I talked to Marie Daniels, lead singer and songwriter with Marie Mokati, about her songwriting workflow, what she does when she gets stuck and how the Tonaly app helps her in this process.
Hi, Marie! How do you write songs? How do you start, and what inspires you?
Mostly I start with the chords. When I have found a nice chord progression for the main theme, I look for a melody. Only then comes a "B" or "C" part. Usually, I write the lyrics after I have written the music.
What inspires me are certain life situations, or other artists and concerts I visit.
Do you always write in that order? First music and then the text?
Yes, in most cases, I do. I let myself be inspired by the chords and the melody and find it easier to write lyrics to it. Often I know the topic I want to write about at the beginning, but I first look for a suitable harmonic context.
Do you write alone, or do you also write together as a band?
I write the basic framework, i.e., chords, melody, and lyrics alone, but then the band has a big influence and arranges a lot. Most of the time, I already have a clear idea of how the song should sound. But when I play it with the band, there are sometimes unexpected possibilities. Then the song might go in a different direction, and chords may get changed again.
All of you studied jazz music and know about music theory. You told me that you still use the app sometimes. Why?
I think it's great to have this overview. Most of the time, I use the app when I get stuck. Sometimes I'm just annoyed when I can't find the next chord. Then I like to get some inspiration from Tonaly.
How does the app help you then? Which features do you use?
In such cases, I'm mostly looking for unusual harmonies, and so I use the "Borrowed chords" feature. It is super helpful to test "crazy" chords from other keys and scales. You get a great overview. Sometimes I find harmonies I would never have thought of otherwise.
Also, I use the app to try out keys. It's super fast and great for singers.
Back to music theory, do you think a lot about it when you write songs?
Not at all.
Because you have already internalized it in your studies so that you don't have to think about it anymore or because you think it is unnecessary?
Probably I have it subconsciously in my head, but I try out a lot, and as mentioned before, I often look for "weird" chords that are not within the key. I try to adapt this very much to the mood of the song or the lyrics. Sound and atmosphere have to fit, no matter if it makes sense theoretically or not.
Would you advise all musicians to study music theory, or is that overrated?
I think it can't hurt to know some theoretical basics. You can use the know-how – or not.
Do you think that music theory can limit your creativity?
Not if you keep trying and use it freely. If you stay in the theoretical grid and always think, "Ah, now the chord has to come because it fits well with that one" and you don't try out any alternatives, then it might limit you. I think the most important thing is to stay creative and not be put off by the "rules". Rules are there to be broken :)
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