence is insane. During the beginning of what history will probably call 'the first lockdown' (I'm writing in October 2020) I did so much childcare and was so mentally drained that I didn't go anywhere near writing a song, aside from occasionally mumbling some bollocks into the voice memos app, for four months. That's fine. In fact, when it happens, through choice or fuckenstance, embrace it. Go for walk, a swim, a bear hunt (maybe not the last one). Have a holiday, yeah, and store your guitar in the crawlspace (I don't have one of those) - just don't make it the default.

And crucially (tip three incoming) REMEMBER TO LISTEN TO MUSIC OR AIR CONDITIONING UNITS OR WHATEVER THE HELL IT IS THAT BRINGS YOU JOY. Again, that might sound quite mad - too obvious - but I've talked to several people over the years who have found themselves in the middle of what they call 'writer's block' whilst engaging with little music - little art in some cases - outside of their own. (*4). Pour a little something into your brain, even if you hate it. Once, after a break-up, I watched about 7 seasons of Law and Order in a week and ended up writing some of the best songs I've ever put my variously-misspelled surname to. Later, a visceral and quite unfair hatred I developed of a somewhat successful band inspired a run of songs I'll probably never beat, and now I'm grateful to that band as I am to my old school bully, the one I hear is now a manager in a sanitation company. (*5)

Tip four, and this is a biggie in this house - RECORD EVERYTHING YES EVERYTHING, EVERY STRING STUTTER, EVERY FLUFF, EVERY SINGLE MOMENT The battle of art, for me, or rather, I should say, my own battle with art, is the one between my conscious and my sub-conscious minds. What the fuck do you mean, Mr.Miyagi, you might say, fearing perhaps that I have completely lost my fucking marbles? Well, in general, especially if you put in the hard yards detailed in tip/rule one, you get good, or at least good-adjacent, and it turns out, and I can't be any clearer here THAT THE FIRST THING YOU DO, THE FIRST THING THAT FALLS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH OR SPRINGS LIKE COILED FUCK THROUGH YOUR FINGERS IS USUALLY THE BEST THING YOU WILL DO THAT DAY and the tape must be running at all times to bring it home, to catch the essence of it before your conscious mind takes the stand-out elements and normalises them, makes it sound like everything else. I can listen back to rehearsal tapes (literally in the early days of mclusky, ploughing through c90 after c90) and hear the process play back in real time - Jack(*6) will play something, something instinctive (again, this is only 'instinctive' in the sense that his sense of instinct was focused and honed by thousands of hours of practice) and I, tipsy maybe, stoned, sober, it doesn't matter, just start making a noise with my hand, my throat, channelling whatever is in the room, searching for the inflection point(s) until it begins to work - or doesn't - and in a moment, it's there, the excitement of it all, from 'lightsabre cocksucking blues' to 'arming eritrea' (these are songs which are famous among up to 250 people) live and present in the very first seconds of creation but as the tape wanders on and a first go becomes a second then a fifth they even themselves out, begin to lose the rough edges - the weird vocal inflection, say, the odd whatever of the tom-tom - that really makes it stand out, really makes it special. Luckily, though, that recording was there to show me what the song could be, of the magical energy that it brought forth from nowhere and now - and then - that's where the conscious mind comes in, the wanker, sitting down with a nice slice of toast and having the patience to listen back to the brain-farts of its wilder cousin, to categorise them according to quality.

I hope that makes sense. If it doesn't just read it again.

finally (for today/tonight) and rather guitar/bass specific in nature - WHAT KEY IS IT IN? you might ask, as your band mate whips out a riff so sweet that it gives you unexpected nipple traction. Well, WHO GIVES A FUCK? is the correct question-answer, at least at first, until that becomes important for some reason (often it doesn't). Say Julia(*7) is playing this hot new bass-line, and it is making the room shake (she is always very loud, like most bass-players). Do I look at her hands, try and work out what she is playing? Fuck no. I start to play. That way I have a chance of making something unique to me. If I discover she is playing in 'C' my conscious brain will push me towards that, focus on what it is used to, even if I resist.(*8) It's a twat like that - useful for crossing roads and dressing, but rubbish for art.

Oh balls. It's almost 7AM again. (spoiler alert - time is linear). I've got to go. Hope some of this was useful, or funny or whatever the hell it was meant to be. I'm sure the odd person will feel patronised, for which I'm sorry - this thing clearly wasn't for you (I'm allergic to eggs myself). I'll just pile on here for a bit when the book - or the music - I'm writing starts to get up on my tits, that's the format.

Hope you are good.


ps. yes I will make a 'time is linear' related joke/comment in every third blog post

pps the audiobook of Richard Ayoade's 'Ayoade on top' is really very funny

(*1) I don't really know what this is, not being a car-er

(*2) I do know what this is. Yes. definitely.

(*3) surely 'patently daft' is a song-title that someone can use. I hereby release it into the world for that purpose.

(*4) I've done this myself - especially with music - and it's silly and self-defeating

(*5) which seems fine, everyone has to eat

(*6) Jack Egglestone (still my favourite all-world surname) who I play with in mclusky and future of the left

(*7) Julia Ruzicka (another pretty cool surname, fair play, top 15 at least) who I play with in future of the left, and who is also my wife

(*8) and I may well end up there, noting and playing around the key (not that I fully understand keys, more frets) but it will never be my first port of call

That was a cool read.

I skimmed most of it, -- well, because I agree, know what he's about to say, and, I basically say the same thing. However, "people", they, just, don't, listen. Wink hahhh! to anyone, not just me Fool

I'll bet, (as well), -- he's great at building authentic relationships with people. (I am not familiar with him, or by this, -- but he does not seem hard to get along with, or hard to approach, (good indicators, not "WTF'g" stuff he's not familiar with Smile ).)

dzd's picture

That was a good read! Thanks. I remember Mclusky I will have to check out some of his newer band sometime!

I'm sure its all stuff at least most of us "here" will agree with. I am always shocked outside of this community anyway how little a lot of other musicians do just write or play for just the sake of it, and listen to others music just to enjoy it, not just rip it because they didn't do it hahaha

- Amen!

Yes! A band I forgot about until I read this the other day. Thanks for the reminder Biggrin

Also this blogpost is part of many that pepped me up to begin making music again... and look where it has lead me now Biggrin

sph's picture

@ampersandman Thanks for that post

Yeah, listen and play, take and give!