Writing a Song Backwards: Yes, It Works

By writing from end to start, you do something crucial: You identify goals first.


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Musical Success: Design is how it worksIf you want a good analogy for what many go through when they write a song, it’s a bit like this: stand at your front door and go for a walk. At first, because you’re in familiar territory, things will go well. But all you have to do is make a turn that takes you off the same path you’ve travelled countless times before, and – well, you’re suddenly lost. You stumble about until you find a street that looks familiar, and then head home the quickest way you know how.

But songwriting doesn’t need to be like that. In fact, songwriting can be a lot of fun, and far less stressful, if you identify goals first, and then work backwards toward the front end of your song.

Though you may think that the goal of any song is somewhere near its conclusion, the truth is that most songs have several goals, and they happen all along the way. As each goal is realized, new goals are created, and that’s what keeps people listening.

Check out the following list of song components, and see how identifying the goal first can make your song stronger:

  1. Lyrical goals. There are generally two kinds of goals when it comes to lyrics. First is the lower-level goal: the verse lyric describes people, places and situations that create an emotional response in the chorus. To strengthen this, list the kind of emotions you want to build in your audience, then go back to the start. You’ll now have a much clearer picture of the kinds of things the verse needs to say. Some songs, especially verse-only songs, have more of a “top-level” lyrical goal, where situations described near the beginning are resolved near the end. To make things easier for yourself, create those end-song goals first. Know where your song is headed before starting.
  2. Harmonic goals. A harmonic goal means that your chord choices will point to one chord – the tonic chord – as being where the progression is headed. For many songwriters, the normal way of working is to play a first chord, and then keep adding chords to see where you wind up. The better way to approach chord progressions may be to play the final chord, then a chord that moves easily toward it. Then add a chord before that one, and so on. This works especially well for chorus progressions, which are usually shorter and more succinct than verse progressions.
  3. Melodic goals. If you know where your chorus melody is going to start, it makes it easy to write a verse that connects well to it. So you may find it to be quite beneficial to write your song’s chorus melody first, and use that as a goal for your verse melody. Allow your verse to connect somewhat smoothly. If it doesn’t, an option to connect them well might be to write a pre-chorus connector.
Here’s another way of looking at the writing-backwards technique: Usually, when we get “stuck” in the writing process, we automatically try desperately to find something to follow the logjam that will work. But you should consider that the logjam might be broken by looking backwards, more toward the front-end of your song. By fixing problems there, it can allow the song to move forward more easily.

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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