How do you know when a song is done?

August 3, 2013

When you run out of lead.

I never would have written I’m Yours or I Wont Give Up without a regular writing practice. Neither song came from me saying, I’m going to sit down and write me a song today. Instead, they emerged from a regular habit of playing guitar and channeling my thoughts, feelings and emotions through song. In other words, a habit of making stuff up. Or in a deeper sense, becoming an instrument that Spirit gets to play.

I could add that the process is mystical, healing, uplifting, etc. But those instances are rare, or are often only experienced when looking back at a completed section. The moment I were to say, this is magical, I would then be observing it, thus removing myself from actually being a part of it. Therefore in songwriting, whenever possible, it’s best not to think at all, and just hand yourself over to the play.

The actual writing process can be exhausting. I might have my chords and my melody, and can see and hear the path the song wants to take, but I may not have the words. To find them requires focus, looping the section over and over as the body and mind dances to fit different thoughts and ideas into the best possible cadence, while considering alliteration, internal rhyme and end rhyme, with the goal of it all sounding palatable. It takes a lot of effort to make it sound effortless.

Whenever I’m without words I turn to books, magazine or film. It’s pretty natural for me to come out of a movie feeling transformed and then go home and apply my new outlook to a song. The same happens after a yoga class. Should I truly hand myself over to the instruction of the teacher, my mind gets a moment to tune into something new, thus giving me a new outlook. Fresh from a yoga class you’d think I was stoned. Which interestingly is another option for expanding one’s view, but can also limit one’s ability to make sense.

When I read, I have to be careful not to let the book’s voice become my own. I credit Rumi, Hafiz, Neil Donald Walsh, Daniel Quinn, Alan Weisman, Alan Watts, Barbara Kingsolver, Dan Brown, David Sedaris, and Kelly Oxford for keeping my wit, world view, and pencil sharpened.

For every 12 songs that appear on an album, there are approximately 70 that get discarded. This is due to some songs being just plain boring, or predictable, or too weird. Some seem to lack truth or necessity. Others may not have quite as catchy a lyric or melody. And then there are some that almost make it to the finals, but are edged out by another song too close in style. An example of this can be heard in Don’t Change At All, which was recorded during Love Is A Four Letter Word, but in the end too closely resembled Who’s Thinking About You Now, and therefore got bumped to a bonus-track category, not in the top 13 that made the final playlist.

There’s always a few songs cut from an album that, to quote Boyz II Men, are so hard to say goodbye. At first they remain in consideration for future projects, but time and new experiences usher in new songs which eventually take precedence. On many occasions a song just needs time to mature and realize itself. I’m Yours, in fact was recorded with Steve Lillywhite during the making of Mr. A-Z, but didn’t make it onto the final album. It would take another 3 years of touring before the song found its footing.

Of the archive of songs that time left behind, I trust one day I’ll find a way to share them. As a songwriter, I’d be honored if another artist recorded my work, but I haven’t yet established a system to promote my unheard material, nor am I eager. In many ways, the unheard song is vital to the life of the popular song because without it, the popular song would never have been written. The lost song lives forever in the foundation. It’s more than just another page turned, but an integral part of the process I had to go through to get to the next level.

Occasionally songs get leaked and audiences hear my voice on something they’ve never heard and they assume it’s new or upcoming material. Recently, an demo of a song called, I Don’t Miss You, found it’s way onto the internet under the assumption of it being poised for release. It bums me out when that happens as I would prefer the listener know my work in real-time. But a song is a song and has it’s own life outside of the writer’s. I wrote I Don’t Miss You with Rick Nowels in 2010. It was one of many I wrote with Rick back then. Two of our efforts from that era did find their way onto Love Is A Four Letter Word; them being Living In the Moment, which we locked ourselves in the studio all night to complete & The World As I See It, a relatively quick and easy song inspired by Albert Einstein’s memoir of the same name.

The majority of the upcoming songs for the new album currently in production were written with LA-Based foursome, Raining Jane over three long-weekends between October 2012 & May 2013. Some of the material has been road-tested and more will be revealed as touring resumes in the coming months.

