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The Songwriting Process: How to Write a Song

There is no one way to write a song. Songwriting is not a single process. The song-writing process is, however, a process that can be broken down into steps. By understanding the steps involved in writing a song, you can make the process less daunting and more enjoyable. Various types of music production and unique songs are purposely introduced to the market by the music industry all the time.

1. Come up with an idea or concept for your song

Songwriting can be difficult and many can feel as if they've hit a wall or can't seem to put on paper what they are feeling. You're out of new ideas or you just have writer's block. The creative process can seem daunting but finding a system that works for you can be so helpful.

In The Song Talk Interview, Bob Dylan said, “Poets do a lot of listening.” This goes hand in hand with songwriting because of the deeper connection needed to form lyrics or poetry. Look at things you see or feel every day and contemplate them. Find out how they make you feel and write about that.

If you can't seem to find a focus, stream of consciousness writing can also be helpful. Don't filter, don't edit. Just write. Whatever you are thinking, put it on paper.

This can help create an idea to follow when writing a song. Writing a song is a very personal process and will be different for everyone.

These key things can be helpful on your journey to create a song.

  • Listening Intently

  • Feeling your feelings

  • Writing songs about a specific emotion

  • Stream-of-consciousness writing

2. Developing your melody and rhythm

Composing a catchy melody is important. Lots of songs these days use the same three and four-chord progression to create an earworm melody that you can't get out of your head. The melody could be considered the most important part of the process when it comes to catchy melodies and writing songs people remember.

Start simple by using notes from the major scale, and if you are wondering what note to hit you can always choose a note that is in the chord that is happening at the moment, or in other words using your chord progression to help you with the melody if you get stuck.

There is almost always a point of attention or high note in your melodic passage that acts as a pillar for the rest of the melody line. You don’t have to use augmented or diminished chords to write a great song, stick to major-minor dominant to get started.

It can also help to write your melody on the instrument and sing along to that. For example, as far as simplicity and repetition look at Tracy Chapman’s "Give Me One Reason" as an example of catchy lyrics with a repeated line.

Create a rhythm that gets you moving. Some of the best songs from all different types of genres are remembered for their rhythmic motif. Use rhythm variation, it doesn't have to be complicated just distinct. Listen to some of your favorite songs and get an idea of how others are using their backing tracks and melodies to capture their listeners, and then begin to create your own.

Riffs anchor a song, no matter what kind of instrument you play, you can compose riffs that support your track. Don’t be afraid to “borrow” ideas an concepts from other artists you admire because you’ll find a way to make them your own in time.

3. Creating your lyrics

Learning how to write song lyrics for a song that performs well live and can connect to an audience is important. Your music should compel, touch, and excite your listeners. When writing your song, most find themselves beginning to write with an instrument in hand.

Stepping away from your instrument can also be helpful during the songwriting process and keep you from falling back on familiar tropes. Take a walk, sit outside and write melodies and rhythms in your head. When you've found the one you like, go back to playing an instrument and figure out how it should sound.

Most of the time, song structure can include an intro, a verse, a pre-chorus, a chorus, a bridge, instrumental solos, and a coda or outro. Using the structure verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ bridge/ chorus can be very helpful when writing but should not be limiting. Write how you want to and challenge the process with your own take.

When writing your lyrics, have an outline in mind but don't limit yourself and allow for room to challenge yourself and find new routes. Just like poetry, letting the lyrics come to you can be when you write the most compelling songs. Using rhyme schemes can be helpful, but is not required. Following your idea or rhythm can help you shift away from feeling stuck and lead to more discovery and innovation in your lyrics.

4. Put it all together and record your song!

The first thing to do is get your song structure, song key, tempo, and arrangement done. Then you can begin your multitrack recording where your instruments are each recorded separately and then combined in a mix later. This is great for you because it allows you to focus on each instrument separately and recorded one at a time. It makes it easier for musicians to record their music and hit songs at home rather than hire an entire team of musicians and producers.

First, begin with a track to follow that the rest of your instruments can use to help guide them. You can use a metronome to help set up your tempo or a pre-recorded drum loop. If you don't have a steady tempo, creating a scratch track can also be helpful.

Second, record your rhythm section. The rhythm section will act as the basis of your song.

Just like in band practice, everyone follows the drums or bass. Recording these instruments first makes the most sense. If you are writing a song without drums or bass, an acoustic guitar can also be used.

Third, record your harmonies. Once you are ready and have a good structure to go off of, you can begin creating a chord structure. This means something different for every song but could mean adding rhythm guitar, piano, horns, etc. After you have recorded your harmonies, you can record your melodies.

When recording, begin with the dominant instruments. For example, your lead guitar or vocals. Then you can begin to piece together the supporting melodies.

Lastly, finishing touches! Now you can add everything that makes your track stand out from background vocals, percussion fills, piano fills, sound effects, etc.

You've done it! You've written and recorded a song and can begin to edit and perfect it.

If you're still stuck on step one, try brainstorming with a friend or family member. You could also try freewriting or using prompts to get your creative juices flowing.

Once you have an idea, it's time to start developing your melody. The melody is what gives your song its unique sound. You might want to experiment with different notes and chords until you find something that feels right.

Once you have a good song melody, it's time to start writing lyrics. Your lyrics need to be meaningful and evocative for your song to be successful. Try to write about universal themes that everyone can relate to. Finally, once you have all the pieces of your song put together, it's time to record it!

There are no set rules when it comes to recording a song. You can use a simple acoustic guitar and vocals, or you can create a full-blown production with drums, bass, and keyboards. The important thing is to just go for it and have a good time.

The songwriting process can bring a lot of joy, and by taking it one step at a time, you can create a song that is truly your own. So get creative and have some fun!

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