Songwriting is a Process, Not an Event

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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SongwriterThe simple fact that songwriting is a process, where the final product can take anywhere from days to years to complete, may be the most important thing you’ll learn today. I wonder how many songs have been thrown onto the musical garbage heap simply because the people writing them thought that the whole thing needed to happen in one glorious shot? Simply put, songs take time.

It’s not unusual for non-musicians to think that songwriting is some sort of magical process that only a very few anointed can ever do successfully. The truth is that for the best songwriters, it’s a long process involving endless rewriting, reworking and rejigging of music before you come up with something that really works.

Sure, it is possible to have a song “fall in your lap”, but that is rare. Most songs require honing and polishing, and it can take years.

I’m mentioning this because I’ve noticed on online forums lately a lot of songwriters talking about how everything they try to write sounds like garbage.

And my reaction to those statements is usually: “Well, of course it sounds like garbage. Almost everything I write sounds like garbage until I rework and hone it.”

I realized, after reading the comments of would-be writers bemoaning the fact that they can’t seem to get anything to sound at all good, that if we all expected to come up with gold in one sitting, we’d all quit!

Songwriting is a process. It takes time. So if an entire song doesn’t occur to you in one sitting, simply appreciate the fact that you’re normal.

For most, ideas (snippets of melody, lyrics, chords, hooks, and so on) present themselves at any given moment. But ideas are not enough. Ideas need to be worked and polished until they’re part of a structure. Naturally, without any initial ideas, it’s hard to get a song working. So here’s a set of tips to help you get your song into a finished state:

  1. Always carry a recording device with you that allows you to capture words, melodic fragments and other song elements as they occur to you.
  2. Songs need form, so give some thought to the kind of structure your song will need. The verse – chorus – bridge format is common, but others are possible. And without form, your song is unmemorable.
  3. Good songs need some sort of connection between the various elements. For example, if your verse consists of downward moving musical motifs, consider upward moving ones for the chorus. If your verse is primarily in minor, try seeing if you can contrast that with something major.
  4. Your lyrics need something that draws the whole thing together. If you use a certain type of metaphor, don’t abandon it and use a different metaphor mid-song (e.g., sunshine representing happy times… try using darkness to represent sadder times.)
  5. Listen to your songs objectively. If you find yourself saying, “This song sucks…”, don’t throw it out. You need to dig into the song, and try to answer why. It may surprise you to know that bad songs are often very close to being great songs.

When I’ve written something I don’t like, I listen to it, and usually I find myself saying, “It’s right THERE, where the music turns bad.” There’s often some moment that you can identify, and once you know where it starts to turn sour, you can usually also figure out why it’s bad.

So don’t rely on an initial burst of inspiration to create a song. The best ones out there take time.

Your songs may be THAT CLOSE to being successes. With a little knowledge, you can be writing great tunes consistently.
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