I have faith my current recording experiment will become an album for release. Although, we’re only giving ourselves a little more than 2 weeks to make it, which is kind of an old fashioned approach. It means we have to be well-rehearsed and no one gets too much time to over-think it. The result so far is sounding genuine, groovy and gorgeous. I trust many will appreciate it’s less-is-more approach. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board in the classroom of yoga.

In the meantime, live like an instrument, and stay tuned.

COMMENTS (52)
  • Avatar of brent.sellow.9

    I say save all your unheard stuff and release a b-sides ditty full of rare gems, imports, collabs, mistakes, rambling musings, alt versions…whatever. There is no such thing as bad music…just deaf ears brother(as long as its pure and comes from the soul). If it’s something that you hesitate to do because you’re feeling insecure, you should do it. I know you know that if it’s uncomfortable, it’s precious. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me…I’ll appreciate anything you put out. Keep going, you’re necessary! I appreciate your presence.

  • Avatar of CarmenS
    CarmenS said ...

    Even as Summer awkwardly slips into Autumn, it’s gorgeous.

    Much love,
    Carmen

  • Avatar of CarmenS
    CarmenS said ...

    Summer. It better be keeping you well and it’s night light keeping you lit.

    Much love,
    Carmen

  • Avatar of ALEXolan
    ALEXolan said ...

    i am feeling guilty when i read Jason’s journal that “I dont miss you” is a song that is not already allowed

    to be heard. I already heard it and the song i can say is great. well, all his songs are great! I

    appreciate Jason Mraz’ effort on building a good song. I realize that making songs is really a risk-taking

    besides it’s like a job. you should put so much effort to earn more and grow more.

  • Avatar of ALEXolan
    ALEXolan said ...

    i am feeling guilty when i read Jason’s journal that “I dont miss you” is a song that is not already

    supposed to be heard. I already heard it and the song i can say is great. well, all his songs are great! I

    appreciate Jason Mraz’ effort on building a good song. I realize that making songs is really a risk-taking

    besides it’s like a job. you should put so much effort to earn more and grow more.

  • Avatar of ALEXolan
    ALEXolan said ...

    all Jason Mraz song are great. they’re worth to listen. Even if i have never been a Jason’s fan, I will still

    listen to his music.

  • Avatar of ovillegas
    ovillegas said ...

    I became aware of “I don’t miss you” a day before this journal entry, heard it and loved it, but after reading the journal entry I kind of felt like I was listening to something I wasn’t supposed to hear, however I was torn because I really just dug it. Since then I revisited the song so many times still feeling like I’m stealing cookies from the cookie jar. It just has a different kind of Jason sound, more jazzy/R&B’ish and I just can’t get enough of it, kind of like the feeling when I heard “This is what our love looks like”. I feel bad it was leaked but it is a fine song that I hope makes it to some album in the future. Thanks for the “don’t change at all” heads up too, never heard that song either and loved it as well. Since this journal entry, “I don’t miss you” and “Don’t change at all” have been stuck in my head all day, seriously….I wake up singing them. Thank you for being so honest about it all, I felt like I had to return the favor.

  • Avatar of gmhefner
    gmhefner said ...

    p.s. looking forward to the less-is-more approach for this next album. i knew three of what are probably your most well-known songs, but not until i heard you sing a simple scale in early 2012 did i become a fan. i think i said something like, “ho-ly shhhhit!” lol so go for it man! :)

  • Avatar of MarLuna
    MarLuna said ...

    I believe my title should read “when you leap before reading signs saying illusions ahead.” So, thanks for clearing that up, I do like knowing the timelines of your music enabling us to accompany your path with a push of a play button (and therefore finding connections on our own journey). I am thankful that you give so much to us in sharing your seedlings that will soon be ripe for our ears; I’ve enjoyed the viewing the birth for album 5. I think it just makes it much more intense to know when we listen with splendor to you and Raining Jane, we now have an added component of witnessing amazing alchemy-everyone adds sparkle and brings it to a higher level.

