What Is Your Songwriting Process? (A helpful guide)


Having a process or a routine can save you hours and hours of hard work, this is true for everything, and it’s also true for songwriting. I find the subject of having the right process a very important, that’s why I decided to create this article, and I hope that you’ll find the included information helpful. Learning about the various songwriting processes made my journey, not necessarily easier, but it sure made it more fun and exciting!

On the question, what is your songwriting process I’ll have to answer the following: For maximum productivity:

  • Start with the melody
  • Create the underlying harmony (based on the lead melody)
  • Add vocal harmonies
  • Create the beat
  • Add the rest of the instruments
  • Add lyrics to the lead melody

Of course, there is much more to it, bellow, I’ll talk about the four different approaches, their benefits, their shortcomings which one I prefer, and why.

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Is it possible to create a hit song within an hour?

I’m sure you’ve heard before, something in the likes of “I don’t know it all just came to me”, or “I wrote this song within an hour” or maybe something in the lines of “we started jamming and all of a sudden this song popped out”.

I remember when I first heard similar statements, my reaction was quite negative, I remember saying to myself things like “yeah right as if that really happened” or “maybe he could do it, but I’m certainly not at that level”, in other words, I approached the whole process with disbelieve.

At the time the reason for my negativity was whenever I tried writing a song, I struggled, I had a vision on how the song should be, but two hours later I would end up with a completely different creation. It was as if the song was alive as if it was guiding me and I could simply do nothing about it.

I remember that I read interviews from Bob Marley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan or even Sia and they would all state through different stories, how easy it was to create this hit and that hit, how Michael Jackson would say that he simply got the music from above into his head and how a great portion of the song would simply pop up along the way. I was discouraged, to say the least…

Everybody has a songwriting process

Today, after many years of trial and error, spending countless hours on songwriting and music production, I’ve come to realize that everybody has a songwriting process even if they don’t know it. I’ve tried different writing approaches, and I’m happy to say, I’ve found the one that works for me, although it greatly depends upon the genre I am producing for.

So, is it possible to create a hit song within an hour? I believe it is, but it requires smart work and (whether you consciously know it or not) the use of a process, a blueprint that makes it easier to reach your goal faster!

Below we are going to explore four different methods, and of course, I’ll point out my favorite one which I’m going to review at the end of this article.

Songwriting process 1: Instrumentation, melody, lyrics

This is probably the most popular approach to songwriting, most songwriters I know will first create the underlying harmony, then they will continue with the melody or beat and at the end, they’ll add the lyrics.

There is nothing wrong with this approach the contrary, it can be very productive, especially if you’re writing R&B, Rap Trap, Bass-House or some genre where the beat has a prominent role!

However, if you want to create pop music, this technique has its limitations, but more on that later.

The way I approach this method:

  • I use either my keyboard, guitar, or mouse to create a chord progression. If I’m feeling really uninspired, I will listen to some songs that are in the same mood like the one I’m about to write and wait for creativity to strike me.
  • What follows next is the beat, this can be a fast process, or a really long one again depending on the genre I’m producing.
  • Then I’ll try and craft an infectious melody making sure it has a great hook, usually I try and insert a hook in every section of the song. 
  • The last step is to add lyrics to the already crafted melody, I may however, change the melody a bit to align better with the lyrics.

The specific steps of the first technique are:

  1. Play or draw within your DAW a chord progression
  2. Create the beat
  3. Craft an infectious melody
  4. Add lyrics to the song

Let’s now move to songwriting process number two.

Songwriting process 2: Lyrics, Melody, instrumentation

Our second songwriting process is actually a reverse process of our previous example. In our first example, we started with the instrumentation we continued on to the melody, and at last, we created the lyrics. Now we’re going to start with a lyrical idea, this can be an abstract concept, a phrase, a conversation you had with your spouse or even a personal experience. Our target is to create a song based on the feelings the lyrics are going to convey.

These first stages are a bit similar to poetry, you could focus on a specific rhyme, they are plenty of options to choose from but most possible, it’s going to be a variation of the alternate rhyme scheme, that is the ABAB form.

Here is an example of the ABAB rhyme scheme:

The people along the sand          (A)

All turn and look one way.      (B)

They turn their back on the land. (A)

They look at the sea all day.     (B)

This is a part of a poem written by Robert Frost, titled “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.”

Whatever the case may be we need a great amount of our story to be completed before we start crafting the rest of our song. For now, one verse, one pre-chorus, and one chorus will be enough, don’t feel compelled to map out the entire song before moving on to the next phase. You can always write in the second verse, and the bridge section later on but for now, let’s focus on just these three parts.

As you begin the lyrical writing process you may find you have a certain beat running within your head, If that’s the case make sure to record it as it may be of use, later on, a simple beat-boxing style beat (just record the sounds with your mouth) will do for now, its just for reference purposes.

I know It can be hard crafting a melody without the underlying harmony, but I suggest you really give it a go, chords in certain cases can significantly limit our creativity when it comes to crafting melodies. The reason is that the chords create the foundation for our melody, its like a musical canvas. This is in most cases is quite desirable because it enables us to paint a good melody upon our chords, but as every canvas, also this one has its limitations, these are easily avoided when we start with the lyrics and melody in mind.

After the lyrics and melody have been constructed, it’s time to add the instrumentation to our song. You could first start with the chords and add the beat as last or do the opposite.

