Finding relief through music

Martin Chang, Editor in Chief

By Martin Chang

Editor in Chief

When I decided to write about my songwriting process for this page, I originally was going to tell you, the audience, that writing songs is not that big of a deal.

That it’s really just putting a few chords together and singing a melody on top.

That still is true, and it’s how I write songs, but sometimes the stars align and those simple chords and melody can mean so much more.

What changed was I wrote a song that I feel is special and means the whole world to me.

It’s a song that defines what I was going through emotionally at the time. It defined the thoughts I was thinking. It put into words and music something I’ve been struggling to define for years.

“Some Nights” by fun., and Tegan and Sara’s “Heartthrob” were inspiring me at a time when I really needed it.

The music on those albums recognizes the pain and hardships of life but also have a message of overcoming those obstacles.

They tell the story of how much more brilliant life can feel when you overcome it.

I had a lot of nervous energy going into the semester about being editor in chief and it manifested as a sort of frozen feeling, but those two albums melted those feelings away.

So those two albums were in my head, and it manifested in the song. I had also seen Susan Cain’s TED talk about the power of introverts and it got me thinking about the very common theme in my music, the theme of the world in my head. It’s something I’ve been writing about for years.

What I’m trying to capture in those songs is something about me. I find myself absorbed and inspired by things that may not be a big deal to other people.

Things like the way the clouds look in the sky or the way a woman’s voice soars in a pop song.

I must have written at least 25 songs with that theme and it’s some of my favorite music that I write.

But this song defined that feeling better my previous ever did.

I wrote the song on a Sunday afternoon. I had not played guitar in months so I wasn’t expecting much. After some time I started strumming a chord progression I liked, many of my songs start out that way. Often though,

I struggle with those songs, because my best songs usually happen all at once, music and words.

Once I got the music down, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought to myself “it might not turn out that good, but it’s good practice.”

Then those words and the forcefulness that I was singing the words with started to surprise me. I was singing about the trials of my life, my heart and soul in a way that made more sense to me than it ever had. I was singing with a confidence that Tegan and Sara and fun. had taught me.

I was embracing my inner world like Susan Cain said that I should.

When the word freedom popped into my mind as the focus of the chorus, it   made sense.

I knew I was taking that frozen feeling and making something special with it, something of value.

Then I went back to develop the verses some more, and a magical moment happened.

I needed a line to match the opening line “As I walk the trials of my life/ I feel it in my soul” I had gone as far “I’ll use my notes and my words.” It’s a very common sentiment in my songs. So I need something to complete the thought. Usually, I fill that last

part with some kind of metaphor or example.

The trees and sky are some of my favorites.

As I was searching for an example or metaphor that fit, the line “to make my world whole” flashed in my mind and escaped my lips.

The moment I sang those words an excited chill ran over my body. It was an out-of-body experience where I thought, “Oh my god that’s perfect,” like I was criticizing the song for the paper.

It felt good. It felt right. My entire body was filled with an emotional feeling so strong that it was almost overwhelming.

I could feel it in my heart, on my skin, all over. The entirety of myself felt in tune with creativity.

I was feeling the shocking power of music in my bones.

This shocking feeling opened up my mind. It made my room wildly clear like I could see the energy in the air. It may be cliché to say the feeling was indescribable, but it was.

As I was writing the song, I was summarizing my life, all my feelings, so it felt like a long time.

Yet the whole song writing process took only about 30 minutes. I then sang a rough version of the song into my iPhone.

When I played it back I knew I had written something that meant a lot to me.

I had finally defined something I’ve been chasing for years. I had a document of my life over the last few weeks.

The feeling of accomplishment as I played the song back is the most accomplished I ever felt.

 I had started maybe an hour ago, just fooling around on guitar and now I had something I could always have.

Something I could share with people and maybe make a difference in their life. I had turned the feelings of the past, both good and bad, into something concrete, something anyone can hear.

I know I sound like a jerk calling my own song perfect, bragging about how creative I am, but I just wanted to share with you, the audience, how significant and life affirming song writing can be.