Dream Theater - Writing

  1. Any chance of filming the studio sessions for the next CD (similar to what Metallica did with the black album)? faq id: 9
  2. After all the problems in the past, do you ever see Dream Theater working with another outside producer? faq id: 10
  3. With regards to the "spontaneous" way of writing music, does Mike ever think that this method doesn't allow enough time for songs to mature? faq id: 11
  4. Since there are times that Mike would only have a day or so to plan out his drum tracks, does he ever have any regrets about what ends up on the album? faq id: 12
  5. Has there ever been or will there ever be a lyric that will inspire the actual development of a song, instead of the other way around? faq id: 13
  6. Will Dream Theater ever write an album without an "inspiration corner?" faq id: 14
  7. Does Mike write his drum parts to fit into John Myung's bass lines or does John M write according to Mike’s bass drum parts? faq id: 77
  8. How exactly does Dream Theater write songs? What comes first? faq id: 78
  9. How does Dream Theater fit the lyrics in with the music? faq id: 79
  10. What is James’ impression of the new music, the first time he hears it? Does he make any suggestions? faq id: 80
  11. Has the drum beat ever been the first part of any Dream Theater songs written and the guitar, bass and keys were written for the beat? faq id: 81
  12. How does writing and recording spontaneously fit into a record company's budget since they don't give you carte blanche, or do they? faq id: 82
  13. Does Dream Theater keep charts for every song they write? Do they keep them? Can they be posted on-line? faq id: 83
  14. Who composes the solos in each song? faq id: 84
  15. What is Mike’s opinion of jazz and fusion type music? Will Dream Theater ever do some sort of heavy progressive fusion-based song? faq id: 85
  16. While James doesn't write any of the music with the rest of the band, if he felt real strongly about a specific musical idea, would Mike and the other guys consider using it? faq id: 277
  17. How does Mike respond to the accusation that Dream Theater 'wears their influences too prominently on their sleeves'? faq id: 278
  18. With a number of Dream Theater's (and both LTE) CDs being filled almost to the maximum, was there anything that had to be edited down so that it would all fit on to a single CD? faq id: 279
  19. How much consideration does Dream Theater give to live performance as they write a song? faq id: 280
  20. What is the writing process that Dream Theater uses? faq id: 328
  21. How is it determined as to who will write the lyrics to a song?
    Who writes the vocal melodies?
    faq id: 329
  22. Does James ever find it difficult to sing somebody else's lyrics? faq id: 330
  23. Where does Mike get his inspiration to write lyrics? faq id: 331
  24. Does Mike keep a notebook for his ideas or does he set aside time to write lyrics? faq id: 332
  25. Does Mike find it easy to write lyrics? faq id: 333
  26. Why was a drum machine used on Speak to Me and Through Her Eyes? faq id: 334
  27. What Dream Theater song lyrics are the result of real life experiences? faq id: 335

Questions and Answers

  1. Any chance of filming the studio sessions for the next CD (similar to what Metallica did with the black album)? faq id: 9
    MP: I already do film and record every one of our sessions. It's not likely that Elektra would ever want the expense of releasing such a thing, but once our "official bootlegs" series gets off the ground, then I can compile the footage for that. I have seen bootlegs of a 2 hour version of the making of Images and Words that I compiled for some friends at the time which have since become pretty circulated.

  2. After all the problems in the past, do you ever see Dream Theater working with another outside producer? faq id: 10
    MP: To be honest, I cannot picture ever working with an outside producer again. To me, there's no point in making music (or films or art or books, etc.) if you cannot truly express YOUR voice. I think we'll always enlist the help of an engineer and mixer for sonic purposes, but creatively and artistically, nobody know what's better for this band than we do.

