The official website showcasing the music of Yellowgold, produced by Jason Howell.

Documenting that fleeting song idea

Record that idea in any way possible. But only when you are confident that hitting that shiny red record button isn't going to suddenly derail your train of thought.

How many times have I sat down to record a song trapped in my mind, only to realize that once I hit record and played a few notes, it all unraveled underneath me. And sometimes that can wipe the idea slate clean. Or mangle it to a point where its hard to recover and get back to the unaltered original idea.

So then, one thing I've done that makes this process pretty seamless is use a little app on my phone. You may have heard of it.


Evernote is awesome. Seriously, I love this app for so many reasons. The service itself is incredible, and yes I know, Evernote isn't the only service that does this sort of thing. But it happens to be the one I use regularly these days.

I have a Notebook called "Song Ideas." When I'm ready to record that idea, I create a new note in that notebook, hit the Audio record button, and lay it out. The reason an app like Evernote on my phone is so invaluable is that I always have it on me. I'm never without my phone.

So, for example, if I'm driving and that awesome hook pops in my head, I hit record and sing it into the phone while I'm driving. I'm usually completely off key, and have little to no sense of any lyric, but I record whatever I might need to recall the idea later. Recall of the idea when it matters is the important part. I record enough to make sure that I'm leaving an accurate bookmark of that fleeting idea for when I have time to actually hash it through and turn it into something tangible.

A sample of my Song Ideas notebook in Evernote

Often I'll start with the bass foundation and hum that, then I'll start at the top and sing whatever lyrical pattern or harmony I have in my head. I'm always assuming that each part layers on top of the other. So later, I can listen to the recording and lodge that bass line in my brain and later the vocal line. If I'm comprehensive like this in laying down my idea into Evernote, I can easily remind my brain what that song sounded like to me way back when I recorded it. It's almost like a mental multitrack session in a strange way. For me, it's almost not enough to reconstruct the idea later. I need my brain to be taken back to the place it was when that idea was born. And the more I can lay down in an audio note, the easier it is to get back there later.

Not to mention, so many time, in laying down these ideas, something happens that was never part of the plan, but works so well that it makes its way to the final product. This often happens lyrically, because in my mind, I'm rarely thinking about actual lyrics this early. It's all about the melody and the harmony of the instruments in my mind. But in laying down those structures with my mouth representing each instrument (including what is intended to be the vocal line), I make up words that fit the cadence. And sometimes I get on a roll with lyrics that don't make a whole lot of sense, but sound pretty darn nice together. That can turn into something that does make sense later. It actually helps me out cause it gives the song a bit of a lyrical direction.

The big picture here is this: Do whatever it takes to take that idea in your mind and get it recorded in some way, comprehensively, so you know you can listen later and recall that state of mind in an effort to turn your idea into reality.

Up next, a further look at how I use Evernote to enhance song writing.