How to Write a Song

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 11:51 am

People always ask, “What comes first when writing a song; the lyrics or the music?”

And my answer is …“Yes”.

I imagine it’s the same for many songwriters, though I should only speak for myself. I suffer from Muchneed Stimulousis, and the prescription is variety.  I need to have 12 different ways to approach a song so that when I’m stumped (which is often…and don’t ever think it should be any different), I always have a method to help move me forward.

I try to make sure I have a track, chord progression, lyric, or melody that I’m totally SOLD on before moving forward.  Don’t need all, just one. If I’m playing around with something mediocre, I put it down and move on. If it’s iffy or I’m stumped about how to use an idea, I’ll record it on my iPhone or handheld recorder (for some reason I still love using a handheld recorder) and then move on. Maybe in a different state of mind I can figure out why the idea came to my head. This happens a lot, so don’t scrap iffies.

Sometimes I…

Find the lyrical hook
Start with a lyrical hook phrase I love, find out the rhythm and tempo that the syllables naturally sound best at and try to solidify a melody. If I like it enough, I press record. If I can’t, I play around with a groove that compliments that rhythm and tempo.

Find a chord progression
Play around with a chord progression (including tempo and rhythm it sounds best at) on my main instrument. If I like it enough, press record.

Find a beat
What better way to get inspired than making your pants jiggle? I’ve found that if you come up with a truly amazing drum/bass track, it’s hard to end up with an awful song. Still quite easy to make a mediocre one, though.

Get off your instrument
I’m a fumbly piano player at best, but getting off the guitar and onto the keys forces me to create lines and progressions I never would on the 6 string. Do it.

Play with sounds
For the same reason just stated above. Using synth, organ, ukulele, bass guitar, and aux percussion all get me outside the box I typically stay in with just my guitar.

Because other people do have better ideas than you.

Jamming is kind of like co-writing, but more fun and with less pressure. I love getting with my drummer and bass player, and jamming on extremely rough ideas I have, or starting from nothing. Getting in front of someone else and creating is very inspiring. And other people often pick up on what you’re fiddling around with and add new ideas that lock in the good ones. Also, even though they say they don’t or can’t jam, if your musicians are any good at their instrument, they have amazing ideas floating around that would make great songs. Get them jamming, and they’ll show you without knowing it. It’s always good to trick your players.

Don’t trick your players
I was just joking about that. If you do it, you will be looking for new players and that sucks. Give them credit where credit is due. Bring them delicious fruit plates, cookies, or in my case Chic Fil A. My guys love Chick-Fil-A and they’ll do anything for it. I don’t think they read my blog, so I’m safe.

Listen/Learn other people’s music
My favorite artist, (& confessed man-crush) Sting, admitted to stealing artists’ chord progressions and other ideas from already successful songs. It’s not stealing when you make it your own…at least that’s what a good friend told me.

Walk with your phone off
Wow, do I do this a lot lately. When I sit for too long my thoughts become like a smelly catfish pond. For some reason, I come up with my best ideas when I’m driving. I would like to pass on the wisdom behind not writing down lyrics whilst driving, even if you have great leg steering-wheel control. Happy compromise? Make like an old person and take a walk. But turn your phone off for best results. Yes, it’s because of Words with Friends.

And there you go. There are 10 methods to the madness. Creativity is always available; it just needs to be…stroked? (Oh yeah, use a thesaurus)



2 Responses to “How to Write a Song”

  1. Troy says:

    What about a rhyming dictionary?

    • Justin says:

      Indeed! Rhyming dictionary is critical. I use it all the time. There’s a great app on the iPhone called RhymeZone for that. Are you working on some new songs, Troy? 🙂

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