  3. With regards to the "spontaneous" way of writing music, does Mike ever think that this method doesn't allow enough time for songs to mature? faq id: 11
    MP: No, I think writing and recording this way makes so much sense. I've seen a lot of fans speculate that we're not giving the songs enough time to grow, or that we're writing in a Liquid Tension mode where we're writing them in five days and recording them. That's not the case. With Six Degrees, we were in the studio for four, five, six months and the songs *did* grow in the studio. Once my drums were laid down, which was the foundation, everything else was able to grow on top of that. A lot of the parts developed on tape; there was time for the songs to grow. And here's another reason why I think this process makes so much more sense: in the past, whether it was Awake or Falling Into Infinity, we would write a song, demo it and then put it on the shelf for a year. Then when we would go to properly record the album, we were basically learning a song off of a tape. In some cases, it's almost impossible to reproduce the energy, the excitement and the initial inspiration or spark that was a part of writing that song. It's almost like just going through the motions and learning a song that you pulled off the shelf from a year ago. To me, that seems pointless. I think it makes so much more sense that when you're writing something, you're excited by it, the ideas are spinning and you wanna strike while the iron is hot.

  4. Since there are times that Mike would only have a day or so to plan out his drum tracks, does he ever have any regrets about what ends up on the album? faq id: 12
    MP: No, I think I prefer it this way. I'm not like a Neil Peart-type that sits there and fine tunes the drum part over a period of two months and then sticks with it for the rest of his life time. I'm more of a spontaneous type of player. When we're composing the songs, I'm very in tune with the direction of the drums because it's such a big part of the composition. So after playing through a new song while we're writing it, I'm ready to rock, I'm ready to roll tape and do it. If I have too much time to think about it, my part is just gonna become boring to me. I wanna nail it while it's fresh and inspired.

  5. Has there ever been or will there ever be a lyric that will inspire the actual development of a song, instead of the other way around? faq id: 13
    MP: Not for me! I don't know about the other guys, I can't speak for them. But I can't think of any situations where that has happened to me.

  6. Will Dream Theater ever write an album without an "inspiration corner?" faq id: 14
    MP: There's always been an "inspiration corner" - it's just that we usually don't share it with people. From day one, there's always been CDs that we've carried with us for inspiration. But it was only with Scenes and Six Degrees where we made it public. It wasn't even supposed to be a big deal, but it ended up being this big center of discussion between the fans. Instead it really just was supposed to have been a passing tidbit of information, it wasn't supposed to be this big thing that people were going to use to try to anticipate the direction of the album.

  7. Does Mike write his drum parts to fit into John Myung's bass lines or does John M write according to Mike’s bass drum parts? faq id: 77
    MP: John M and I are a very untraditional type of rhythm section. I actually do all of my locking in with the guitar...the bass *usually* (not always) follows afterwards. So I very rarely ever work around the bass lines. In fact, I don't even put bass in my monitors live!! (mainly guitar). I think John M mostly keys into the guitar as well or lately with Jordan, will work along with Jordan's left hand patterns.

  8. How exactly does Dream Theater write songs? What comes first? faq id: 78
    MP: It always starts with Riffs and Grooves first (drums, guitar, bass & keys). Then usually Melody, and then Lyrics (sometimes in the opposite order). And then finally the vocals.

  9. How does Dream Theater fit the lyrics in with the music? faq id: 79
    MP: When the 4 of us write and record the music, we write it with the arrangement and placement of the lyrics already worked out (and usually JP or myself will already have some melodies and possible lyrics mapped out). We then record the whole song and the lyrics and vocals come later in the process. In the case of the music for SFAM, the entire album was written, recorded and finished before we even started the lyrics.

  10. What is James’ impression of the new music, the first time he hears it? Does he make any suggestions? faq id: 80
    MP: Usually when James comes down from Canada to hear the music we've written, he's always gets very excited. To be honest, he's never really made any suggestions of that sort (“hey, try adding just another 32nd note to that 3rd bar”??) probably because a) he doesn't play an instrument and b) he kinda just respects our “turf” and that we have a kinda chemistry that he doesn't want to f*** with.

