If you’re like most musicians of any caliber, you probably have at least some urge to create your own music. You’ve undoubtedly experimented with some improvisation of your own, and maybe you’ve even gone as far as writing lyrics, melodies, or beats and rhythms.
The beauty is that you have a metric ton of available musical recording software choices to help you get your musical ideas recorded and produced. You don’t need to sign a record label deal (and there are compelling reasons not to do that!) in order to get your musical ideas in front of a meaningful audience.
But it all starts with songwriting. And it can feel pretty damn intimidating, especially when you listen to your favorite artists. They’re extremely good and very professional, and you’re, well, probably not extremely good and professional.
Guess what? The pros weren’t always pros. They didn’t always have the luxury of hiring experienced songwriters, producers, engineers, and coaches. They started out like, well, you. But, like you, they had something to say, and they had music that they were waiting to create. They just got busy and did something about it, just like you’re about to do.
Time to start creating.
Where to start writing a song.
That’s the trouble most of us run into – where do we start? We have a ton of little ideas, but it doesn’t seem like any of them will really fit together all that well to turn into a BIG idea.
The beautiful thing is that with time, attention, and effort, each of your little ideas has the potential to grow into something big.
You don’t have to have it entirely figured out before you even start. Just pick one of your ideas, and take the hardest step of all: begin.
Which idea should you use? Lyrical? Melodic? Rhythmical? What’s the magic formula for writing a song, dammit?
There really isn’t one single musical formula that will result in a song that you like and are proud of. But there is definitely a process formula that you can follow – regardless of your background with musical theory – to get from an idea to a quality recording. The process is decidedly non-musical, but it’s designed to help you get the most out of yourself, and let the music come alive in the process.
The process of writing a song
- Start with your inspiration. Pick one idea; it doesn’t matter whether it’s lyrical, melodic, rhythmic, whatever. Start where you’re inspired. While I’ve written quite a few songs that started with a lyrical idea (particularly the kids’ songs I’ve written), the first song I ever wrote and recorded began when I discovered an unusual chord voicing that resolved beautifully with another unusual chord voicing. It sounded like pure magic to me. I had no idea where I was going to go with it. Was it going to be the intro? Melody? Chorus? I had no clue. But I loved that chord pairing, so I recorded it. That’s step 1 – just begin with the idea that inspires you.
- Play around with that one inspiring idea. If it’s a cool phrase that you’d like to turn into part of a lyric, play around with more ideas and thoughts that lead up it, and think of even better ways to say it. If it’s a great chord progression, find another chord to add into the mix, or find the right rhythm, guitar sound, and vibe to convey what you’re hearing in your head. If it’s a badass groove that you’ve worked up, keep tweaking it until it sounds outrageous. Play. Have fun. Add to it.
- Ask yourself what your idea needs next. In my first recording, I loved the feeling of those two chords, and envisioned a driving rock rhythm section supporting it, so I set to work laying down the drum track in Logic. It didn’t take long before I knew I was on to something. Hearing the rhythm and riff together gave me chills. It was definitely on! You’ll find the same thing happens for you when you just start spending some time on it and having fun.
- Save often, and use multiple versions. Musical ideas are fleeting. There’s plenty more where they came from, but you want to capture the good ones. As you’re developing your idea, save often. If you come to a crossroads, where you have to make a big choice about which direction you want to take your song, don’t fret. Try both roads! Record them both, and you’ll often find that you end up doing something in between the two of them. No matter what, though, make sure that you save your work often.
- Lather, rinse, repeat. Leave your masterpiece for a while. Come back to it with fresh ears. Work on it some more. Save it. Each time, you’ll hear something new to tweak, and you’ll have great ideas for how to add to it. One crazy idea on my first song was to record part of the vocals through a guitar amp (you can do this easily using Logic or Pro Tools). I was just screwing around, but I actually kept it in the final version of the song. Magic happens when you play around and enjoy yourself.
That’s all there is to it. One small idea, with time, effort, love, and attention, will turn into something that amazes you. It’s just like Einstein said: genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. But you’ll be loving every minute of it.