    I agree with @mrazwordplay I could listen endlessly too(much like my father on the Beatles)but until then, it’s exciting that you’re keeping it organic and just plucked as I enjoyed this from your house performances I dream of attending.

    Love to you all!

  • Avatar of Peaceout
    Peaceout said ...

    *God Just Came Near*

    No

    One

    In need of love

    Can sit with my verse for

    An hour

    And then walk away without carrying

    Golden tools,

    And feeling that God

    Just came

    Near.

    -Hafiz
    The Gift, p.33

  • Avatar of gmhefner
    gmhefner said ...

    HAHA! nubbin pencil … and no eraser. :)

    cool! barbara kingsolver is my favorite author. although i still haven’t made it thru poisonwood bible – i need a nubbin pencil and lots of paper to follow that one. lol

    thanks again for sharing via your journal – i always find one (usually many more) items that really strike me. this time it was “The lost song lives forever in the foundation.” i’m not a songwriter but would like to try my hand at it sometime and i love this notion. :)

    peace, brother.

  • Avatar of crystale80
    crystale80 said ...

    Thank you Jason us to discover and listen to one of your new songs in this newspaper page,and your reflections on their designs.

  • Avatar of Ally
    Ally said ...

    Will #5 be “yoga class stoned” OR “doobie bros stoned”? I’m guessing ~ BOTH! :)

    (In all your recent pixs and vid’s, you look REALLY HAPPY, J…nice to see :) )

    ~Ally Old Soul
    xox

  • Avatar of Telluselle
    Telluselle said ...

    PS. Shakespeare’s sonnets are a classic but also very good example of rhytm thru words. By discerning the rhytm thru language (grammar, word structure, rhyme etc), wouldn’t the melody come afterwards?

  • Avatar of Telluselle
    Telluselle said ...

    Interesting. Whenever I write something that resembles lyrics or a poem, it always just appears, seemingly out of the blue. Often when I write my regular blog posts, they too start with the same state of emergency – emerging words that needs to be expressed -. When I write longer texts or bookscripts in fictionstyle (although be it reality based); the book soon starts writing itself. To me, the process takes a lot of time and effort on the inside first; ie I don’t throw away much but rather make sure I don’t write until I know what I want to say. Pondering is clearly undervalued.
    Aloha,
    /A

  • Avatar of GloriousMe
    GloriousMe said ...

    Speaking of disciplined writing, one of my favorite quotes is “Sit your butt in a chair and hope your brain gets the message.” Can’t remember who said it, but it runs through my mind daily. “It’s about the work not the worry,” is a phrase I came up with to calm the fear of writing rejection. It’s going to catch on someday. So glad things are coming along smoothly with your new repertoire.

  • Avatar of sailucie
    sailucie said ...

    Very happy to know how the work is done sounds heavy at times. Perhaps it also means more traveling, hope you enjoy the process and i appreciate the result. Creative work is always inspiring. I send my love and support to all.

  • Avatar of 4meclara
    4meclara said ...

    Hats off to this beautiful post and all these beautiful comments! Something special is happening here!… High #album5!!!

  • Avatar of vernonnoronha89

    Namaste Jason,

    Im a Singer/Songwriter from India, and a big fan of your music. Thank you so much for this write up. This has all the answers im looking for. I love all the songs from Love IS A Four Letter Word, especially *Be Honest*.

    Learning your songs, put me in to the next level. and ive picked and learned a lot vocally from you, and how a song should take is own shape.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Apart from being a great musician, ur an amazing person.
    #album5 sounds great, cant wait to hear the first single.

    The influences of Indian instruments in #album5 tells me that, you might just choose to tour India.
    Waiting to see you here.

    Living in the Moment

    -Vernon Noronha

  • Avatar of consuelo
    consuelo said ...

    As usual, your timing is impeccable. Lifting my spirit with your words. Reminding me to never give up. In yoga class, I will fine tune my musica humana for a life of harmony and look forward to hearing this genuine, groovy and gorgeous music. I salute the light within you.

  • Avatar of akselsoft
    akselsoft said ...