  11. Has the drum beat ever been the first part of any Dream Theater songs written and the guitar, bass and keys were written for the beat? faq id: 81
    MP: Yes the drums dictate the music just as much as any instrument in Dream Theater. [Under a Glass Moon and many parts from the middle of Metropolis are just two examples of songs based around the drums. – ed]

  12. How does writing and recording spontaneously fit into a record company's budget since they don't give you carte blanche, or do they? faq id: 82
    MP: We are lucky to be in a situation where we are at a point in our career (and in our recording contract) to “lock out” a studio like Bear Tracks for 4 or 5 months and work completely at our own pace and convenience. We would have no problem making a great record in 10 days like we did with the Liquid Tension Experiment CD's, but Dream Theater's recording budget is 10 times what Magna Carta would ever give. We have the luxury of plenty of time to “perfect” everything in a high quality studio, but by actually writing in the studio it still provides us with alot of spontaneity and excitement.

  13. Does Dream Theater keep charts for every song they write? Do they keep them? Can they be posted on-line? faq id: 83
    MP: Yes, all 4 of us have extensive charts for everything we write. And yes, I do keep them all! (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment and TransAtlantic). It's up to mabrown if he wants to scan them and include them here on the site...it would be too time consuming a project for me at the moment!

  14. Who composes the solos in each song? faq id: 84
    MP: Well usually “solos” are the department of the instrumentalist playing them. In most cases, we'll compose the rhythm section that goes underneath together, and then the overdubs or solos that go on top are composed later on by the players to play them (John, Jordan, Kevin or Derek)

  15. What is Mike’s opinion of jazz and fusion type music? Will Dream Theater ever do some sort of heavy progressive fusion-based song? faq id: 85
    MP: We are definitely into alot of fuson stuff...alot of time at Berklee was spent getting into that stuff. We aren't so much into old school swing Jazz, etc., but more of the electric jazz fusion stuff. (Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Allan Holdsworth, Al DiMeola, Chick Corea, etc.) Those influences have surely crept into our music throughout the years...(especially some of the Liquid Tension Experiment stuff being instrumental music)

  16. While James doesn't write any of the music with the rest of the band, if he felt real strongly about a specific musical idea, would Mike and the other guys consider using it? faq id: 277
    MP: Of course we'd consider it, but that's a completely hypothetical scenario. If he did submit something to us, then sure, we would consider it we're open minded people, for the most part. But it's never been part of the Dream Theater formula.

  17. How does Mike respond to the accusation that Dream Theater 'wears their influences too prominently on their sleeves'? faq id: 278
    MP: Maybe we discuss our influences openly too much. I think maybe if we didn't mention them as much, maybe it wouldn't be so obvious to the fans. But, we're fans of music! We talk about what we like and what we don't like.

  18. With a number of Dream Theater's (and both LTE) CDs being filled almost to the maximum, was there anything that had to be edited down so that it would all fit on to a single CD? faq id: 279
    MP: I know that LTE2 had to be trimmed at the mastering stage so that it would all fit. For instance, the intro to Chewbacca was about 2 minutes longer than what's on the final CD. It just wouldn't all fit, so we actually had to squeeze it all together. We also had Chris and Kevin's Bogus Journey where me and Tony did a duet for LTE2 which just didn't fit, so it never made the album. Also 914 was originally about twice the length, so me and Kevin Shirley had to edit it down at mastering. So with that album, we did have to trim it a bit to fit it within the 79 minute restraint. I'd have to think about Scenes, Infinity and Awake. I think that we just got lucky that all those just fit. I don't think we did much trimming.

  19. How much consideration does Dream Theater give to live performance as they write a song? faq id: 280
    MP: We've used 2 different approaches. On several albums, we worked out the music ahead of time in a rehearsal studio, playing the songs down from start to finish. We had a very "live" arrangement. By the time we got into the studio, the stuff was well rehearsed and demoed and pretty much ready to go live, because we were practicing it live. On several other albums, we've written the material in the studio as we're going, so in some cases, we're not even writing a song completely from start to finish before we roll tape. For instance, for the 42-minute title track to Six Degrees, we wrote and recorded it in pieces.

