“Long black hair, great big smile, black eyes that danced in the night!” This is the first line of a single released on my new CD, Ted Cline. The song was written a little over a year ago with the help of my friend and co-writer, Gary Beard. We’ve both been in the music industry for years…me as a musician/entertainer and Gary as a songwriter.
In this article, I’ll be sharing some key ideas about the actual process involved in creating a song like "Mexican Ana." As you’ve probably already guessed - sometimes it comes easy, other times not so easy.
But first, and most important of all –
Start with Something!
Whether the idea for your song comes from a real-life experience, something from your imagination or a combination of both, it doesn’t really matter. The only requirement is that you are alive and breathing. Song ideas are all around, everywhere you go. The key is to start with something.
Put Pen to Paper
If you’re anything like me the next step is the hardest…to actually sit down and put pen to paper. For most of my years as a musician I never had the patience or discipline to do that! I think I finally got there after about 30 years of floating around in the music business! (better late than never)
Think back to the opening line of this article and the first lines of my song! “Long black hair, great big smile, black eyes that danced in the night!”. From that description you can almost see the girl in your mind’s eye and now you probably want to know more. Who is she? Where is she from? Well, that’s what comes next.
Tell a Story
The next step is to tell you a little more about this girl and share the beginnings of my story with her. Most good songs that are worth anything in my book tell a story. “South of the border, I figured she came. Stepped out in front of me, Anna was her name”. Then comes the chorus “Mexican Ana, love at first sight!”. At this point in the song writing process, we are off to a pretty good start!
Keep in mind that I don’t pretend to be an expert writer by any means! I’m just a struggling independent artist like many others but over the years I think I have at least learned what doesn’t work! (To be honest, I’m pretty much an expert on that!)
Now it’s time to add in some music, which in this case I already had running through my head at the time I started writing. People often ask me which comes first, the words or the music? I don’t think it really matters that much. But for me personally, I prefer to have the music already in my head! It helps give me some direction as I write!
But even with such a great start, sometimes the music and words just don’t fit together quite the way you want them to and it’s easy to get frustrated. If you’re anything like me that’s usually when you put your song in the clutter pile with all the other songs you started and didn’t finish. But I didn’t want to do that again like I had so many times before. I was determined to make this song work! So I called in Gary Beard, a friend and proven songwriter who had written for some of the biggest names in Nashville. This time I decided to do something different. This time I decided to collaborate.
Gary told me, “You need structure!” I thought “What the hell do you mean, ‘structure’”? I had run from that word my whole musical career. But he was right! The song did need structure. This was the missing piece for so many songs I had written over the years.
So Gary and I got together several times over the winter hashing things out and we finally came up with a solid structure for the song. Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Chorus, Outro. Knowing what structure to use was the key that finally made Mexican Ana click! What I learned over that winter was a tremendous help. Writing a song and putting it to music must be hand in hand. It all needs to fit together, musically and lyrically into a cohesive structure!
Still to this day I’m not very good at structure but I’m learning, and you will too if you stick with the process or get some help with it!
Flesh it Out
Once I had a structure to work with and a partner to collaborate with, it was time to flesh out the rest of the story. "Mexican Ana" was drawn from a real-life experience that I had at the Winfield Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kansas in the fall of 2019. And yes, there really was a girl named Ana! When you hear the song, I’ll let you decide which parts really happened and which parts came from my imagination.
Anyway, that’s how the song Mexican Ana came about. And with the help of my friend Gary Beard and one of the best producers and engineers in Nashville, Kenny Royster with Direct Image Studio, we succeeded in bringing my "Mexican Ana" to life.
I now have a song I’m proud of and I can’t wait to share it with you! Mexican Ana was released in late September on YouTube and all the major streaming services.•
TED CLINE is a singer-songwriter who has toured with Shaun Nielsen, Margo Smith and he has opened for Joe Nichols, Joe Diffie, Asleep At The Wheel and many others. Some of his primary musical influences are Merle Haggard, George Jones, Marty Robbins and Ronnie Milsap. You can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/tedclinemusic.