    Alitaclaudia , Agreed about the timing — I find Don’t Change always reminds me of “Catch up with You” — but I understand what he’s saying. It may not be the tune or melody, it may be the production or maybe even the sound behind the songs or lyrics.

    Super stoked about #album5

  • Avatar of akselsoft
    akselsoft said ...

    I sure hope another Raining Jane/Mraz collaboration makes it – “What We Love” is just such a funky tune…that said, loving what you’re doing with the album updates.

    Thanks so much for all you do…

  • Avatar of Alitaclaudia
    Alitaclaudia said ...

    Gosh I’m so ready for album5… hope it’d be released this year. Thankyou for spoiling it to us. Anyways Who’s thinking about you and Dont change are not close in style… well at least for me. I was just thinking, imagine if you release I’m yours earlier, prob it won’t be as huge as it is now. Real timing matters, you are right.
    Looking forward to #album5! Be quick!

  • Avatar of indietribe
    indietribe said ...

    very educational…thank you for the wisdom and the fruitful messages over the years.

  • Avatar of cghiottq
    cghiottq said ...

    Jason~You are so entertaining, enjoyable, humble, and wonderful. I love your music, your gentle way, your sweet voice. I love your sweet speaking voice…it just denotes the kind spirit I think you are. Keep sharing your gift with us, because we do love it, and it brings us joy. Christine

  • Avatar of venerator
    venerator said ...

    ha ya ya ya ya ya ya you is wonderful..

  • Avatar of lorrain19e
    lorrain19e said ...

    Jason,

    You are a awesome person. I love all that you write. Yours songs are my inspiration, you are my inspiration in days difficult and also in days happy. You have a talent especial. Songs as “Song for a friend” and “I´m Yours just could have been write for someone with very love in the heart. I love you and wait anxiously the 5º album. I see you in december here in Brazil and hope to give you a hug.

    With love,

    Lorraine.

  • Avatar of JaneJohnson
    JaneJohnson said ...

    Greetings!, and a happy sunny summer Sunday to all. Thank you Jason for sharing your music, and thoughts through your blog. So interesting to learn a little more about your creative process when writing songs and music. Kind of like how a song is birthed. I am a beginner when it comes to poetry, writing and blogging. I love that I can fill a page with emotion and then set it all free. It’s very healing to be able to let it all go. Raining Jane are awesome! So talented. Excited for album #5. Stay well.

  • Avatar of iriannyguzman
    iriannyguzman said ...

    I really can’t go on a day without listening to your songs! I bought all your recorded albums (and Live on Earth) and it is all I listen to in my car! Haha your music just makes me so happy and so inspired to be kind to others and take life easy that I can’t get enough of it. I’m sooooo excited that you’re continuing your work of inspiring others and having fun while doing it! It would be a dream come true to see you live and I can’t wait till that day comes!
    Don’t EVER stop making music!!
    Much MUCH love!
    -A very grateful fan <3

  • Avatar of lucasamontenegro

    Jason, you’re a genius, and not an usual one.

    I became an orphan of FF5000 when you deleted it, but it’s great to see that you continue to give us your jewels, not only in the form of songs. I really admire you as a person.
    I’m a songwriter as well, and I can relate to everything that you said in this post, and I learned a lot from it too.
    Excited about the upcoming album, and thanks for existing!

  • Avatar of binkie3
    binkie3 said ...

    Haha, and I just posted a tweet about me being so jealous of you because the music seemed to flow out of you so easily :) LOL

    When I sing, my little girl says in a real sweet way: dont you do singing songs, mommy (but then only in dutch ofcause, we’re from holland) but I have to sing if I hear your songs, so, fortunately, my 3 kids have started to sing along too (maybe just so they can’t hear me? :) well, I’m trying to convince me that she just told me to stop singing cause she wanted to hear the tv.. But I’m not buying it, yet ;) Don’t think the tv was on..

    I’m glad to hear your process is just like any others creative processes, the good evolve in between the bad or mediums.. That gives hope to continue making all kind of creative things.. It’s not hopeless.. Sometimes you amaze yourself.. Did I do that? Wow! :) and it feels like it came from another place.. Beauty ain’t it?