  20. What is the writing process that Dream Theater uses? faq id: 328
    MP: Well we have always written together as a band. That's the way it's been since day one with this band. For several albums, we would usually be in a rehearsal studio, write demos of this music and then six months later begin to record and have to go back and relearn what we had written months earlier. In other cases, we'd just lock out a studio for six months and move in and bypass that whole kind of demoing process. Basically we'd move into a studio and we'd work the same way we have always worked - just bouncing ideas off each other and creating in a collaborative environment - but in those cases, we were able to roll tape as we were working and create on tape as well as in the live environment. Since day one we have always written all the music first and since day one we have always written as a four piece band without a singer. It's just the formula that works for us. And our singer doesn't even play an instrument so there's really not much he would be able to contribute anyway during that process. It's just the way the formula has always worked.

  21. How is it determined as to who will write the lyrics to a song?
    Who writes the vocal melodies?
    faq id: 329

    MP: The four of us write the music and then at that point one of us will determine that they want to write some lyrics to a particular song. We'll kind of split it up and and from there John and I will write a lot of the melodies and they write the lyrics from there. In some cases James will be writing a lot of the lyrics as well so we will hand the song off to him once it's ready for the vocals.

  22. Does James ever find it difficult to sing somebody else's lyrics? faq id: 330
    MP: I don't think he has a difficulty with it because it's the way it's always been in the band. So I guess he's actually very comfortable with that.

  23. Where does Mike get his inspiration to write lyrics? faq id: 331
    MP: Most of the lyrics that I write come from personal experiences and things that I have gone through.

  24. Does Mike keep a notebook for his ideas or does he set aside time to write lyrics? faq id: 332
    MP: I don't, but I know musically Jordan does. He's just a never ending source of ideas and he's got a huge notebook full of ideas. Plus he sequences his ideas into his keyboard, so if any time you ask "you got a riff in Em?" he can hit a button and come up with twenty different ones! John Petrucci and John Myung will sometimes play ideas down on tape, but I don't. I leave all my creating for when we're collaborating, and that's when I'm usually sparked with ideas and I usually play more the part of a director, in shaping the ideas once they're on the table. As far as lyrics go, I don't write lyrics until the song is in front of me, and then I have to.

  25. Does Mike find it easy to write lyrics? faq id: 333
    MP: I think the hardest part is getting the subject matter. Once you have that, then I think writing is easy. I actually am not so crazy about writing lyrics. The main reason I started doing it with FII was to fill the void left by Kevin. On SFaM, I wasn't going to even write any lyrics, but as I got incredibly involved with the direction and concept, I inevitably got sucked back in! But while I wasn't planning on writing lyrics for that album, it was very easy for me because the subject matter was established.

  26. Why was a drum machine used on Speak to Me and Through Her Eyes? faq id: 334
    MP: I was in one room of our studio mixing the "New Millennium" demo and the other guys were in the other room gathered around the keyboard working on some arrangement ideas for "Speak To Me". When I finished the mix and re-joined them, I thought the subtle drum machine added a really nice atmosphere to the mood of the song (very The Cure or U2-ish) and suggested we leave it as part of the song. (and I eventually joined in for the Bridge). I ended up having the same opinion while we were writing "Through Her Eyes." (see...I don't always HAVE to play for the sake of playing!!)

  27. What Dream Theater song lyrics are the result of real life experiences? faq id: 335
    MP: Yes, there are several lyrics written from direct real life experiences of the lyricist... A few that immediately come to mind for me are: From me: A Change of Seasons (obviously), Raise The Knife, The Mirror From John Petrucci: Take Away My Pain, Another Day, A Fortune In Lies From Kevin Moore: Space Dye Vest, Light Fuse and Get Away From James: Erotomania, Ytse Jam, The Dance Of Eternity :-p