Mic in a sound studio

Going Old-School: Separating Songwriting From Production

One of the benefits of being a songwriter in the 21st century is you have an incredible array of computer-based tools at your disposal. Like at no other time in history, you can do up a polished, professional end product with not much more than a mobile phone and a good mic.

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As with most good things, there can be a downside to easy access to technology: there are many more ways to mask problems with your songwriting technique. This means that a song can sound OK, but when you pull back the veil that production has put on a song, you suddenly hear issues with the basic structure of the music.

You could argue that production and songwriting are so interwoven now that we shouldn’t really try to separate those two processes.

Thirty years ago, the starting of a song meant (at least for many songwriters), looking for a pencil and grabbing a guitar. Today, songwriting just as easily means tapping on a mobile phone app as your first step in the process.

One Easy Way to Go Old-School With Your Songwriting

It depends of course in large part on your genre of choice, but if you’re using technology while still writing songs with traditional structures (verse-chorus-bridge, for example), you’ve got a simple way to see what the song sounds like without all that technology: record yourself singing it with no accompaniment.

In other words, even if (especially if?) the production of your song is essentially electronic in nature, it’s worth the time to sing it to yourself with no instrumentation and then really spend some time listening to it. Does it work as a completely a cappella song?

Singing with no instruments allows you to check out the basic structural elements of a song. That’s what makes it “old-school.” You get a chance to hear the melody uncluttered by anything else.

You also get to hear how or if the words in your lyric influence the shape of the melody. You get to hear if the lyric is working at all. Production has a way of diverting our attention from these important song components.

So let me ask you: when was the last time you stepped away from your computer, or put your smartphone down, and simply sang the song to yourself, and really paid some attention to what you’ve written?

If you fear at all that production is not just supporting your song, but covering up weaknesses, you’ve just done the best first thing: you’ve sung it without production and given yourself a chance to hear it from a structural point of view.

Now you can put your creative mind to work again and fix the problems you’re hearing. Once that’s been done, add the production back in, and you’ve got a song that will take you much, much further.

There is nothing wrong with production, and the best songs we encounter are the ones that have been produced by excellent teams who know what they’re doing. But the best production is done when the song being produced is excellent to begin with.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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