Songwriting and My Second Brain

Two weeks ago, I talked about Clay Mills 9 minute Song Workout. It’s a pretty great exercise to dive into a song or generate some song ideas. Clay suggests doing it daily, but if you do, what do you do with all those song workouts? How do you organize them? A week’s worth of song workouts would be unwieldy, and a month’s worth will make a desk look like a forest floor. 

The solution I’ve found is Mem*, a program that functions as a “second brain.” A second brain is a system you use to collect, store, and organize your thoughts. Evernote is supposed to be a second brain, and some people try using email as a second brain.  Authors, such as Ryan Holiday and Elizabeth Gilbert, have systems that use notes on 3 X 5 cards as a second brain. I’ve tried all of these and choked on my note cards (or their digital equivalent). Then I heard about Mem from Srinivas Rao of The Unmistakable Creative.

Mem is different. It has a split-screen layout that allows you to look at tags and notes as you work.  Here’s an example using a song I’m working on called If It Works It’s a Win. I’ve been working on rewriting it for about a week using Mem. This is a pic of my first version of the lyrics and Mem’s sidebar showing the notes linked to the lyrics by the tags:

I can click on any link in the right sidebar, and Mem brings it up. Here’s the trust rhymes & ideas note: 

It would be good if I could flip them back and forth, and I can!

Clicking on a link brings up any note I’ve linked to it, fast. The #Pat Pattison link guides me quickly a rhyme families note I created (and any other useful Pattison stuff I’ve added).  Here’s a nifty pic I snagged from the internet of Pat’s Rhyme Families:

Having information at the ready like this is how a “second brain” is supposed to work. Ideas that are impossible (for me) to keep track of mentally I can pull up instantly. 

An important idea I haven’t mentioned so far is to tag things in the way you think they’ll be helpful in the future. For instance, I made the mistake of tagging my song workouts with a “Song Workout” tag. That tag could create a digital version of the desk covered in random daily song workouts and, with time, make it impossible to find anything useful. 

I don’t use the “song workout” tag anymore. I use the name of a song I’m working on, the thing I plan to use it for. If I were taking notes for a book, a blog, or something that might become a book or a blog, I would want to tag for what I’m aiming to create. 

If you’d like to know more, there’s tons of information out there about this second-brain idea (it’s called Zettelkasten as well). Srini’s explainers are where I got started; I recommend them. 




*Mem is free but currently in Beta-testing. I spent about a week on the waitlist before I could download it, but it’s been amazing to work with now that I have it. 

The Prompt:

Here’s a link to Xomatok’s art. Find out more about Xomatok’s work here.

The Musical Idea:

The Musical Idea: 

Jim Infantino had a significant place in my development as a songwriter and musician. (I learned to sing and play at the same time using his song “Meanies”). Last night, I stumbled on this video where he explains the chords in his song, Prince Charming. In it, he plays what he describes as a “Nightmare Chord,” which is a term I’ll definitely be stealing. A Nightmare Chord is a chord of inexplicable dissonance. I talk a lot about how chords like to play with each other. Sometimes it can be good to throw a Nightmare Chord into the mix and see what happens. Here’s the video: 

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