Guest Editor: Nicolle Galyon Shares Path to Becoming a Songwriter in Her Own Words

the architect.

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I don’t know the month or even the year, but I became a songwriter on a Sunday. I wasn’t sitting at the piano. Instead, I was somewhere out in a pew with a pencil from the bottom of my mom’s purse, trying to survive another sermon at the First United Methodist Church. In the white margins around the scripture on a folded church bulletin, I would doodle a square, a roof, windows, a chimney, and maybe even some landscaping. I would give it an address every time. 

I guess you could say that’s how I became a songwriter because that is when I started building little houses on paper. That is when I became an architect.

Decades later, one of the most frequently asked questions of my career is, “What do you do? The music or the lyrics?” It used to make me stumble over my words. To say I was the Idea Person, or the Melody Girl, or the Editor… none of them felt like me. At one point, I joked that I was the adult in the room. A half-joke from a girl pushing 40.

But these days when asked, “What is your role in songwriting?” The answer is: I’m the architect. My role comes in the moment right after you’ve committed to a title or a place to build from, and you have to figure out exactly HOW we are going to build this. And for me, those answers are endless. Oftentimes, that makes me exhausting to write with because I will keep tearing up the rough drafts of potential commercially viable hooks that could totally work. (Thanks for the patience, fellow co-writers.) 

To me, a title like “Automatic” or “Tequila” is merely an address. A cool destination, but what are you building there, and how is that little house going to look when it’s done? Is a title like “Automatic” a track-heavy, barn-burner using a metaphor about how a truck drives? Or is it a nostalgic, acoustic-driven introspective life song? And is “Tequila” a straightforward summer anthem with an 808 and fiddles? Or is it a classic tale about longing and not about tequila at all? This is my play. Doodling the frameworks of a song from the inside out, before a single lyric or chord goes on the page. 

We built our family home a few years back, and it took three years to finish. The day we moved in, the architect stopped by to see his vision come to life years after he took pencil to paper designing the space. Once the plans were finalized, he wasn’t much part of the process. And as a songwriter, I feel similar. To take pencil to paper and jot down the structure of a message and then walk away… to then show up to a stadium full of fans who know that song by heart—that is a thrill dare I say holier than I could’ve ever imagined when I started doodling houses in church.

 —Nicolle Galyon

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