The specific steps of the second technique are:

  1. Create the lyrics
  2. Create a melody that fits the lyrics
  3. Create the underlying harmony and then the beat
  4. Or create the beat, and then the underlying harmony

Songwriting process 3: Melody, lyrics, instrumentation

I find myself using this method mostly when I’m out of the studio, driving, waiting for the bus or doing some other kind of activity where it’s not possible for me to use my laptop. You see, often enough inspiration strikes whether we want it or not and usually it comes in the form of a melody. When this happens the first thing I do is grab my phone and record my idea, it’s not uncommon for me to create in one go the verse, pre-chorus and chorus.
My next step is to adjust the melody and make it bulletproof. Then I create the lyrics; lastly, I introduce the chords and beat.
Now the downside of using this technique is that nine of the 10 times I will readjust the melody when I get home, that means I also have to readjust the lyrics in order to make them fit. Otherwise, it’s a great technique.

Songwriting process 4: Melody, instrumentation, lyrics

Songwriting process number four, finally we arrived at my favorite method, I use this process to write most of my songs.

First, I will create a mood board, that is a short playlist with no more than 4-5 songs that inspire me. When I have listened to the mood board for a while ideas will simply float into my head, I do this for to bring my creative mind in the right state and speed up the whole process.

Furthermore, I sit down and craft an infectious melody, sometimes this happens quite fast, and other times it takes a while to get there. In this stage, I usually engage in one of the following

  • Option A: Draw the melody line inside the DAW using a mouse
  • Option B: Improvise using a keyboard
  • Option C: Improvise using my voice

All three options are great; however, all three do have shortcomings

Option A: Draw the melody line inside the DAW using a mouse

When I Use the mouse to create a melody within my DAW, I find I’m often more concerned about correctly applying music theory techniques and less concerned with the feeling the melody conveys. There is nothing wrong with relying on theory when composing, but at this stage, it could limit our creativity.

Option B: Improvise using a keyboard

Improvising on your instrument of choice can yield excellent results, it is familiar, you’re using muscle memory which is very useful, you can automatically add a greater sense of feeling into your melody by controlling the dynamics of your playing but it also again it can limit you in a couple of ways.

Firstly, you may fall in the trap of what I call “the trap of familiarity”. This is a trap all instrumentalists have fallen into at some point, you see, after playing an instrument for quite some time, you develop unique patterns and unique fingerstyle techniques, these patterns are based often on scales, modes, and exercises.

Everyone got his favorite scale and exercise they feel comfortable playing, and when improvising, this attraction to comport could make us sound quite repetitive since our melody is going to be based upon these scales modes and exercises.

Option C: Improvise using your voice

I use my voice for almost everything, not only when I want to create a melody, but also when I want to create chords or beats. Also, with my voice, I can re-create almost any instrument I want. I do use a lot of beatboxing techniques which enables me to be very productive and creative in a short period of time.

The only possible downside I could think of when using this technique is that you’ll have to hit the record button quite often since you’ll have to create each section separately.

After I have created the lead melody (top line), I tend to follow the following steps

  • Create the underlying harmony (based on the lead melody)
  • Add vocal harmonies
  • Create the beat
  • Add the rest of the instruments
  • Add lyrics to the lead melody

Why I almost always start with the melody (and why you should too)

I believe the melody is the most important part of a song, it certainly is the most memorable, especially when we are referring to the popular hits we hear on the radio. I find that the second most important aspect of a song is the underlying harmony (chords). Different chords evoke different emotions, but in my opinion, the lead line should dictate which chords to use and not the other way around, the reason for that is creative freedom. When I create my melody, I don’t want anything to limit my creativity in any way.

Harmonies are what make a song sound big or small. If you pay close attention, you’ll find that many hit songs use more harmonies as the song progresses with the climax being in the last chorus. Listen to Shake it Off by Taylor Swift as an example to understand what I mean.

After I’ve created the harmonies I need the beat to hold everything together, I mostly start with a simple kick and snare.

At last, I will add the rest of the instrumentation unless I’ve decided before that one of them has a key role within the song. If let’s say I came up with an infectious bass-line I will most certainly introduce that part early on.

[box type=” download”] If you are looking to massively step up your songwriting game and create infectious hit songs you may be interested in a specific guide that shows you not only the songwriting process and tools I use but also the tools and tricks that are being used by the best songwriters in the world today. If you are interested in this FREE short guide, click on this link to download, please consider it as a gift from me to you.[/box]

What is the best songwriting process for you?

I’m guessing now you’re wondering what is the best songwriting process after all? The best way to find this out is to try all four of them several times and see with which process you feel most comfortable, they are all great with their advantages and shortcomings as well.

Here are a couple of tips that may be of help:

  • 1) Look at the genre of the song. In some types of genre, the beat is more important, an example would be Trap vs Blues Or RnB vs Pop. I’m guessing if you want to create a Trap song you should start with the beat instead of the lyrics or melody.
  • 2) Keep in mind that your writing style may change as you evolve, maybe now you might prefer starting with the lyrics, but six months from now you might feel more comfortable starting with the melody. The point is you can’t really know unless you try them all.
  • 3) Be creative! Combine different processes together, mix them up a bit if that helps you create a great result.

Conclusion

The last tip I want to give you is to experiment! Everyone can and should develop their own songwriting style, sure there are numerous guidelines and tips, but nothing is carved in stone.

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