    Anyway, I’m still jealous of the heart touching music, songs and amazing vocal capacity you have! Ehm, no, not really, just glad you share it with the world and still remain ‘only human’ :) still have to do your f-ing laundry ey :) tnx for sharing your process.. Like the recognition.. Oh, & Can’t wait for album 5…
    Love from holland, from one big and 3 mini fans

  • Avatar of Chosang
    Chosang said ...

    I love you Jason Mraz.. You are my biggest idol..

  • Avatar of macrow
    macrow said ...

    My absolutely favorite song I have heard you sing that is not on a previous album is “Song for a Dancer”…at least I think that is a name. LOVE IT! Would love it to make it’s way onto an album. At any rate…very super excited for your new album!!

  • Avatar of stevennealwagner

    I appreciate you laying this out as you have, Jason. As a songwriter, I have cultivated a very disciplined, “work hard” approach, which serves really well at times. But there’s the whole other side, you reminded me of: Pick up the guitar and just let go–not even with an expectation of what I might get out of it, but just to DO. I can recall olden times when that was how I operated and sometimes stuff came out that was so beautiful and unexpected that I actually freaked out a bit. I am gonna stop sweating and I’m gonna start letting…go. Haha.

  • Avatar of mrazwordplay
    mrazwordplay said ...

    I certainly appreciate the less is more approach…one of my favorite recordings is the one from Dagmar’s back yard. For the archive of songs that time left behind, or didn’t quite make the cut, I would love to hear a simple, home studio album called “Something Like That”. :) I wouldn’t mind if it was 300 songs long either! <3 Thanks for the glimpses of Album #5! I can't wait!!! xoxo

  • Avatar of jewelsdawn
    jewelsdawn said ...

    Hi Jason. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you twice. How blessed I am in having done so. Your music, voice, and the message in your lyrics touch my soul to its core. I am so grateful for you and all you do. You are an amazing person. I look forward to your new album! Its been a pleasure to watch you evolve as an artist. I just want to say thank you for all you do. Your music is something I look forward to each and every day.

  • Avatar of darragh.mcevoy

    He is just the absolute man!!
    I cannot wait til Album#5

  • Avatar of phairlady13
    phairlady13 said ...

    That was well said and I appreciate your recognition of higher power and how you personally tap into spirit. Very neat!!

  • Avatar of RescueIcarus
    RescueIcarus said ...

    Hey Jason. It’s Jason Fisher; I met you back in August of ’03 when you played at the Disco Rodeo in Raleigh,NC. At that time I was raising support for a friend who’s daughter was fighting leukemia. I really enjoyed talking with you and really appreciated all the kind words you had to offer. Annabella loved the polaroid and the words you wrote for her; I’ve never seen a face light up like that before. I’ll never forget it. I am now in the process of gaining support for a dear friend and beautiful human being who is undergoing treatment for stage three cervical cancer, and I’m trying to spread awareness of this highly preventable disease that is quickly becoming the second most common cancer among women. I am organizing a benefit concert to support the cause and I would be forever grateful if you would be apart of it. I’ve got a beautiful venue lined up and I have a whole lot of support around the area who are working hard to make this a successful event. The only thing we’re missing is you! If I could have 5 minutes with you I would be in your debt. 919-285-6438 . Sending good vibes into the great blue. ♥

  • Avatar of franlouanne
    franlouanne said ...

    Man, you are so inspiring!
    Thanks to always share good things, it makes me happy.
    I believe in you. As already said, you make it look easy.
    Keep doing what you do, cause you are so fucking good!

    Françoise

  • Avatar of kman768
    kman768 said ...

    Dude, I’ve got pencils that look just like that . lol And she said why don’t you just use a new one . yeah right !

  • Avatar of AaronLaVigne
    AaronLaVigne said ...

