Hello, and welcome to the first of a series of lessons that are designed to give you some pointers on how to write your first song. But before we start, I’d like to emphasize the word pointers in the above statement. There is no “grand secret” of song writing, and this series, as well as any other resource you can find, cannot simply tell you “do this, than that, and you’ve got a song”. So, if you are reading this article thinking you are going to leave with some magical “secret of composition”, you may as well stop reading now, as you will be disappointed. But if you are able to face the facts about composition, and realize it’s probably going to be a long process, than you’ve already overcome one of the main obstacles of song writing (that was easy, wasn’t it?). So, in that case, let’s get start with part one of this series: the setup.
Misconceptions & Uncertainties:
Now, one of the most important things to do when you first start song writing is to clear up any and all uncertainties and misconceptions. So, here is a list of things you should realize before you even think about writing a song.
There is no secret formula!
I already covered this in the “intro” section, but I’d just like to remind you that there is NO ONE FORMULA FOR SONG WRITING. It’s pretty simple; there isn’t just one way of writing a good song.
First draft isn’t always final draft
Be prepared to comb over the same bars over and over again. Most of the time, the first draft of a song will not be the last, and changes in between drafts can be as little as a couple notes, and as large as an entire verse or chorus.
Don’t expect perfection
This one’s pretty simple: if you expect your song to be perfect, you will be disappointed, especially on your first attempt. And that’s not because of your abilities as a song writer either; if you are trying to construct the perfect song, you will always be unsatisfied with some aspect of the song. Besides, some memorable moments have come out of imperfections in songs, so don’t get overly stressed out!
Don’t throw it away!
Another important thing: never throw away a first draft of a song if you’re unhappy with it. When you write your first song, expect that the first draft will be far from perfect. Don’t ditch a song because the rhythm guitar in the verse is “iffy”; this is where our second point about final drafts comes in. You may absolutely love the main melody of your composition, but be absolutely disgusted by the instrumentation in the chorus. But don’t give up, simply try re-writing the chorus!
Feel free to experiment
One final point: experimentation isn’t wrong. Don’t feel like your song has to fit in a box with other songs of a certain style. Don’t feel limited by instrumentation, song structure, or genre. Maybe you want to write a song that doesn’t even have a chorus, or a song that’s played on a touch-tone keypad, or a song that blends hip-hop and blues; do whatever! Practically all genres of music started with experimentation, so go for it!
Before writing a song, there are a few things you should consider prior to the writing process, before you even start. Now, we’re going to start with the process of lyric writing first, simply because most people find it easier to write music to lyrics than to write lyrics to music. So, let’s go through a pre-lyric writing checklist before we start:
What is the song about?
Try not to sit down when you’re about to write a song and say “I’m going to write a song about… something.” Try to have at least a vague idea for a song topic before you even start. Maybe you’re really happy, and you want to write a song about skipping through a field of lilacs, or maybe you’re really mad, and you want to write a song about breaking stuff; it doesn’t really matter! You can write about a serious topic, or what you ate for dinner last night. The choice is yours; just make sure you have some ideas before you start!
What do you want it to sound like?
Now, although you might be able to get away with just writing lyrics, having no clue how they should be sung, it’s best to having some idea of what you want the vocals to sound like. Will it be a man or a woman singing? Will it be mostly low or high pitched? Will the words be enunciated very well, or will they be growled? Maybe the singer goes into falsetto in the third verse, or maybe the singer speeds up for the chorus. If you consider some of these things before you start writing, it will make the writing process go that much smoother.
Find you comfort zone
Now that you’ve got some of the planning out of the way, it’s time to find a good spot to actually start writing. Trust me, the more comfortable you are, the easier you will find it to write. So think about it for a while, “where are you most comfortable?” Maybe you feel most comfortable in your favourite chair, or outside on your front porch. Maybe you feel most comfortable in front of the computer, and you want to type up your lyrics on MS Word. Once you think you’ve found a good spot, get a pen and a couple pieces of paper (unless you’re using your computer), and simply sit in that spot for a minute or two. Maybe you have a preferred method of doing things, like some sort of personal ritual. For example, Beethoven used to pour cold water over his head before composition, believing that it stimulated his brain’s creative processes, and he was damn good at what he did. I personally tack pieces of paper onto my wall, and pace around the room, muttering under my breath and scribbling down lyrics when they come to me (now that I think about, I must seem schizophrenic when I write!) Once you think your prepared to start writing, than grab a firm hold of that pen (or keyboard) and brace yourself for the magical adventure that is about to bestow upon your mind (okay, slight exaggeration).
Now, you’ve cleared up any uncertainties surrounding song writing, and you’ve prepared yourself for the process of lyric writing that lies ahead. And as you slowly move the pen closer towards the page, you know the time is right… the time is now. And if you want tips on the actual process of writing lyrics, you will have to hold the pose until the release of part two of So You Want to Write a Song. (How’s that for a cliff-hanger ending!)