songwriting and architecture

The Architecture of Songwriting, and Changing Your Mind

Building a structure means having a plan before you start. If you’re not an architect, you’ll likely hire one, someone who knows how to create something beautiful while also being mindful of the laws of physics; you want to be sure it doesn’t fall down.

Songs have a structure as well. And while I think it can be useful to have a kind of plan in your mind of how you think the song might go before you start writing it, the architecture of songwriting is not the same as the architecture of a building. At least in one main way: as a songwriter, you can change your mind.

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You can change your mind if you’re building a house, but not easily. You really need a plan, because your safety is at stake. Moving walls, changing the size of rooms… these are all things that are best thought out before you start.

In songwriting, you can start with a fragment of music that you assume is going to be your chorus, and then… change your mind. You can make that bit your verse, and now you get to create something new that’s going to be your chorus.

You might think you’re writing a ballad, and then change your mind and opt for something uptempo.

It’s all part of the experimenting that is a normal part of the songwriting process. Some of the best songs out there have come about because one songwriter (or a group of songwriters) started vamping on a chord progression, and then bits of melody and lyric got created, and eventually the basic framework for a song “appeared”.

For me, it’s in my nature to have a pretty clear idea of what I’m doing before I start the composition process. That may be because a lot of what I write is for other singers and vocal ensembles, and they’ve given me their idea for what they need.

In the world of architecture, you need a plan. In the world of songwriting, a plan can be great, but it shouldn’t lock you in. As a songwriter, you can always change your mind.

Writing rigidly to a plan looks a little too much like writing to a set of rules. Throughout your own songwriting process, allow yourself the freedom to change your mind. Your songs will be all the better for it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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