    Jason,

    quick backstory: You saw me in the RENT National Tour in Escondido back in 2007. Some of my friends hung at your place post show however, I was not one of them. I sat with your family and friends when you played MSG (my friend from Richmond works for your sister). Your sister said something after the show I’ll never forget. I paraphrase: “We had to all come (from RVA)… Its Madison Square Garden. (then with excitement) MADISON SQUARE GARDEN! Who knows if he’ll even ever play here again.” Those words floored me. The love and pride from your family was intense. I felt like I was one of them by default lol. It nearly brought me to tears. because its true. As a songwriter / broadway actor / performer guy myself its one day at a time. A grind. Writing bad songs to find the good ones. Its crazy but I feel a kindred connection when I listen to your stuff. Its nuts. You are more human than anything else and that alone is just plain awesome man. Thanks for the music and I hope, one day, I’ll have the pleasure to share those stories with you… they’re pretty good ;) Thanks for the perspective.

    -Aaron LaVigne

  • Avatar of duluthdanai
    duluthdanai said ...

    This is similar to any creative project…how do you know when to stop so that it doesn’t get ruined?

  • Avatar of shorekimmy
    shorekimmy said ...

    Will Raining Jane be putting out a new album also?

  • Avatar of gealine
    gealine said ...

    Thank you so much for giving us all the answers we where looking for ;)
    Now i know you do read the comments and you know what’s going on in your fan base.

    Ps: you probably didn’t read my last comment about how i missed the personal blogs you wrote on freshnessfactorfivethousand. But in case you did, this is exactly what i meant!
    Love how i can relate to feeling transformed after a movie and or book, makes me feel like I Am the mean character and all those characters makes me who i am today.
    Only side effect: I can’t watch a movie about a (mental) health issue. I’m always afraid i might have it or get it Haha

    Trying to send just as much love as i receive from you!

    x Gealine

  • Avatar of mrazfan1031
    mrazfan1031 said ...

    Hi Jason,

    I would just wish to tell you how much I look forward to ANY new song from you. Your voice and your songs have helped me through many phases of my life. Your songs have helped me laugh, have helped me cry and have helped me see life through a positive light. I thank you for all your hard work and thank you from my heart for sharing the process of your musical masterpieces. I am so very excited to hear more from your album#5 and I always look forward to hear your voice.

    xoxo,Love,
    Linda

  • Avatar of Mari_
    Mari_ said ...

    Jason,
    The creative process does not cease to be one study, a dedication. And believe me, even discarding some of these songs, you’re in the way that right.
    I’m happy and sad at the same time his return to Brazil. Happy because thousands of people will feel the love -pure feeling- trough of his songs and sad because despite fan, I can not go to any of them. I have faith a day to see you sing live. I’m waiting for the new album!

    Thank you for sharing your music!

    Mariana.

  • Avatar of Gabysullivan
    Gabysullivan said ...

    Jason,
    You are my role model and inspiration. Every time I read your journal entries I feel like I grow into a better and happier person because your energy can be felt through the letters and words that are written on the tiny screen I read them from. Your music can change my mood completely when I am going through anything. I hope when I grow up and out of my sixteen year olds self I can be just as amazing as you are and hopefully one day I can get to know you and soak in your wisdom and knowledge of this beautiful universe that we share.
    Thank you for everything,
    Gaby

  • Avatar of kapitanyuki
    kapitanyuki said ...

    Thank you for the music, Jason. You helped lift me out of rough times. You’re my hero. <3

  • Avatar of Cathy777
    Cathy777 said ...

    Jason,

    I am one of a million plus fans who are so friggin excited about album #5. Thank you for sharing the updates and making us feel apart of your world. My favorite song of every song in the world is “Who’s Thinking About You Now”. I can’t begin to express how deeply that song touches me. To have a love like that is beyond imaginable. Thru You Tube I have been introduced to “Out Of Your Hands” and it is now my second favorite. “Rescue” is a close third. I haven’t listened to it yet that I haven’t shed tears.

    Thank you for the hard work you put into writing your songs. You do make it look effortless! Know the words and music bring joy to so many. I truly can’t imagine a world without your music and your beautiful voice.

    Your are loved!!
    Cathy

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