Songwriting is a very different experience for everyone. Although some may have a similar way of writing songs, I have found that most differ in their process on some level. Some start with the lyrics, some begin with an acapella melody line, then add chords while others begin with chords, and then add the melody line and lyrics at the end, and for some, the process is done all at the same time! Our own songwriting processes can even differ from song to song. I have some songs where I have the whole structure, melody line and instrumental part down, but the lyrics just can’t come to me the way I want them too! Other times, I begin with the chords and build from there. Let’s look at some different processes so we can all simultaneously learn about our own songwriting styles.
Some songwriters are more lyrical writers than others. They read a lot of books, and especially love the beauty of words. They may even have begun as poets who decided to try and convert their poems into songs. I remember seeing an interview years ago where Jewel (singer-songwriter and poet from Alaska) was asked if she ever converted entire poems she wrote into songs. She answered with a “no”, but said that instead she sometimes takes one line or two from a poem and that those lines would help birth a new song with a whole new lyric. That’s pretty interesting I think! Lyrically, sometimes just one sentence can give us a whole idea or topic to create our song. What are some of the topics you seem to write about the most? Is their a pattern? What are the topics you seem to care about the most? What do you stand for as a songwriter? What are the messages you care about others hearing? All important questions when looking at the lyrical content of your music.
Once a songwriter has their lyrics, they may then dabble to find chords that exude the same kind of feeling as their lyrics, or they may put the lyrics into an acapella melody line and then find and add the chords later. Are you a “lyrics first” style of songwriter or are you more “melody first”?
I am sure this has happened to many a songwriter, where you’re walking down the street, and out of nowhere, a killer melody line enters your brain! You keep walking and singing and get so jazzed about your new melodic riff. If you are prepared (as mentioned in earlier blog posts) you will have your audio recorder handy and will record your melody line into the recorder as you keep strolling down the street. When you get home later, you remember your melody line, and attempt to find some chords to go with this melody line. I usually map out the general notes of the melody and seek chords that support the notes well, but this process can take a little while if you have particular idea in your head. Or do you come home and try to add lyrics to your melody line? Or does your melody line already have some lyrics attached to them? Perhaps you have the majority of your lyrics, but you will find a few more lyrics and then apply yourself to find the chords for the new melody line later. Again, everyone’s process is so different!
Chords first (or every step at the same time):
This is me. Although there are times, where I find lyrics first, or I find a single melody line and then add chords later, I usually write most songs when I have a guitar in my hands. I will be strumming a certain mixture of chords, and the chords will inspire to sing certain melody lines and with those melody lines, are usually attached a few lyrical ideas which I usually fine tune as the last step. That’s my process.
The Beat/Plug-in First:
Nowadays through technology and the internet, there is a vast amount of people creating musically digitally or electronically, and often the beat of song can indeed come first! Then other electronic instruments are added to the beat, and built from the bottom to the top. Here is a fascinating video on watching Stromae (French and International Singer/Rap Legend) showing us how he wrote his multi-national #1 hit “Alors On Danse”/”So We Dance” within one minute through technological/digital music advances.
After investigating a few different songwriting processes, tell us….
What’s YOUR process?
P.S. Here is a wonderful article on one of the queens of songwriting, Carole King: