Don’t Overthink Your Songwriting Process

What’s the biggest problem for songwriters around the notion of process? It’s just my opinion, but I believe that over-thinking your process can be the biggest one.

Every songwriter has their own way of approaching the task of writing songs. Most songwriters will be careful to tell you that they use many processes: no one song is started the same way.

As a bit of an aside, if you do start all your songs the same way, I am willing to bet that it’s a chords-first process. If you want something to come together quick and easy, vamping on chords and then coming up with a melody and lyrics that work with it is probably your quickest path to a completed song.

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That’s certainly not to say that it’s going to produce your best song. Almost always, the chords-first process will make melody and lyrics take second place. This isn’t an insurmountable problem, though: move your focus to melody as quickly as you can, once you’ve got the chords/rhythms worked out.

Let Your Instincts Guide You

I know that process is a big concern with many songwriters, because online forums are full of questions that relate to process (“What’s your favourite process…?” “How should I start my songs…?” “Am I starting my songs the right way…?, and so on.)

The best thing you can do is to let your instincts be your guide, at least as a starting point. Certainly your first songs should be the result of an instinctive process. There is no wrong process, so whatever gets the song written is usually just fine.

There are problems when you use the same process over and over for each and every song you write. So here are some pointers to remember:

  1. Songs that come from an identical process tend to have a noticeable sameness about them. So…
  2. Practice different processes.
  3. If you find a certain process to be difficult (melody-first, let’s say), that is not an indication that the process is wrong for you. Like practicing your instrument, things can be difficult at first, and gradually get easier.
  4. Good songs often come from a blend of instinct/improvisation, and thinking. Improvisation is guided by your musical brain, and thinking involves making conscious decisions about how your song should proceed, sometimes overruling your instincts. Instinct and thinking are the two major parts of what we call your process.

If you tend to favour one process over another, it means you’re normal. But I would definitely recommend that you change up your process as much as you feel comfortable doing.

To make sure you don’t obsess over this, think of it this way: If you’re always vamping chord progressions, simply change your point of focus. Take that chord progression you just came up with, and put the focus on melody.

Or use the mood that your chords convey, and switch your focus to lyrics. Or take those chords and try changing the underlying rhythms, the tempo, the instrumentation, and anything else that gets you thinking differently.

Once you’ve changed your focus, you’ve probably avoided the nagging problem of all your songs sounding the same.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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